Saturday, July 7, 2012

Rest in peace, Andy Griffith

I have a stupid and awful tendency to get agitated with my fellow survivors when someone I love dies. It irritates me when others mourn differently than I do. I get mad because I judge that they're not somber enough, or I get mad because I judge that they're too somber. Or I get mad because I judge that they celebrate the wrong things from the dead person's life--or that they missed the point or took away the wrong lesson. Any and all of the above. It's a wrong-headed, illogical and unhelpful way to live at a moment when one needs to be living right for the sake of not only himself but also for his brothers and sisters around him. But darn if I don't fall into that same manhole every time I walk down this street.

Andy Griffith died Tuesday, and I was surprised that it so staggered me. The man was 86 freaking years old. He'd been old for a long time, and there'd been reports off and on of his being sick. So many of the other people that I associate with him in my head--Don Knotts, Howard Sprague, Helen Crump, Goober, Patricia Neal, Dad--are already dead. Why would the news of Andy Griffith's passing surprise anyone? Well, it did me, and I ended up spending pretty much the rest of Tuesday in a haze of reading fantastic obituaries and tributes written by folks who are more adept at catching clues and collecting and expressing thoughts than I am.

Anyway, the focus on A Face in the Crowd has really--stupidly and awfully--agitated me the rest of the week.

Hey, I love this movie, too. I've got a VHS copy that I recorded off TV 15 years ago, and I'll bet that I've watched it a dozen times and loaned it out to at least that many friends and family. It's a great story; it's a great-looking thing, and Andy Griffith is one sweating, throbbing, laughing, crying, yelling, moaning force of manhood in that movie. It's a fierce and virile performance, and the people who made the movie obviously knew what they had, because the script for the trailer compares the 28-year-old, newcomer lead with Marlon Brando and James Dean.

"If Andy Griffith had won an Academy Award for A Face in the Crowd--as he should have done--his whole career might have been very different," Go Heath remarked around the HP office watercooler Tuesday afternoon. "As it was, he never got the chance to play as many dramatic roles as he should have had."

That's true.

But, man, oh, man, am I ever thankful that it worked out the way it did. Because had Andy Griffith gotten to be Marlon Brando or James Dean, we probably would've never gotten The Andy Griffith Show.

The Andy Griffith Show is my favorite take-me-to-a-time-and-place TV show of all time, and that's not the half of it. TV Land is going to run marathons of episodes today and tomorrow. They're going to kick things off at 10 Central this morning with "The New Housekeeper," the Oct. 3, 1960, debut, and you can see that Andy Griffith and the other people who made the show understood right off the bat the story terrain they intended to explore. There are strategic and personnel tweaks throughout the series' eight-season run. But, from the start, The Andy Griffith Show was funny in the way it was going to be funny and it was about what it was going to be about.

And what it was about, was living in loving community. It's about the balances to be struck or to throw out of whack between sweetness and authenticity and between compassion and justice. It's about the tension in a community between hospitality and security, and it's about what's it's like to deal with the problems of sameness and change in single individuals or in multiple individuals. And when it gets it right, as it often does--not "The Gospel According to The Andy Griffith Show," but "The Andy Griffith Show According to the Gospel"--it's as good as anything ever.

Andy Griffith's life story is filled with all sorts of bad stuff: feeling lesser than when he was a kid, getting too full of himself professionally when he was an adult, divorces and other family tragedies, horrible illnesses, falling off a roof. He was just another man, but I do find a lot of things about him to think about and to admire. Primary among them is that the signature piece of work of Andy Griffith's life on this Earth concentrated on no less than the nuts and bolts of what's it's like to actually live out, together, the kind of community that Jesus calls us to. (Calls us one and calls us all.) "Andy Griffith created aspirational television," Brad Hirschfield put it in Wednesday's Washington Post.

Amen, brother.


  1. I agree with you. You take a simple episode like Mr. McBeevee and you get to the heart of what makes Andy Griffith so good and so difficult to write, produce, direct, etc.

    Check it out

  2. Great, great comments. I am one of the world's biggest fans of "A Face in the Crowd," and I've been urging it on people for years. But "The Andy Griffith Show" captured, almost perfectly, the ideal society that so many Southerners have been carrying around in their heads for centuries. We have almost never lived up to that ideal, but I'm very grateful that Andy Griffith brought it to life, and put it out there for everyone to see.

  3. Thanks!

    By the way, if Andy pulls out a cigarette, that's an episode you need to stick with. It's going to be a good one if Andy pulls out a cigarette and starts to smoke.