Robert Knight
“Americans loved, and still love, the notion of the small town as a manageable, nonthreatening, friendly, finite community …. The black-and-white world that Andy Griffith shaped so masterfully is there for our perusal from a distance, but it is not coming back – either on television or anywhere else.” – Ted Anthony, Associated Press .

In an elegant obituary for Andy Griffith, who died on July 3 at age 86, Ted Anthony might be right about the survival of small communities, but perhaps not about what made “The Andy Griffith Show” so successful.

The most important part of the program, of which CBS ran 249 episodes (159 in black and white and 90 in color) from 1960 to 1968, was not the idealized portrayal of small town American life. It is the Christian-inspired warmth and wisdom, which never goes out of style. Most Americans don’t live in semi-rural villages anymore, and the communications age has ended isolation, but “The Andy Griffith Show” transcends its venue.

The spirit of Mayberry is evident anytime church members deliver food to the newly widowed, when city dwellers help a struggling single mother, or when neighbors pitch in to clean up after natural or manmade disasters. Although human kindness and openness is more likely in the country than the rougher-edged city, it can and does happen anywhere.

Mayberry, the fictional community based on Andy Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina, leaves its mark on viewers the way it does on its fictional visitors. Outsiders leave Mayberry with the residue of love and good humor clinging to them like dryer sheets.

In “Man in a Hurry” (1963), a businessman whose car breaks down as he’s driving through Mayberry erupts in exasperation that this little town works differently on Sunday. The repair shop is closed. He can’t use the telephone because the party line is tied up by two elderly sisters who talk for hours on Sundays. Meanwhile, Sheriff Andy Taylor (Griffith) invites the man to stay at his home. Listening over and over to Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife (Don Knotts) rock on the porch, repeating his “plan” to go downtown, get a pop and head over to Thelma Lou’s to watch TV, nearly drives the man over the edge.

Slowly but surely, the businessman chills out, charmed by the men’s kindness, the cooking of Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier), and the boyish enthusiasm of widower Taylor’s son, Opie (Ron Howard).

Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.