MANTEO, N.C. (WGHP) — If there is anything more North Carolina than Lexington BBQ, it would be Andy Griffith.
“Just mentioning Andy was a calling card anywhere in the world,” says John Railey about his new book chronicling how Manteo on Roanoke Island wasn’t just the place that launched his career, but it was his true Mayberry.
“He gets there in 1947, he starts off in a bit role as a soldier,” says Railey about Andy spending summers in Manteo performing in the classic show, The Lost Colony. “He was from Mt. Airy, he’d been through Chapel Hill and that stretched his mind to a certain degree.”
But as he worked increasingly bigger roles in The Lost Colony, Andy worked his one-man acts as well – comedic monologues that played off the country boy charm he exuded and reflected from the places he lived.
“It’s become conventional wisdom to say his breakthrough was, ‘What It Was, Was Football,’ in 1953 in Raleigh,” says Railey. “But, actually, the real breakthrough was 1952 at the old Shrine Club, Whalebone Junction, Nags Head. It still stands – it’s a Catholic Church, now, and my folks saw him do Hamlet there and that was the real breakthrough, as Andy has often said.”
Andy needed some help putting the Hamlet monologue together, though.
“Andy was a comedic genius but not book-smart so he goes over to his good friend, Bob Armstrong, who was at Chapel Hill with him who was real sharp and knew his way inside and out on Shakespeare,” says Railey. “Andy had tried with a, ‘To be or not to be,’ monologue but it wasn’t working, so he goes to Bob and says, ‘I want to do one riffing off the whole play, walk me through it.’”
He used that early success on stage to star in two, major films: first, A Face in the Crowd (1957) and then, No Time For Sergeants (1958) which lead to the producer of The Danny Thomas Show, Sheldon Leonard, to have an episode of that show written to feature Andy as a smalltown, southern sheriff (they took dramatic license to make him a town’s sheriff, rather than a county’s, as reality would dictate) that was used as a de facto pilot for a show starring Andy. The episode of The Danny Thomas Show guest starring Andy was broadcast on Monday night, February 15, 1960. On October 3 of that year (another Monday), The Andy Griffith Show premiered on CBS at 9:30 PM. That was the character that made Andy a legend.
“It’s something about that nature,” Railey says of Andy’s appeal and how he translated it into his characters. “As Andy said, ‘I’m no Sheriff Taylor but there are parts of him in there.’”
See more about – and hear John Railey read from – his new book about Andy Griffith in this edition of the Buckley Report.