Griffith (born June 1, 1926) is an American actor, director, producer,
Grammy Award-winning Southern-gospel singer, and writer. He gained
prominence in the starring role in director Elia Kazan's epic film, A
Face in the Crowd (1957) before he became better known for his
television roles, playing the lead characters in the 1960–68 situation
comedy, The Andy Griffith Show, and in the 1986–95 legal drama, Matlock.
Griffith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by US President
George W. Bush on November 9, 2005.
Griffith was born in
Mount Airy, North Carolina, the only child of Geneva (née Nunn) and Carl Lee
Griffith. At a very young age, Griffith had to live with relatives until his
parents could afford to get a home of their own. Without a crib or a bed, he
slept in drawers for a few months. In 1929, when Griffith was three years old,
his father took a job working as a carpenter and was finally able to purchase a
home in Mount Airy's "blue-collar" southside.
Like his mother,
Griffith grew up listening to music. His father instilled a sense of humor from
old family stories. By the time he entered school he was well aware that he was
from what many considered the "wrong side of the tracks". He was a shy student,
but once he found a way to make his peers laugh, he began to come out of his
shell and come into his own.
As a student at Mount
Airy High School, Griffith cultivated an interest in the arts, and he
participated in the school's drama program. A growing love of music,
particularly swing, would change his life. Griffith was raised Baptist and
looked up to Ed Mickey, a minister at Grace Moravian Church, who led the brass
band and taught him to sing and play the trombone. Mickey nurtured Griffith's
talent throughout high school until graduation in 1944. Griffith was delighted
when he was offered a role in The Lost Colony, a play still performed today on
Roanoke Island. He performed as a cast member of the play for several years,
playing a variety of roles, until he finally landed the role of Sir Walter
Raleigh, the namesake of North Carolina's capital.
He began college
studying to be a Moravian preacher, but he changed his major to music and became
a part of the school's Carolina Play Makers. He attended the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and graduated with
a bachelor of music degree in 1949. At UNC he was president of the UNC Men's
Glee Club and a member of the Alpha Rho Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia,
America's oldest fraternity for men in music. He also played
roles in several student operettas, including The Chimes of Normandy (1946), and
Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers (1945), The Mikado (1948) and H.M.S.
After graduation, he
taught English for a few years at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, North
Carolina, where he taught, among others, Carl Kasell. He also began to write.
From rising comedian to
Griffith's early career
was as a monologist, delivering long stories such as What it Was, Was Football,
which is told from the point of view of a rural backwoodsman trying to figure
out what was going on in a football game. Released as a single in 1953 on the
Colonial label, the monologue was a hit for Griffith, reaching number nine on
the charts in 1954.
Griffith starred in a
one-hour teleplay version of No Time for Sergeants (March 1955)—a story about a
country boy in the US Air Force—on The United States Steel Hour, a television
anthology series. He expanded that role in a full-length theatrical version of
the same name (October 1955) on Broadway in New York City, New York. His
Broadway career also included the title role in the 1957 musical, Destry Rides
Again, co-starring Delores Gray. The show, with a score by Harold Rome, ran for
more than a year.
Griffith later reprised
his role for the film version (1958) of No Time for Sergeants; the film also
featured Don Knotts, as a corporal in charge of manual-dexterity tests, marking
the beginning of a life-long association between Griffith and Knotts. No Time
for Sergeants is considered the direct inspiration for the later television
situation comedy Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
He also portrayed a US
Coast Guard sailor in the feature film Onionhead (1958); it was neither a
critical nor a commercial success.
Dramatic role in A Face
in the Crowd (1957)
In 1957 Griffith made
his film début, starring in the film A Face in the Crowd. Although he plays a
"country boy", this country boy is manipulative and power-hungry, a drifter who
becomes a television host and uses his show as a gateway to political power.
Co-starring Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Tony Franciosa, and Lee Remick (in
her film début as well), this now-classic film, directed by Elia Kazan,
showcases Griffith's powerful talents. Written by Budd Schulberg, and partly
based on the on-stage phoniness of Arthur Godfrey, the film demonstrated, quite
early on, the power that television can have upon the masses. This prescient
film was seldom run on television until the 1990s.
A 2005 DVD reissue of A
Face in the Crowd includes a mini-documentary on the film, with comments from
Schulberg and surviving cast members Griffith, Franciosa, and Neal. In his
interview, Griffith, revered for his wholesome image for decades, reveals a more
complex side of himself. He recalls Kazan prepping him to shoot his first scene
with Remick's teenaged baton twirler, who captivates Griffith's character on a
trip to Arkansas. Griffith also expresses his belief that the film was far more
popular and respected in more recent decades than it was when originally
Early television roles
appearance on television had been in 1955 in the one-hour teleplay of No Time
for Sergeants on The United States Steel Hour. That was the first of two
appearances on that series.
In 1960, Griffith
appeared as a county sheriff (who was also a justice of the peace and the editor
of the local newspaper) in an episode of Make Room for Daddy, starring Danny
Thomas. This episode, in which Thomas' character is stopped for speeding in a
little town, served as a backdoor pilot for The Andy Griffith Show. Both shows
were produced by Sheldon Leonard.
The Andy Griffith Show
Beginning in 1960,
Griffith starred as Sheriff Andy Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show for the CBS
television network. The show took place in the fictional town of Mayberry, North
Carolina, where Taylor, a widower, was the sheriff and town sage. The show was
filmed at Desilu Studios, with exteriors filmed at Forty Acres in Culver City,
From 1960 to 1965, the
show co-starred character actor and comedian—and Griffith's longtime friend—Don
Knotts in the role of Deputy Barney Fife, Taylor's best friend and partner. He
was also Taylor's cousin in the show. In the series première episode, in a
conversation between the two, Fife calls Taylor "Cousin Andy", and Taylor calls
Fife "Cousin Barney". The show also starred child actor Ron Howard (then known
as Ronny Howard), who played Taylor's only child, Opie Taylor.
It was an immediate hit.
Although Griffith never received a writing credit for the show, he worked on the
development of every script. While Knotts was frequently lauded and won multiple
Emmy Awards for his comedic performances (as did Frances Bavier in 1967),
Griffith was never nominated for an Emmy Award during the show's run.
In 1967, Griffith was
under contract with CBS to do one more season of the show. However, he decided
to quit the show to pursue a movie career and other projects. The series
continued as Mayberry R.F.D., with Ken Berry starring as a widower farmer and
many of the regular characters recurring, some regularly and some as guest
appearances. Griffith served as executive producer (according to Griffith, he
came in once a week to review the week's scripts and give input) and guest
starred in five episodes (the pilot episode involved his marriage to Helen
Crump). He made final appearances as Taylor in the 1986 reunion television
film, Return to Mayberry, and in two reunion specials in 1993 and 2003.
After leaving his
still-popular show in 1968, and starting his own production company (Andy
Griffith Enterprises) in 1972, Griffith starred in less-successful television
series such as Headmaster (1970), The New Andy Griffith Show (1971), Adams of
Eagle Lake (1975) Salvage 1 (1979), and The Yeagers (1980).
After spending time in
rehabilitation for leg paralysis from Guillain–Barré syndrome in 1986, Griffith
returned to television as the title character, Ben Matlock, in the legal drama
Matlock (1986–1995) on NBC and ABC. Matlock was a country lawyer in Atlanta,
Georgia, who was known for his Southern drawl and for always winning his cases.
Matlock also starred unfamiliar actors (both of whom were childhood fans of Andy
Griffith) Nancy Stafford as Michelle Thomas (1987–1992) and Clarence Gilyard Jr.
as Conrad McMasters (1989–1993). By the end of its first season it was a ratings
powerhouse on Tuesday nights. Although the show was nominated for four Emmy
Awards, Griffith once again was never nominated. He did, however, win a People's
Choice Award in 1987 for his work as Matlock.
During the series' sixth
season, he served as unofficial director, executive producer and writer of the
This show is mentioned
on the TV's longest animated show The Simpsons and is noted as Grandpa Simpson's
favorite show as well as Marge Simpson's mother Jacqueline Bouvier's as well.
Griffith has also made
other character appearances through the years on Playhouse 90, Gomer Pyle,
U.S.M.C., The Mod Squad, Hawaii Five-O, The Doris Day Show, Here's Lucy, The
Bionic Woman, Fantasy Island, among many others. He also reprised his role as
Ben Matlock on Diagnosis: Murder in 1997, and his most recent guest-starring
role was in 2001 in an episode of Dawson's Creek.
For most of the 1970s,
Griffith starred or appeared in many television films including The Strangers In
7A (1972), Go Ask Alice (1973), Winter Kill (1974), and Pray for the Wildcats
(1974), which marked his first villainous role. Griffith appeared again as a
villain in Savages (1974), a television film based on the novel Deathwatch
(1972) by Robb White. Griffith received his only Primetime Emmy Award nomination
as Outstanding Supporting Actor – Miniseries or a Movie for his role as the
father of a murder victim in the television film Murder In Texas (1981) and won
further acclaim for his role as a homicidal villain in the television film
Murder in Coweta County (1983), co-starring music legend Johnny Cash as the
sheriff. He also proved to be a good character actor and appeared in several
television mini-series, including the television version of From Here to
Eternity (1979), Roots: The Next Generations (1979), Centennial (1978), and the
Watergate scandal-inspired Washington: Behind Closed Doors (1977), playing a
former president loosely based on Lyndon B. Johnson.
Most of the TV movies
Griffith starred in were also attempts to launch a new series. 1974's Winter
Kill launched the short lived Adams of Eagle Lake which was canceled after only
two episodes in 1975. A year later, he starred as a New York City attorney for
the DA's office in Street Killing which also failed to launch a new series. Two
television films for NBC in 1977, The Girl in The Empty Grave and Deadly Game,
were attempts for Griffith to launch a new series featuring him as Police Chief
Abel Marsh, a more hard-edged version of Andy Taylor; despite strong ratings for
both films, both were unsuccessful.
While appearing in
television films and guest roles on television series over the next 10 years,
Griffith also appeared in two feature films, both of which flopped at the box
office. He co-starred with Jeff Bridges as a crusty old 1930s western actor in
the comedy Hearts of the West (1975), and he appeared alongside Tom Berenger as
a gay villainous colonel and cattle baron in the western comedy spoof Rustlers'
He also appeared as an
attorney in the NBC mini-series Fatal Vision in 1984, which is considered a
precursor to his role in Matlock.
Griffith stunned many
unfamiliar with his A Face in the Crowd work in the television film Crime of
Innocence (1985), where he portrayed a callous judge who routinely sentenced
juveniles to hard prison time. He further stunned audiences with his role as a
dangerous and mysterious grandfather in 1995's Gramps, co-starring the late John
Ritter. He also appeared as a comical villain in the spy movie spoof Spy Hard
(1996) starring Leslie Nielsen. In the television film A Holiday Romance (1999),
Griffith played the role of "Jake Peterson." In the film Daddy and Them (2001),
Griffith portrayed a patriarch of a dysfunctional southern family.
In the feature film
Waitress (2007), Griffith played a crusty diner owner who takes a shine to Keri
Russell's character. His latest appearance was the leading role in the romantic
comedy, independent film Play The Game (2009) as a lonely, widowed grandfather
re-entering the dating world after a 60-year hiatus. The cast of Play The Game
also included Rance Howard, Ron Howard's real-life father, who made appearances
in various supporting roles on The Andy Griffith Show, and Clint Howard, Ron's
younger brother, who had the recurring role of Leon (the kid offering the ice
cream cone or peanut butter sandwich) on TAGS.
Singing and recording
Griffith sang as part of
some of his acting roles, most notably in A Face In The Crowd and in many
episodes of both The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock. In addition to his
recordings of comic monologues in the 1950s, he made an album of upbeat country
and gospel tunes during the run of The Andy Griffith Show, which included a
version of the show's theme sung by Griffith under the title "The Fishin' Hole".
In recent years, he has recorded successful albums of classic Christian hymns
for Sparrow Records. His most successful was the 1996 release I Love to Tell the
Story: 25 Timeless Hymns, which was certified platinum by the RIAA.
Griffith appeared in
country singer Brad Paisley's music video "Waitin' on a Woman" (2008).
William Harold Fenrick
of Platteville, Wisconsin, legally changed his name to Andrew Jackson Griffith
and ran unsuccessfully for sheriff of Grant County in November 2006.
Subsequently, actor Griffith filed a lawsuit against Griffith/Fenrick, asserting
that he violated trademark, copyright, and privacy laws by changing his name for
the "sole purpose of taking advantage of Griffith's notoriety in an attempt to
gain votes". On May 4, 2007, US District Court Judge John C. Shabaz ruled that
Griffith/Fenrick did not violate federal trademark law because he did not use
the Griffith name in a commercial transaction but instead strove "to seek
elective office, fundamental First Amendment protected speech."
The longest association
Griffith has had began in 1949 with a then-unknown actor, R.G. Armstrong. They
met when Armstrong was one of Griffith's and his first wife's students at UNC,
where Armstrong majored in drama. After graduating from college, Armstrong went
on to become a versatile character actor while attending The Actors Studio in
New York City.
In the 1960s, they were
reunited in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, with Armstrong playing a
farmer who was the father of a tomboy. In the 1980s, Armstrong made a guest
appearance in a two-part episode of Matlock, which was filmed in Wilmington,
North Carolina (Griffith's place of residence), playing the role of a sheriff
who introduces Matlock to a young, hotshot private investigator. Griffith and
Armstrong keep in contact.
with Knotts began in 1955, when they co-starred in the Broadway play No Time for
Sergeants. Several years later, Knotts had a regular role on The Andy Griffith
Show for five seasons. Knotts left the series in 1965 but periodically returned
for guest appearances. He appeared in the pilot for Griffith's subsequent
short-lived series, The New Andy Griffith Show, and he had a recurring role on
Matlock, from 1988 to 1992.
They kept in contact
until Knotts' death in early 2006. Griffith traveled from his Manteo, North
Carolina home to Los Angeles, California, to visit a terminally ill Knotts in
the hospital just before Knotts died from complications of lung cancer.
with Howard began in 1960, when they guest-starred in the episode of Make Room
For Daddy that led to the formation of The Andy Griffith Show that same year.
For eight seasons they shared a unique father-son relationship on the set. They
guest-starred together in its spin-off series, Mayberry R.F.D., in an episode
where Griffith's character married his long-time girlfriend. They also appeared
in the episode Opie's Ill-Gotten Gain, in which Howard's character, Opie, runs
away from home and attempts to enlist in the US Marines. Howard and Griffith
starred together in most of "The Andy Griffith Show" episodes. They costarred in
the television special Return to Mayberry (1986), in which the now-adult Opie is
about to become a father, and they later appeared together in CBS reunion
specials in 1993 and 2003.
Griffith made a surprise
appearance as the ghost of Andy Taylor when Howard hosted Saturday Night Live in
1982. Howard did not make any cameo appearances on Matlock, but his mother, Jean
Speegle Howard, had a small role in one episode. Howard attended the People's
Choice Awards in 1987, where Griffith was honored.
Howard and Griffith keep
in contact sharing news about family and personal activities. Howard and his
family attended Waitress (2007), which they reportedly enjoyed.
To this day, Griffith still calls Howard by his childhood nickname, Ronny.
In October 2008,
Griffith and Howard briefly reprised their Mayberry roles in an online video Ron
Howard’s Call to Action. It was posted to comedy video website Funny or Die. The
video encouraged people to vote and endorsed Democratic candidates Barack Obama
and Joe Biden.
Marriage and family
Griffith and Barbara
Bray Edwards were married on August 22, 1949, and they adopted a son, Andrew
Samuel Griffith Jr. (born in 1957 and known as Sam Griffith), a real-estate
developer, and a daughter, Dixie Nan. They were divorced in 1972. Sam died in
1996 after years of alcoholism.
He and Cindi Knight were
married on April 12, 1983; they had met when he was filming Murder in Coweta
In addition to his
online video with Howard in 2008, in politics Griffith has favored Democrats and
recorded television commercials endorsing North Carolina Governors Mike
Easley and Bev Perdue. He spoke at the inauguration ceremonies of
both. In 1984, he declined an offer by Democratic party officials to run
against Jesse Helms, a US Senator from North Carolina.
In July 2010, he also
starred in ads about Medicare.
Griffith's first serious
health problem was in April 1983, when he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré
syndrome and could not walk for seven months because of paralysis from
the knees down.
On May 9, 2000, he
underwent quadruple heart-bypass surgery at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in
Norfolk, Virginia. After a fall, Griffith underwent hip surgery on September
5, 2007, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Andy and Cleopatra on Capitol
Records - T 2066, (1964)
What it Was, Was Football (as
Deacon Andy Griffith) on Capitol Records - EAP 1-498, (1953)
Just for Laughs (1958)
Shouts the Blues and Old Timey Songs
(1959) (album includes a guest appearance by bluesmen Brownie McGhee
and Sonny Terry).
Somebody Bigger Than You and I
American Originals (1993)
Precious Memories: 33 Timeless Hymns
I Love to Tell the Story: 25
Timeless Hymns (1996)
Sings Favorite Old-Time Songs
Just as I Am: 30 Favorite Old Time
Wit & Wisdom of Andy Griffith
Favorite Old Time Songs (2000)
Absolutely the Best (2002)
Back to Back Hits (2003)
The Christmas Guest (2003)
Bound for the Promised Land: The
Best of Andy Griffith Hymns (2005)
The Collection (2005)
Pickin' and Grinnin': The Best of
Andy Griffith (2005)
Waitin' on a Woman (music video
by Brad Paisley featuring Griffith) (2008)
The Andy Griffith Show
The Headmaster (1970–1971)
The New Andy Griffith Show
(1971; cancelled after 13 episodes)
The Strangers In 7A (1972)
Go Ask Alice (1973)
Pray for the Wildcats (1974)
Winter Kill (1974)
Adams of Eagle Lake (1975;
cancelled after two episodes)
Street Killing (1976)
Six Characters in Search of an
Frosty's Winter Wonderland
Washington: Behind Closed Doors
The Girl in the Empty Grave
Deadly Game (1977)
Centennial (1978; miniseries)
Salvage 1 (1979; cancelled after
From Here to Eternity (1979;
Roots: The Next Generations
The Yeagers (1980; cancelled
after two episodes)
Murder in Texas (1981)
For Lovers Only (1982)
Murder in Coweta County (1983)
The Demon Murder Case (1983)
Fatal Vision (1984) (miniseries)
Crime of Innocence (1985)
Return to Mayberry (1986)
Under the Influence (1986)
The Gift of Love (1994)
Scattering Dad (1998)
A Holiday Romance (1999)
Mount Airy annually
celebrates Griffith and his eponymous television series with "Mayberry Days",
named after the fictional community of Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show.
A statue of the Mayberry
characters, Andy and Opie, was constructed in Pullen Park in Raleigh, North
Carolina, and at the Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mount Airy.
C.F. Martin & Company,
guitar manufacturers, offers an Andy Griffith signature model guitar. Limited
edition in 2004 of the D-18 Model with 311 units total production. Patterned
after Andy's own 1956 D-18.
Griffith received a
Grammy Award for Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album for I Love to
Tell the Story — 25 Timeless Hymns in 1997.
In 1999 Griffith was
inducted into the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame with fellow artists Lulu
Roman, Barbara Mandrell, David L. Cook, Gary S. Paxton, Jimmy Snow, Loretta
Lynn, and Jody Miller.
In October 2002, an
11-mile (18 km) stretch of US Highway 52 that passes through Mount Airy was
dedicated as the Andy Griffith Parkway.
He was awarded the
Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush on November 9, 2005.
A few weeks earlier, he
had helped preside over the reopening of UNC's Memorial Hall and donated a
substantial amount of memorabilia from his career to the university.
In 2007, he was inducted
into the Christian Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
1.^ Press release
(September 9, 2005). "Andy Griffith to Donate Personal Collection to UNC’s
Southern Historical Collection. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Accessed January 14, 2010.
2.^ Andy Griffith
3.^ "Full text of "The
Player A Profile Of An Art"". Archive.org. Retrieved 2011-12-11.
4.^ Collection Number:
P0035, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Dramatic Art
Photographs and Related Materials, 1911-1970s", University of North Carolina
Libraries, accessed January 20, 2012
5.^ "So This Is Carl
Kasell!" by Joanne Kaufman, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 18, 2007 (accessed March
21, 2011) 
6.^ CarolinaFan.com –
What It Was, Was Football
7.^ "details for What
It Was, Was Football - Deacon Andy Griffith". Dmdb.org. Retrieved 2011-12-11.
8.^ Database (undated).
"No Time for Sergeants". Internet Broadway Database. Accessed January 14, 2010.
9.^ "No Time for
Sergeants: Information from". Answers.com. Retrieved 2011-12-11.
(undated). "Full Cast and Crew for Mayberry R.F.D.. Internet Movie Database.
Accessed January 14, 2010.
11.^ RIAA Gold &
Platinum (May 21, 2010)
12.^ "Andy Griffith
Sues Former Wisconsin Sheriff's Candidate". WEAU.com. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
13.^ Collins, Scott
(February 25, 2006). "Don Knotts, Star of 'The Andy Griffith Show,' Dead at 81 —
Knotts Died Friday Night of Pulmonary and Respiratory Complications at
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills". The Los Angeles Times (via The
Morning Call). Accessed January 14, 2010.
14.^ online video
15.^ Van Derbeken,
Jaxon (January 18, 1996)."Andy Griffith's Son Dies after Battling Alcoholism"
Los Angeles Daily News (hosted by TheFreeLibrary.com). Accessed January 14,
(June 21, 2008). "What It Was, Was a Debate". Blog at The News & Observer.
Accessed January 14, 2010.
(October 27, 2008). Andy also recorded commercials with ron Howard endorsing the
candidacy of Barack Obama in 2008 "Perdue's 'Whistling' Ad from Griffith".
(includes video; requires Adobe Flash). Blog at The News & Observer. Accessed
January 14, 2010.
18.^ Johnson, Mark
(January 7, 2009). "Yes, Andy Will Be There". Blog at The News & Observer.
Accessed January 14, 2010.
19.^ Bniolet (January
10, 2009). "Oh, the Places You'll Govern". Blog at The News & Observer. Accessed
January 14, 2010.
20.^ "CBS News".
21.^ "Andy Griffith in
Hospital". The Pittsburgh Press. May 17, 1983. Retrieved 2010-09-11.
22.^ "Andy Griffith
recovering from Ailment". Lodi News-Sentinel. May 18, 1983. Retrieved
23.^ "Andy Griffith
recovering from heart attack, bypass surgery". The Tuscaloosa News. June 14,
2000. Retrieved 2010-09-11.
24.^ Griffith has hip
26.^ Staff writer
(undated). "20th Annual Mayberry Days — Thursday–Sunday, September 24–27, 2009".
Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce & Mount Airy Visitors Center. Accessed January
27.^ Table (undated).
"Hall of Fame Inductees". Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Accessed January
28.^ Press release
(November 9, 2005). "Citations for Recipients of the 2005 Presidential Medal of
Freedom". Office of the Press Secretary, White House. Accessed January 14, 2010.
29.^ Table (undated).
"Listed Below are the 2007 Hall of Fame Inductees". Christian Music Hall of
Fame. Accessed January 14, 2010.
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