It’s fitting that on this American holiday that we mark the passing of an actor who represented an idealized slice of Americana. Andy Griffith, who died yesterday at the age of 86, was best known for his portrayal of Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show. On the show he and his deputy, the immortally funny Barney Fife, prowled the mean streets of Mayberry, a gentle North Carolina that has come to symbolize America’s rural past for many. Andy administered an equally gentle brand of justice with folksy common sense and patience. Of course, no real town could live up to the idyllic nature of Mayberry where everyone got along and even Otis the town drunk was lovably comic but it didn’t matter. It was a lovely comic fantasy that was easy to buy into.
I know that I did. I can still watch the show and laugh out loud or be touched when Andy straightens out Opie with a folksy moral tale. A pure slice of goodness.
The flipside of that goodness was exhibited in Griffith’s performance in the 1957 film from Elia Kazan, A Face in the Crowd. It’s a dark satire that chronicles the rise of Griffith’s character Lonesome Rhodes from drifting drunkard to a national media star with great influence over public opinion that he wields in a cynical fashion. Lonesome Rhodes is a classic film character, a larger than life personality that is a little over the top with a veneer of charm and charisma that hides a truly nasty inner core. He’s a far cry from anyone ever seen in Mayberry. A Face in the Crowd is a great, great film that still rings true today. I periodically hear rumors of people wanting to remake it today and I always hope that they let it be as it is. I don’t think you could have a better Lonesome Rhodes than Andy Griffith.
Have a great 4th of July. Here’s a taste of Lonesome Rhodes: