Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lessons From Mayberry

Andy & Opie
“Well, now, take down your fishin' pole, and meet me at The Fishin' Hole, we may not get a bite all day, but don't you rush away. What a great place to rest your bones, and mighty fine for skippin' stones, you'll feel fresh as a lemonade, a-settin' in the shade. (Andy Griffith Show theme song, by Everett Sloane, Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer)
Like many on Tuesday, I was saddened by the news of Andy Griffith’s death. His passing marked the end of an era which represented wholesome writing and delivery of quality television programming. The Andy Griffith Show proved a writer can weave a story to captivate viewers’ imaginations without resorting to the smoke-and-mirrors of the sex and violence permeating our entertainment and literature today. 
The success of The Andy Griffith Show was in Andy’s ability to make the viewer wish they lived in the fictitious town of Mayberry. A place where you could sit on the porch on a Sunday afternoon while Andy played his guitar and debated with Barney about getting a bottle of pop at Wally’s filling station or churn homemade ice cream with Opie and Aunt Bee. For thirty minutes, Mayberry existed and we were part of it. 
Andy’s death aroused emotions in everyone on some level. We all have our favorite Mayberry moments and characters. But beyond that, his impact on American culture is unrivaled in the entertainment industry. 
As I thought about this, I considered the parallels of what Andy Griffith taught us through his show and life—and how these lessons can be applied to our work as writers.  
Establish Boundaries
Though Griffith starred in a variety of roles, among them a curmudgeon attorney in Matlock and a few “bad guys,” he was mindful of the morals and standards he represented, and to an extent, set his career priorities accordingly. From a 2008 interview with the Virginian-Pilot:
He [Griffith] mused that he'd passed on the role of the foul-mouthed grandfather in "Little Miss Sunshine," the part that brought the supporting-actor Oscar to Alan Arkin last year. "I wouldn't say I was offered it or anything like that, but it was sent to me, and I read it, and I said, 'Nah. I couldn't ever go back and do a gospel album after I played that part.' "
As a Christian writer, I appreciate his need for boundaries which, if crossed, could potentially unravel the work he deemed most important. Gospel music undoubtedly topped his list. 
Authenticity Matters
I once heard Andy Griffith remark in an interview about the importance of authenticity in characters and setting. Though filmed in the ‘60s, the tumultuous world events did not permeate Mayberry. The show wasn’t used as a political vehicle or soapbox. Instead, Mayberry was an escape to simpler times. Griffith learned in the first season to yield to Don Knotts’ character Barney Fife. In doing so, he explained, his own character was less cornball and the show had real humor. 
Perhaps that’s why after fifty years, The Andy Griffith Show is still as popular as ever. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the show airs somewhere in the U.S. round-the-clock, 365 days a year.
Wherever you are and whatever you have been called to write or minister—do so at God’s guidance. If you try anything other than authenticity with your readers, it will be apparent. 
Remain True to Your Roots
My family and I visited Andy’s home town of Mount Airy, NC, twice when we lived in North Carolina years ago. We enjoyed walking down Main Street, visiting Floyd’s barber shop (still in business), the soda fountain in the drug store, eating grilled cheese sandwiches at the diner, and then taking in a radio show at the local movie theater. 
Mount Airy hosts Mayberry Days each fall where many of the former TV stars return. The actress who played Thelma Lou on the show moved there after becoming disillusioned with the Hollywood lifestyle.
Andy lived most of his life in North Carolina, mostly in the Outer Banks. He was buried a few hours after his death on his farm on Roanoke Island.
Where and when was your creativity born? When you lack motivation and creativity, return to the beginning and explore the reasons you started writing in the first place. 
Good Work Stands the Test of Time
The ‘70s saw a closure for “rural” television shows and the birth of political activism shows like All In The Family and MASH. However, Andy, Barney, Opie, Aunt Bee, Floyd, and Gomer could not be replaced. What they represent—simple times, honest friends, good triumphing over evil—is what beckons us back to Mayberry repeatedly, despite the fact we’ve seen the episodes so many times we can quote them verbatim. They reinforce that character matters in all you do. 
Andy Griffith played dozens of roles in his acting career, some of which were not always admirable people. But he struck gold when he created Sheriff Andy Taylor.
“I guess you could say I created Andy Taylor," he said. "Andy Taylor's the best part of my mind. The best part of me." (Associated Press)
Godspeed, Ang. Thanks for the memories. 
“We'll have no need to call the roll when we get to The Fishin' Hole, there'll be you, me, and Old Dog Trey, to doodle time away. If we don't hook a perch or bass, we'll cool our toes in dewy grass, or else pull up a weed to chaw, and maybe set and jaw. Come on, take down your fishin' pole and meet me at The Fishin' Hole, I can't think of a better way to pass the time o' day.” (Sloane, Hagen, & Spencer)
© Laura Hodges Poole

21 comments:

  1. Beautifully written Laura! I've also heard (or read) that when Floyd the barber had his stroke, Andy still had him on the show, propped up near the barber chair, with short answers as his lines. Andy knew how important being on the show was to Floyd, and Andy respected that.

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    1. Thanks, Cyn. I've also heard that about Floyd. What was remarkable is that back then there wasn't as much disability awareness and often illness ended an actor's career. Andy's respect for Floyd in that atmosphere makes him even more admirable.

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  2. Thank you for this tribute. As a youngster, I looked forward to Mayberry RFD, its occupants and their antics. Reminded me somewhat of my summers in Arkansas.

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    1. You're welcome, Dera. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I look forward to hearing from you again.

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  3. The VBS adult class (at the church I attend) used Andy Griffith shows to teach lesson about morals - good character. So sad that we don't have wholesome shows to watch these days!

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    1. I've heard that some churches are using the show as a basis for Sunday School lessons and VBS. Sounds like a good idea! Thanks for stopping by. God bless you.

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  4. Thank you for this lovely and moving post. I grew up watching Sheriff Taylor, Aunt Bee, Opie, and of course, Barney. Even though I saw Andy Griffith in many other roles, I admit, he was always Sheriff Taylor to me.

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    1. You're welcome. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading the post. I grew up watching the show and then watched it with my children. I agree. I always saw those characters even when the actors were in other roles. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

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  5. I miss good quality shows like that- wish there were more of them!

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  6. Thank you for sharing this wonderful tribute Laura. Andy was a rare gem and will definitely be missed.

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    1. You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it! I agree. Andy will be missed. Thanks for stopping by.

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  7. Such a good post, Laura. For one thing it was really informative...so many things I didn't know (like the words to the theme song and facts about Andy's Christianity). But you also touched the heart of our problems with entertainment today and gave us something we should pray about. And then tied it into our own writing and lives. Really a great post. Thanks for sharing it on B&BB. I plan to share it on facebook. I pray you have a blessed week. Gail

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    1. Thank you, Gail. Andy was an admirable person and fantastic actor. When I started looking at his life and everything he meant to our culture growing up, I saw the parallels to how we should be as Christian writers. God bless you, as well.

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  8. This is wonderful. I have many fond memories of watching his show. Thanks for this walk down memory lane.

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    1. Thanks, Christina. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading it.

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  9. Great lessons for writers that you've drawn from that forever-classic. Thank you. These points are definitely valuable to remember.

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    1. You're welcome, Sylvia. Thanks for stopping by.

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  10. Good post, Laura. Andy Griffith was a great example of how entertainment can add value, reminding us of "simple times, honest friends, good triumphing over evil," and how the best things in life are the things without a pricetag.

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    1. Thanks! Andy shared his best with us. I can't think of another person who contributed to our current culture in such a positive way as he did.

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  11. LOVED this post, Laura. I had wanted to write a post about Andy and Mayberry and what it meant to me, but was so busy with another project at that time that I couldn't. While my words would have been different than yours...yours were great. THANKS for sharing.

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