Tag Archives: Andy Griffith

When Great Things Happen to Mediocre Museums

In 2016 I wrote about a visit to the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy, NC.  At the time I thought the museum was a fairly average small town attempt to acknowledge a local guy who did good in the big world beyond Mount Airy. You can read my post about it, but the truth is the museum left a lot to be desired with clothing on hangers and improperly mounted, a jumbled up narrative, and redundancies galore. At the time we were told that an update was in the works so that made me feel somewhat better about the experience.

If you aren’t familiar with Andy Griffith and his TV show from the 1960s, it was based on a small town sheriff in the town of Mayberry, which was based on Griffith’s home town of Mount Airy. Today there is an entire industry built around the TV show, with local businesses taking on the persona of the TV equivalent.  It’s a bit of an Andy Griffith theme park, but it is working for Mount Airy. All the shop fronts are filled with local businesses, and there are plenty of visitors, looking for the Mayberry experience.

I am happy to say that the museum has been completely renovated and reimagined. It’s no longer a haphazard bunch of stuff, but today tells a coherent story of the man and the TV show that put his hometown on the map.

Above you can see one of the shirts Andy wore as the sheriff of Mayberry. previously this shirt was on a clothes hanger in a space so small that the bottom of the shirt wadded up on the bottom of the case.The only good thing was that the label could be seen. It’s now hidden, but the exhibit notes tell the visitor that the shirt was made by the famous Nudie Cohn of Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors in North Hollywood.

The first part of the museum tells about Andy’s childhood in Mount Airy. The setting for this area consist of reproductions of some of the local landmarks. The Snappy lunch is located on Main Street and was mentioned in episodes of the TV show.

You can still eat lunch there today.

One of the best things about the renovation is the excellent exhibit notes. Artifacts are clearly explained along with photos from the show. The two tweed suits above were made for actor Don Knotts in his role of Deputy Barney Fife. The one on the left is from the original series and first appeared on screen in 1960. The one on the right was made for a Mayberry reunion movie.

This pinstriped brown suit was based on one first worn by Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle. After he left the show in 1964 the suit was altered to fit his replacement, George Lindsey as Cousin Goober Pyle. Goober wore the suit so much that it became quite worn, and so the Western Costume Company took apart the original to make this replacement.

Even in 1960 the suit was terribly out of style, but Goober kept wearing it until Mayberry RFD, the successor to The Andy Griffith Show, ceased production in 1971.

Goober was usually dressed for his job as an auto mechanic. I have often wondered how he kept his pants waist so high above his waist. The outfit is actually one piece, with the pants sewn to the shirt.

The Mary Maxim type sweater on the right was a gift from Andy to childhood friend Emmett Forrest. It was Forrest’s collection that forms the foundation of the museum’s collection.

Hal Smith played the town drunk, Otis Campbell. He was usually seen in the town jail, and so his costume is surrounded by bars.

This mockup of Andy’s office in the Mayberry Courthouse contains many of the original items from the set. There were screens set up around the museum showing scenes from the show and interviews with the actors.

One of my favorite displays is this one that features two dresses from actress Maggie Peterson. Maggie was Charlene Darling on the show, but these dresses were worn in a 1967 variety show in which some of the show’s actors reunited with Griffith.  Maggie’s dresses were designed by Bob Mackie, and she donated them to the museum along with the original Mackie illustrations.

The museum continues in the basement of an adjoining building. There is a nice display devoted to actress Betty Lynn who portrayed Thelma Lou, Barney’s girl friend, in the show. At the age of seventeen, Betty Lynn joined the USO and was sent to the Pacific theater. That’s her gun that was given to her, just in case.

This is a hand mirror that was a gift from Don Knotts. Betty Lynn is now in her nineties, and she actually lives in Mount Airy. She relocated there in 2006 after a public appearance there.

Outside the museum they have an old motorcycle sidecar for kids visiting to climb into for a photo. I couldn’t resist.

 

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Filed under Museums, North Carolina, Road Trip

Mount Airy, NC and The Andy Griffith Museum

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.

 

 

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Filed under Museums, North Carolina, Road Trip, Viewpoint