Last week we found ourselves with a few hours to waste, and we happened to be near the small town of Mount Airy, NC. Mount Airy is like thousands of other towns across the USA, except they have a big advantage in that an a celebrity, Andy Griffith, was born and reared there. In the early 1960s Griffith had a hit TV program, The Andy Griffith Show, in which he starred as a sheriff in the small North Carolina town of Mayberry.
In case you aren’t familiar with the program, it is one of those that continues to live on in reruns, but more than that, it seems to symbolize to fans the small town America that so many people feel has been lost. As such, the show still has many fans, most of whom seem to be of a certain age.
Of course this small town paradise, though actually based on the town of Mount Airy, was complete fiction. It was the early and mid 1960s in the South, and most of American television showed few Blacks or other racial minorities, and Mayberry was no exception. There were Black extras on the streets of Mayberry in many episodes, but not until the near of the end of the show’s run was a black actor actually cast in a guest role.
But what is authentic is that in the early 60s in most small towns in the South there would have been very little interaction between blacks and whites. Andy would not have had a Black deputy and Black children would not have attended the same school as his son. (I first attended school with Black children in 1966.) So like many other books, movies, and TV programs from the mid twentieth century, The Andy Griffith Show reflects a reality that most people would not find acceptable today.
It seems like I’ve been watching this show all my life. I’m old enough that I watched the episodes when they first aired, in their original form. Today when reruns are shown, the shows are cut so badly that much of what made it great has been lost. Fans like to go on and on about how the program shows “a simpler time” but that isn’t what made the show great. And it wasn’t the plots. It was the tiny little interactions between the actors, and unfortunately, it’s those parts than tend to be replaced by ads for the latest miracle drug.
But back to Mount Airy. It’s as though there is a complete Andy of Mayberry industry. The downtown is full of businesses that sell souvenirs and memorabilia about the show. There are the usual tee shirts and coffee mugs and such, but there are quite a few show-specific things that only a real fan of the show would understand.
This is a poster of a portrait that was in an episode about a haunted house. That’s Old Man Rimshaw.
Another interesting item was this jar of pickles. Aunt Bee was notorious for her horrible pickles.
Of course there is an Andy Griffith Museum, and I was quite amazed by some of the objects, even if presentation left a bit to be desired. Especially interesting were the costumes. The suit above was Barney Fife’s (as portrayed by actor Don Knotts) best suit, “the old salt and pepper” . The suit has a label from the Cotroneo Costume Shop with Knott’s name typed on the label.
Andy Griffith almost always wore his sheriff’s uniform that included this shirt. What a surprise to see that the shirt had a Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors label!
Probably the most interesting thing to me, though concerns two dresses worn by Maggie Peterson who played Charlene Darling in the program. The dresses and matching shoes were not worn on the program, but were worn by Peterson on a variety show special in which she appeared with Griffith.
The museum also has the original sketches from designer Bob Mackie. Who would have ever thought there would be Bob Mackie costumes in a small town in North Carolina?
A new exhibit at the museum features items from actress Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou, the girlfriend of Barney Fife. Among the items she had donated to the museum are a USO uniform , trunk, and pistol she used while touring Asia near the end of WWII. She was only seventeen when she joined the USO.
The museum was quite entertaining, but it really suffers from being in too small a space. The walls are completely covered in memorabilia, much of which is redundant. I’m pretty sure I saw the same photograph of Andy with his classmates in front of his school about three times. Since visiting we learned that the museum will be in a larger space by the spring of 2017. I sincerely hope so.