“The Fishin’ Hole”, the whistled theme song of The Andy Griffith Show, is arguably one of the most recognizable television themes of all time. Like the show itself, the theme, written by Earle Hagen, Everett Sloan, and Herbert Spencer, is easy going and breezy.
With the passing of the much loved and admired Andy Griffith earlier this week, I began to reflect on the appeal of Mayberry, the imaginary town where the show was set.
Mayberry, North Carolina was situated in close proximity to Raleigh; it was at least within easy driving distance. Griffith played country-wise, Sheriff Andy Taylor, whose sensible outlook on life was in direct contrast to his excitable, know-it-all, deputy, Barney Fife (played to perfection by Don Knotts). Rounding out the ensemble were characters we felt we knew, such as: Aunt Bea, Floyd the Barber, Otis the town drunk, and the Pyle cousins, Gomer and Goober. Andy’s son Opie (played by future director, Ron Howard) literally grew up on the show.
So what was its appeal?
My mother loved The Andy Griffith Show. Born and raised in New York City, she greatly appreciated the depiction of small town Southern living, circa the early 60’s. Of course, we watched the show through rose tinted glasses: there was no racism in Mayberry (truth be told, there appeared to be few blacks living there). If a resident suffered from cancer we were unaware of it; the worst illness spoken of was a slight touch of bursitis. And the crime rate in Mayberry was nearly non-existent, so much so that the sheriff didn’t even carry a gun (though Barney did keep a single bullet in his pocket in case of an ‘emergency’).
This begs the question, was it wrong to portray a town like Mayberry in such an idealized fashion? One could say that it was no worse than creating fantasies of the typical American family with shows such as Leave It to Beaver, and Father Knows Best.
We turned a cultural corner in the late sixties and early seventies and comedy became ‘realer’ with shows such as All in the Family and Maude, but at the same time shows became more cynical. Like a bucket of water being suddenly dumped over our collective heads, we were more or less forced to abandon our innocence.
Perhaps this is why The Andy Griffith Show holds a place in the hearts of so many, as does its star, the late Andy Griffith.
Hope you're enjoying your weekend. Thanks for joining me on RHODES LESS TRAVELED.