Mayberry was a simpler place, but it does not tell the whole story

For those who recognize the town of Mayberry, it is an idyllic place that only exists in television reruns. “The Andy Griffith Show” was based in this fictional town along with an ensemble cast around its star who played the town sheriff. It is loosely based on Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy, which is about one hour north of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, just inside the border with Virginia.

For those familiar with the show, there really is a Pilot Mountain, which is referenced in the show as Mount Pilot. It s a great hiking venue and one can easily picnic off its highest parking lot. Mount Airy has embraced Griffith’s fame and built a replica area of Mayberry to woo tourists who come in droves. They are longing for a simpler time and place, but the show glosses over so much.

This past Sunday, CBS Morning News did a piece on Mount Airy and Mayberry with Ted Koppel, one of its most acclaimed reporters. The report showed the use of a fleet of black and white police cars for the whole town. It showed a place you could get a pork chop sandwich, which was a show favorite of Andy and Barney’s, the humorous Deputy played by Don Knotts..

It was a good piece, but offered some interesting takeaways.

First, when one of the many tourists turned the question back on Koppel about what he thought of this idyllic place and time, Koppel noted that everyone was not able to enjoy this type of environment. African-Americans were not allowed to benefit as much from this type of town when it aired back in the early 1960s. And, returning Vietnam veterans were treated poorly. The tourist agreed with Koppel’s assessment, although he had not initially thought of it in that context.

Second, as for the African-American lack of opportunity, it was in evidence on the show, with only one speaking part for a black actor the entire series. And, of the many crowd scenes, only a handful at a time were African-American. When Koppel interviewed a black family who lived in Mount Airy, one said when she moved back in 1973, she still was not allowed to eat inside certain restaurants and had to get take out.

Third, when Koppel was riding a trolley around the contrived-for-tourists Mayberry, he took a poll of the political leanings. Of the twenty folks on the trolley, only two felt the 2020 election was fair and the rest thought the former president had won. Some even voiced the January 6 insurrection was staged by actors trying to hurt the former president and that the real violent insurrections were occurring in cities all over the country by the far left. One said she “loved Donald Trump.” They noted the news was biased against the former president and should not be heeded. One said he got his news from other sources, but did not want to mention them.

Now, I have always enjoyed “The Andy Griffith Show” and have even been to Mount Airy a few times before they built the Mayberry tourist attraction. But, another role that Griffith played reminds me of the trolley rider views. Griffith won acclaim for playing Lonesome Rhodes in “A Face in the Crowd.” The movie showed what can happen when a populist cult figure recognizes his own power to persuade, not unlike that of the former president. That is the character I want people to think about when they read the lies purveyed as truth.*

I do love small towns. My wife and I love to visit them and wander around. They are quaint and full of stories. But, they are imperfect just like any other place. They have biases, they have secrets, and they have painted over flaws. We should not forget that.

*Note: In the attached post called “Mama Guitar” by our blogging friend Resa, she has a link to the movie trailer about “A Face in the Crowd.”

A few old comedic actors that make me smile

Are there certain names that when you hear them make you smile? To me, there are some old comedic actors who fit this bill. They were such a key part of the fabric of my life growing up, that fond memories come rushing back when I hear their names. Although these people were not stand-up comedians,  they are burned in our memories from the funny characters they played in the movies and on television.

In no particular order, here are a few of them:

Don Knotts – he will forever be burned into our memory as Barney Fife from “The Andy Griffith Show,” but his talent took him to other roles on television in “Three’s Company” and to the big screen in movies such as “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.” When I think of Don Knotts, I think of Barney being allowed to carry a pistol as deputy, only because Andy made him carry one bullet in his buttoned shirt pocket. To see Barney reach for that bullet when he felt in harm’s way is priceless.

Tim Conway – he had already made a name for himself as Ensign Parker on “McHale’s Navy” as well as other roles, but when he joined “The Carol Burnett Show,” there was no funnier person on the planet. He would leave both the audience and fellow cast members in tears with his ad libs and scripted humor. The dentist who keeps injecting Novocaine in parts of his body by mistake is vintage Conway.

Lucille Ball – there is probably no finer comedic actor than our Lucy, who we got to enjoy for so many years. She was so talented and funny, it surprises me still to see how beautiful she was. Her finest moments are the escapades with Ethel Mertz (played by Vivian Vance), especially when entering the work force. The candy assembly line to selling Vita-mita-vegimen, which had a little alcohol are skits that come to mind.

Carol Burnett – Lucy passed the baton to the new funniest person in Carol. Carol’s work early in her career was priceless, but when she got her own television show, with such great fellow actors, it was comedic gold. There are very few skits as funny as her playing Scarlett O’Hara to Harvey Korman’s Rhett Butler in a spoof of “Gone with the Wind,” as she walked down the stairs in a dress made of curtains complete with the curtain rod still attached.

Dick Van Dyke – with his TV show which included a tremendous cast to his roles in  ‘Mary Poppins,” Van Dyke was one talented man. His physical comedy was as funny as his mental comedy given his dancing skills, which flourished in Mary Poppins. I could not wait for his show to start and see him trip (or side step) the ottoman in his house, depending on the year of filming.

Mary Tyler Moore – I must confess I had a huge crush on Laura Petrie, the role she played on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” But, she was far more than a pretty face. She was a talented comedienne and dancer. She would go on to star in her own TV series under her name, which ran forever given the talent of her and her wonderful crew. She could do the best half-crying, half-frustrated routine around.

Andy Griffith – while he is remembered for the show which bore his name as well as a dramatic role in “Matlock,” where he did his funniest work was his comedic acting captured on stage. We have a CD from an old album that is as funny as it gets, where he summarizes the plots of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Carmen for us. Plus, his classic “What it was was football,” will regale you as he describes what he is seeing for the first time.

What is interesting about these talented people is each is remembered for being a part of a funny, talented cast. That made them even more funny and memorable. It is not a surprise that Dick and Mary were on the same show or Carol and Tim or Don and Andy. But, that does a disservice to the many other funny people on the shows. I also left off some other very funny heroes of mine such as Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, Redd Foxx, Flip Wilson, Red Skelton, Moms Mabley and others. Cosby has broken my heart with the news of his many date rapes, but he was such a key part of my memories.

Who are some of your favorites? What do you remember most about them or the above?