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October 24, 2014

Mayberry Days: Taking a Trip Down Memory Lane

by Pat Gallagher, posted Oct 2nd 2010 11:00AM
Mayberry Days"I miss Mayberry/Sitting on the porch drinking/Ice cold Cherry ... Coke/Where everything is black and white/Picking on a six string/Where people pass by and you call them by their first name/Watching the clouds roll by." -- Rascal Flatts, from their song Mayberry'

Every year, for the past 21 years, folks have migrated from all over the United States to Mt. Airy, N.C. to spend some quality time in "Mayberry." They flock there to participate in Mayberry Days -- an annual four-day event celebrating one of the most popular shows in the history of television, 'The Andy Griffith Show.'

Mt. Airy, which is the hometown of homespun actor Andy Griffith, was the prototype for what would become the most famous fictional southern town in the continental United States in the last 50 years -- aka America's town -- Mayberry, N.C.

I discovered Mayberry Days while doing some background research for an article about the 50th Anniversary of 'The Andy Griffith Show,' aka TAGS, and decided to pay a visit to Mt. Airy to congregate with other functional, obsessive fans.

Mayberry DaysBeing a fan of TAGS for umpteen years -- having watched each episode in reruns at least 20 to 30 times each -- this trip down memory lane turned out to be a dream come true. Going to Mayberry for four days was better than going to the Land of Oz with Dorothy or sitting on the front porch of Tara, sipping sweet tea with Scarlett O'Hara.

This year, Mayberry Days took place Sept. 23-26. Nostalgia filled the air as over 50,000 fans arrived in town to reminisce about a place and time that will forever be etched in their minds and affixed in their hearts. It's such a cliché, but they really went "back to the future."

A little background:

Mayberry was the quaint little southern town depicted on 'The Andy Griffith Show,' from Oct. 3, 1960 until April 1, 1968. We all got to know the folksy town sheriff, Andy Taylor, and his well-meaning, bumbling, comically inept deputy Barney Fife; telephone calls were placed by the town operator, Sara; the loveable town drunk had his own cell (jail, not phone); the only tweets that took place were by those three, cute, orphaned baby birds, Wynken, Blyken and Nod; the town doctor made house calls; the center of communication was Floyd's barber shop (forget Facebook). And those residents were all, in fact, real people ... at least in the minds of the television viewers.

Andy Griffith made sure of that.

His first order of business after TAGS became a television staple, was to make sure the writers captured the essence of small-town America and the people who lived there. Although he never took writing credit, Griffith made notes on the scripts at table readings each week and made adjustments if the characters weren't true to his roots.

George Lindsey, 74, who played the affable garage mechanic Goober on TAGS, spoke with me about Griffith's creative influence. "Andy was a great leader and the best script constructionist that I've ever worked with," he said, calling from his home in Nashville. "Andy was very caring about the scripts. He made the scripts right. He knew how to fix them, and we knew how to act them."

Jim Nabors, 80, who played Goober's refreshing, simple-minded cousin, Gomer Pyle, agreed. "Andy is the reason the show was so successful all these years because he demanded the writing be true of small towns. [Andy] was really a great, great leader of all of us. He ran a good show," Nabors insisted in a phone call from his home in Hawaii.

Asked why he thought Gomer was so popular, the actor replied, "He was very pure. He only wanted to see the goodness in everybody. He wasn't mad at anybody, and he didn't take out anything on anybody. He was just a good guy. I often said I wish I had a lot of his qualities. (laughs) I've always loved him."

Film director Ron Howard, 56, called from the editing room in Los Angeles where he was doing some post-production work on a film he just completed -- 'The Dilemma -- to talk affectionately about his role of Opie, giving his TV dad a big thumbs up saying that Griffith was adamant about making the show a true representation of the south. "I remember him many times talking to the writers and talking about a particular joke, and saying, 'Sure, I understand that it's funny, but it's not true to these characters, and I don't want to be making fun of these people. Of course they're humorous, and yes, we're a comedy, but I don't want this to be about making country bumpkins out of everybody. It's a show about real people,'" Howard recalled. "I always respected him for that." (To see the full interview with Howard, go here.)

Betty Lynn and Elinor DonahueBetty Lynn, 84, (the sweetest woman on the face of the earth), who played Thelma Lou, sat with me inside the home of "Mayberry Days" founder Tanya Jones, happy to go down memory lane. Lynn, who moved to Mt. Airy in 2007, related a sweet story about the town.

"I never dreamed I'd end up here [in Mt. Airy]. Andy drew so much from his home town. There's so much about it when I first got here ... there was a little lady sitting next to me in the hospital here. I had to go in and wait awhile, go into a little cubicle and give them my information. But this very proper little lady turned to me, and she said, 'My name is Juanita.' And it just came out: I said, 'You little hussy!'" Lynn laughed. "I said, 'I've been wanting to meet you for a long time!' And then I thought: 'Oh, I hope she has watched the show' (big laugh). She kind of laughed, but at first I'm sure I scared her. Later I said, 'I hope you knew [the reference to the show].' She said, 'Oh, yes, I've watched it.'"


More highlights from Mayberry Days:

Mayberry Days Mayor's Proclamation: Mayor Deborah Cocoran (who dressed up as the Potato Queen just for laughs and has been Mt. Airy's Country Music DJ for 30 years) said her "whereas and whatfors" before introducing several invited guests including the cast members who shared some wonderful stories. Ronnie Schell, actor and stand-up comedian who portrayed the director in 'The Foster Lady' episode (Aunt Bee becomes spokeswoman for Foster Furniture Polish), said it best when he paraphrased Pogo: "I have found paradise, and it is Mt. Airy."

Mayberry DaysActors participating this year included Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou), Maggie Peterson (Charlene Darling), Elinor Donahue (Ellie Walker), James Best (Jim Lindsey), Ronnie Schell (Jim Martin/Director & Bernie the furrier), Jackie Joseph (Sweet Romeena), and Laura Hagen (wife of theme song composer Earle Hagen). Fans had opportunities to meet and greet each actor during their autograph sessions; they participated in Q&A's at the Downtown Cinema Theater plus they shared intimate TAGS memories with audiences at the Colonel Tim's Talent Time in the Andy Griffith Playhouse.

Karen Knotts (daughter of Don), who is a librarian in Los Angeles, performed her one-woman show, 'Tied Up in Knotts' to a sold-out crowd at the Downtown Cinema Theater where she took audience members on a journey from the birth to the death of her actor father including clips and photos that have never been seen before outside her family. She read a humorous statement from her dad that he composed after learning of her intent to become an entertainer: "Dear Audience: This is my daughter Karen. Thanks so much for giving her your support. Just remember if her show is a success, I taught her everything she knows. If it bombs, she didn't learn it from me. Thanks so much, Don Knotts."

Mayberry Days paradeThe Mayberry Parade was a hoot. It began at the BB&T Bank on Main Street, ending at the Andy Griffith Playhouse. David Browning, who plays a spot-on Barney Fife (and never out of character), created some hilarious moments driving up and down the street in his golf cart interacting with fans; vintage cars carried cast members; TAGS actor clones walked the street to the delight of the crowds: Tim Pettigrew (Goober); Allan Newsome (Floyd the Barber); Phil Fox & Chris Monday (Ernest T. Bass); James Slate (Otis Campbell); Keegan Day (Opie); Jeff Branch (Howard Sprague); Leon Leslie (Rafe Hollister) and 81-year-old Art Fettig ("Almost Andy") is the separated-at-birth twin of 'Matlock' Andy (seriously!). These generous actors roamed Main Street for three days in character posing for endless photos with thousands of exuberant fans.

Mystery Solved. Always wonder why Miss Ellie (Elinor Donahue) left Mayberry after the first season never to return? She told me that's the most asked question she gets from fans. "I left because I basically needed to have some time," she said softly. "I had worked seven years on 'Father Knows Best.' Those were long hours and long days. The first few years we worked six days a week. Then the rules changed, and we were only allowed to work five. I had gone from a teenager into a young adult. I was having all the changes that young people go through. Life was swallowing me up, and I couldn't find my place in it. And I needed some time to get my life together. So at the end of the first year, I said could I be released [from my contract]? I worked eight straight years. I only had like a five- to six-month break between 'Father Knows Best' and went right into 'The Andy Griffith Show.' I just said I can't do it anymore.'"

Places not to miss:

The Andy Griffith Museum: Andy's best friend since fourth grade -- Emmett Forrest -- has collected Andy Griffith memorabilia for 27 years. Mr. Forrest gave me a personal tour of the museum allowing TV Squad to take photos. He has collected from flea markets, eBay, friends, cast members and the man himself, Andy Griffith. His most recent donations came from Griffith last May when he donated the keys to the jailhouse, the eagle and the gavel from his desk in the Mayberry courthouse. Among the artifacts include Barney Fife's salt and pepper suit, Goober's suit and beanie (which Lindsay had bronzed), Otis Campbell's wrinkled suit, tie and hat; Andy's sheriff's shirt and hundreds of pictures, furniture, posters, bill boards, the signs from the courthouse door ... and the list just goes on (worth every penny of the $3 entry fee!).

Wally's Service Station: A mock up of the TAGS gas station, this replica is a must see. Daily tour guides start here where fans are driven through the sites of Mt. Airy (oops, Mayberry) in 1962-63 Ford squad cars. Tour guides, including Roger Sickmiller, take fans on a 30-minute guided tour that includes the world's largest open-faced granite quarry outside of Mt. Airy, Floyd's Barber Shop, the Andy Griffith Playhouse, Andy Griffith Museum, the Baptist Church where Andy attended, the Courthouse replica, the Bluebird Dinner on Main Street, and, of course, a trip by Andy's boyhood home.

Mayberry Days barber shopFloyd's Barber Shop: Owned by 86-year-old Russell Hiatt, "Floyd" has worked in the barber shop for 63 years. Originally called the City Barber Shop, Hiatt changed the name to Floyd's in 1989, the first year that "Mayberry Days" began. He did cut Andy's hair when he was in high school and college, still works every day (closed on Thursdays). Hundreds of fans swarmed his barber shop during the four-day event for haircuts, shaves, pictures and autographs.

The Snappy Lunch: Andy talked about the "Snappy Lunch" in early episodes of TAGS. He used to eat lunch there growing up, and it has become a fan favorite. People stood in line for two to three hours waiting to get a seat. Their specialty is pork chop sandwiches and sweet tea.

Andy's Boyhood Home: A separate visit here is a must. It's now owned by the Hampton Inn and is rented out by the day/night to folks who want to sleep in the house where Andy grew up. Joy and Terry Hollar from Hickory, N.C. have rented out the house for the past eight years during Mayberry Days. "This is where I'm the happiest," said Joy, fighting back tears. The Hollars were kind enough to give me a guided tour inside the house which meant I had to get out my hanky ... so emotional standing inside the small, two-bedroom house where Andy Griffith once lived with his parents Geneva and Carl.

There are very few celebrities whose hometown is as celebrated as Andy Griffith's. The only other name that comes to mind is Elvis.

For four days, visitors attending "Mayberry Days" in Mt. Airy, N.C. got a good dose of "happily ever after." We love you Andy ... for sharing your town, your spirit and your front porch.

To find out more about Mayberry Days, click here.

If you want to rent out Andy's boyhood home, call 1-800-565-5249 or visit this website.

To check out Karen Knotts' performance schedule honoring her late father, click here.

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Cyndi

I grew up in Mt. Airy and had no idea it was such a great place to live. The one distinct memory that I have is from the 80's and it is of The Klu Klux Klan parade on Main Street, the same street where "Mayberry Days" is held. I have often heard about "Mayberry Days" but only after I had moved away in the late 90's. This festival was created because the town wants tourism to be its only source of revenue. Most of the people that I went to school with work at Wal-Mart because most of the manufacturing jobs have been sent out of the country due to NAFTA. A much older traditional festival, The Autumn Leaves Festival, has been over shadowed by this tourist trap festival. I have heard about large corporations who have tried to relocate to Mt. Airy have been turned down because the town leaders are afraid that the high hourly wages would be to high for the other places in town to compete. That's just sad. As for the Snappy Lunch, that place is just nasty, for years the previous owner shaved in the kitchen sink that he washed dishes in and not many locals would be caught dead there.

October 06 2010 at 4:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jean frank

I went on a trip a few years ago in NC; and at one of the bar/restaurants I was told by several folks that this was one of Andy's favorite spots to come eat and hang out. I couldn't believe how my heart and mind reacted to the very thought that he could walk in any moment. A few years ago, my oldest daughter had to write something for an elementary class about what makes her happy. Her answer? When I get home from school and Grandma lets me watch Andy Griffith. How can you not love someone who makes you feel that way? And gave us Mayberry? True class all.

October 02 2010 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ted

Mayberry RFD was a very good show. Ken Berry is so much the strate actor as he is in comedy. I think Mayberry RFD should be considered at the top too.

Ted

October 02 2010 at 7:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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