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Under the Dome

Andy Griffith

Office District Status
Advocate Statewide Retired
Party In Office Since Term Ends
Democrat
Level of Government  
Advocates  
Date of Birth Birthplace Now Lives In
June 1, 1926 Mount Airy, NC Manteo, NC

Synopsis

Andy Griffith is the spiritual godfather of the North Carolina Democratic Party. In "The Andy Griffith Show," he played the sheriff of a fictionalized version of his hometown of Mount Airy—a role that has been a cultural touchstone since the 1960s. At the same time, his portrayal of a cynical country singer in "A Face in the Crowd" has served as a darker counterpart. Off-screen, he's campaigned and raised money for Democratic politicians from Govs. Jim Hunt and Mike Easley to current Gov. Beverly Perdue, Senate leader Marc Basnight and presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Trivia

He was given a citation by the New York City Fire Commissioner in 1959 for not panicking when a fire broke out backstage in a Broadway show he was in. 

Endorsements

Biography

Marital Status
Married
Spouse
Cindi Knight
Children

Andy Griffith is the spiritual godfather of the North Carolina Democratic Party and an actor whose roles as a cynical country singer and an optimistic small-town sheriff are touchstones in state politics.

Early Life and Education

Andrew Samuel Griffith was born June 1, 1926, in Mount Airy, N.C, to Carl Lee and Geneva Griffith. His father was a carpenter and furniture maker.

In 1944, Griffith enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill with the goal of becoming a minister. In college, he twice flunked a political science class, but he did well in school theater and music.

For seven summers starting in 1946, he starred in the annual production of "The Lost Colony" in Manteo, including the role of Sir Walter Raleigh.

Griffith graduated with a degree in music in 1949 and moved to Goldsboro. He soon gained notice for a comedy recording, "What It Was, Was Football," about a backwoods preacher attempting to explain his first football game.

He was soon cast in television and theatrical productions of "No Time for Sergeants."

Lonesome Rhodes

In 1957, Griffith played a role that still touches a nerve in political circles.

In famed director Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd," Griffith played Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, a cynical country singer who is catapulted to fame, but loses it all when he calls his audience "miserable slobs" before a microphone he didn't know was turned on.

In 2000, Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene cited the movie after George W. Bush was caught calling a reporter a name on an open mike at a rally in Naperville. 

Some conservatives have also compared former president Bill Clinton to Rhodes in part because of his Arkansas background and genteel public demeanor.

In 2007, Washington, D.C., political Web site Wonkette regularly referred to former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as "Lonesome Rhodes." 

Other bloggers have called former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee by the name. 

Sheriff Taylor

Griffith's biggest role, however, was the polar opposite of Lonesome Rhodes.

On Oct. 3, 1960, "The Andy Griffith Show" debuted on CBS. In the show, Griffith played Sheriff Andy Taylor, a single father who deals with the problems of his son, Opie, and incompetent Deputy Barney Fife, with sunny optimism.

The show was set in Mayberry, a fictionalized version of his hometown mixed with parts of Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Manteo. 

After 249 episodes, "The Andy Griffith Show" went off the air in 1968. It had won six Emmys and never placed lower than seventh in the Nielsen Ratings.

The show remains a cultural landmark. It is still regularly aired on WRAL in Raleigh in place of controversial programming offered by the CBS network.

In 1987, a Greensboro attorney reported success with the "Mayberry defense," in which he compared clients to characters from the show.

In 2003, the cable station TV Land installed a statue of Sheriff Taylor and Opie heading to the fishing hole at Raleigh's Pullen Park.  

In 2006, a Wisconsin man legally changed his name to Andy Taylor and ran unsuccessfully for Grant County sheriff. Griffith sued for trademark violation, but a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the former candidate.

In 2007, a clip of Sheriff Taylor lecturing Opie about due process circulated on the blogosphere as a rebuke to then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' testimony about warrantless wiretapping. 

Political Activities 

Over the years, Griffith was active in Democratic politics, especially for Govs. Jim Hunt and Mike Easley and Senate leader Marc Basnight.

In 1977, Griffith hosted an inauguration festival for the newly elected Hunt. In 1984, he stumped for Hunt Down East and taped political ads for the governor's unsuccessful bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms.

A number of Democrats tried to recruit Griffith to challenge Helms in 1990, even going as far as printing "Run Andy Run" bumper stickers. Despite the lobbying effort, Griffith never seriously considered running.

In 1996, he appeared at a Chapel Hill golf tournament fundraiser, helping Hunt collect a record $1.6 million for his re-election bid. 

In 1998, Griffith taped radio ads touting the Democrats as pro-education that aired on behalf of Sens. Allen Wellons of Johnston County and Howard Lee and Ellie Kinnaird of Orange County.

In March of 2001, he appeared at a two-hour tribute to former Gov. Hunt that benefited an educational foundation.

In 2002, a 10-mile stretch of U.S. 52 near his boyhood home in Mt. Airy was renamed for Griffith.

In 2005, Griffith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the nation's highest civilian honors, by President George W. Bush. He's also received the Order of the Longleaf Pine and the North Carolina Award, the state's highest honors. 

The Mayberry Miracle 

In 2000, then-Attorney General Easley, previously the front-runner in the gubernatorial race against Richard Vinroot, saw his lead evaporate in the final weeks of the campaign. 

With the help of Senate leader Basnight, Easley tapped Griffith for several last-minute television ads filmed on the front porch of the Manteo home of his older brother, St. Clair Basnight.

Democrats credited the ad with turning the tide for Easley, especially in Eastern North Carolina, dubbing it "The Mayberry Miracle." Easley strategist Mac McCorkle said that Griffith helped negate the effect of the presidential election. 

Still, Vinroot disputed its effectiveness, saying everyone looks for "some simple explanation." 

That same year, Griffith taped radio commercials for Democratic Sens. John Kerr of Goldsboro, Tony Rand of Fayetteville and Fountain Odom of Charlotte that ran on small Christian radio stations in the hotly contested conservative districts. 

Griffith appeared in another last-minute ad for Easley in 2005, leading Republican candidate Patrick Ballantine to complain that he was a "liberal actor who played a conservative sheriff." 

In appreciation for his help, Easley had Griffith give the state toast at his 2001 inauguration and read a poem at his 2005 inauguration. 

2008 Campaign

In April of 2008, Griffith appeared in an ad for Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, who was running against state Treasurer Richard Moore for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

"Oh, you're going to be a goooood governor," he told Perdue in the ad.

After Perdue won the nomination, her Republican opponent, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, complained about Griffith's frequent endorsements of state Democrats.

"There is one political reality in North Carolina, and that is every four years about a week or two before the gubernatorial election, Andy Griffith the actor recommends one of the candidates," he said at a June debate before the N.C. Bar Association

He argued that "Sheriff Taylor" would have problems with the criminal justice system today.

A July survey by a Democratic polling firm showed that the plurality of likely voters thought the fictional sheriff would split his ticket between Perdue and Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

In October, Griffith starred in a Web video with director Ron Howard, reprising their roles from "The Andy Griffith Show" to endorse Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

He also taped a radio ad endorsing state Senate candidate Kay Carroll

In late October, the Perdue campaign aired a second TV ad starring Griffith and robocalled voters with a recording of his voice.

At Perdue's inauguration in January of 2009, Griffith read a poem written by his wife, Cindi.

Sources: "Andy S. Griffith," by Ryan Sumner, in "The North Carolina Century." "Andy Griffith" on The Internet Movie Database. Research and reporting by Ryan Teague Beckwith and Rob Christensen.

Occupation

Actor







Community Involvement:
Not specified.

Contact Info







Education

bachelor of arts
UNC-Chapel Hill
Graduated: 1949




Military

Not specified.

Links










N&O Profile:









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