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VOL. 44 | NO. 38 | Friday, September 18, 2020

Loyal fans mark 60 years of ‘Andy Griffith Show’

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Jim Clark, left, with Andy Griffith, George "Goober" Lindsey and Ken Beck

-- Photograph Provided

With the 60th anniversary of “The Andy Griffith Show” approaching Oct. 3, I call your attention to Nashville’s strong connection with Mayberry.

There was, of course, Floyd Lawson’s desperate declaration when he feared exposure of his deceitful brags in letters to a female pen pal: “I’m going to Nashville!”

And the fact that the manicurist Ellen Brown (to whom, as Andy observed, nature had been “real, real, real good”) arrived in Mayberry on the Nashville bus.

What’s more, cast members Doug Dillard (the banjo-playing Darling boy) and George Lindsey (Goober) both became longtime Nashville residents.

But the most significant connection is that The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club was founded by Jim Clark and three of his Phi Kappa Sigma brothers at Vanderbilt in the fall of 1979.

“It started out of our need to get dibs on the fraternity’s one TV before the ‘M*A*S*H’ fans claimed the TV rights,” Clark told me. “The two shows often came on at the same time.”

From that modest beginning, word of the club spread first on campus, then around Nashville, then to Middle Tennessee and beyond. Way beyond.

The club has grown to include 1,468 local chapters, including one in Saudi Arabia and one in Israel, all taking their names from characters or memorable lines from the show. The most recent is “You Were on a Date – You Weren’t Taking Medicine,” based in Piedmont, South Carolina.

(Full disclosure: As a newspaper columnist in Jackson, Mississippi, I founded the Otis Campbell Chapter in 1983.)

Clark, of the original Andy Chapter, bears the title Presiding Goober.

“For the past few years, I’ve been trying to officially transition to Presiding Goober Emeritus,” he says. Partly, because he likes the additional absurdity of the title, but also to shift his activities into a slower, more Mayberry-like pace.

After all, as the visiting pastor Dr. Harrison Everett Breen exhorted in “The Sermon for Today,” what’s your hurry?

And, truth be told, over the years Clark has basically been the Keeper of the Flame for the show’s fans. In addition to his writing and editing of the club newsletter, The Bullet, and general curation of all things club related, he and the former Tennessean writer and editor Ken Beck have collaborated on a number of Mayberry-themed projects, including “The Andy Griffith Show Book,” an Andy Griffith Show calendar, “Aunt Bee’s Mayberry Cookbook,” “Goober in a Nutshell,” George Lindsey’s memoirs, which was co-written with Lindsey, and “Mayberry Memories – The Andy Griffith Show Photo Album.”

Clark also was the co-writer with Andy Griffith for his memoirs. They were reviewing the editor’s revisions to the manuscript when Griffith died in 2012.

“I don’t know whether the book will ever be published,” Clark says. “I hope so. Andy was an extraordinary storyteller.”

Owing to the club’s influence, a number of Mayberry cast reunions have also been held at Opryland USA and later Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

“Nashville also hosted Ernest T. Bass Day in 1986, when actor Howard Morris, dressed as Ernest T., was presented the Rock to the City of Nashville by Mayor Richard Fulton on the front stoop of Brown’s Diner,” Clark continues.

In addition, Nashville hosted Otis Campbell Day with the actor Hal Smith in 1988. Smith was deputized and received the key to the city jail. And, thanks to Mayor Bill Boner, Lindsey received the “tire gauge to the city” during Goober Pyle Day in 1990.

Of late, Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Griffith’s hometown and site of the Andy Griffith Museum and sundry other Mayberry-themed attractions, has taken on much of the Mayberry load. Since 1990, it has hosted annual Mayberry Days festivals, with this year’s event scheduled for Sept. 19-27.

The club’s membership growth and activities now take place largely online, Clark says, with the ?www.imayberry.com? site as the hub.

“We estimate that, at any given time, there are about 25,000 people engaged with TAGSRWC’s various online and chapter activities,” he adds. The main Facebook page has more than 240,00 followers.

I asked Clark a question about his personal favorite episode, confident that – like all Mayberry fans – he wouldn’t be able to narrow it to a single one. And he didn’t.

“I will say that I think that no episode epitomizes the show better than ‘Man in a Hurry,’ he said. “I think we, as viewers, are sometimes like rushed businessman Malcolm Tucker. We’re in a big hurry, but, as with Mr. Tucker, Mayberry has a way of helping us slow down and appreciate the simple things in life.”

Beyond that, though: “Like everybody else, I also love ‘The Pickle Story’ and ‘Barney and the Choir’ (Don Knotts’s two favorites), ‘Barney’s First Car’ (Andy Griffith’s favorite), ‘Opie the Birdman,’ ‘The Sermon for Today,’ ‘Convicts-at-Large,’ ‘Goober and the Art of Love’ and anything with the Darlings or Ernest T. Bass.”

“And has there ever been a better Christmas episode in a TV show than Mayberry’s?”

No, there hasn’t. And I’ll add “The Loaded Goat,” “Citizen’s Arrest” and “Three Wishes for Opie” as other top episodes. (As a purist, I don’t watch anything in color.)

As for the show’s continuing popularity all these many years later, Clark has some theories.

“At the core of the appeal for me is the truly outstanding storytelling,” he says. “But then you have the amazing cast. I don’t think there has ever been a finer ensemble of character actors.

“It’s also a wholesome show that folks of all ages can enjoy watching together,” he says. “And nostalgia is often cited as part of the appeal. But I think if the show were just wholesome and nostalgic, that wouldn’t be enough. It’s the great entertainment that keeps us still watching over and over after 60 years.”

Add to those one more reason:

“Andy Griffith always said the key ingredient of the show was love,” Clark says. “I can’t disagree with that.”

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com.

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