Comedian and actor Andy Griffith (1926–2012) was a natural storyteller, and he made his first real foray into show business by producing a monologue in 1953 titled, “What It Was, Was Football,” a funny bit in which a hillbilly tries to explain the complicated rules of the game. This release showcased the young actor’s Southern homestyle humor, but it was a dramatic turn in Elia Kazan’s 1957 film, “A Face in the Crowd,” that displayed Griffith’s range as a performer and gave him his big break in Hollywood.
In 1960, Griffith played a country sheriff on the popular sitcom episode of “Make Room for Daddy,” starring actor Danny Thomas and produced by Sheldon Leonard. The small part resonated with audiences, and Leonard decided that the character deserved its own show.
“Sheldon came to see me in New York,” recalled Griffith. “He told me this notion he had for a show about a sheriff in a small town. And I didn’t really like the idea, but I liked Sheldon a lot. And I asked him to come back and see me again. He did. I still didn’t like the idea, but I liked him, so I went with it,” said Griffith.
The character of sheriff Andy Taylor came to life on the small screen in “The Andy Griffith Show,” set in the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina. The show was innovative in that it was shot without a studio audience and with only one camera, allowing the cast to move outside of a set.
“We could do these long, little nice scenes without having to go for a joke,” said Griffith. “And we could also go outside. With three cameras, you’re pretty well locked into two or three sets. With one camera, you’ve got all of the outdoors and the whole town of Mayberry and everything.”
The show also introduced America to an entire cast of talented actors, such as Ron Howard, Don Knotts and Jim Nabors, many of whom went on to act in or produce other groundbreaking television programs and films.
Andy Griffith’s Musical Talent
In the mid-1980s, Griffith returned to the small screen in the hit show “Matlock,” in which he played a bumbling country lawyer, famous for winning difficult cases. To the part, Griffith brought his affable persona and down-home common sense that audiences craved from him. The show was nominated for four Emmy Awards.
Griffith was also an accomplished vocalist who used to sing for fun with his “Mayberry” co-stars, Don Knotts and Jim Nabors. He especially loved Gospel music and recorded several well-received albums. In 1999, Griffith was inducted into the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame.