Photo: Bob Snow; Photo illustration: Jason Fugate
Fans reminisce about simpler times while enjoying the homespun humor of ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’
The folks in Mayberry are gathering for a meeting. Here comes Aunt Bee with her famous fried chicken and a side of pickles, and in tow is Opie, who’s all dirty from playing football. Thelma Lou giggles as Barney sticks out his chest and says he’s watching his weight. Everyone steps around Goober, who’s taking a car apart in the room, and it looks like Gomer just plumb forgot to show up. Then in walks Andy with Helen Crump on his arm, declaring, “This here’s an out-STANDIN’ idea!”
Then a rock flies through the window, and they know Ernest T. Bass is in town.
The meetings of the Friends of Mayberry Club aren’t quite the same, but all the characters of “The Andy Griffith Show” are there in spirit. The club meets at 3pm the second Thursday of each month at Paradise Recreation Center in The Villages.
Club members are fanatics of the 1960s TV show with the catchy theme song, “The Fishin’ Hole,” that made everybody want to whistle along. They know far too much about widower Andy Taylor (played by Griffith), son Opie (Ron Howard), caretaker Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier), buddy and deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts), and a cast of thousands. The show spanned eight seasons and 249 episodes, going out on top in 1968 with the No. 1 rating.
Bruce Sperry, an Iowa snowbird, had the outstanding idea to start the club about a year ago, his first year in The Villages.
“I thought Andy Griffith and Mayberry is a pretty neat thing,” Bruce says. “There are a lot of different things going on in The Villages. I talked to a few people, getting their interest, and decided it’d be pretty neat to have a Mayberry club.”
During peak season, the meetings attract 25 to 35 Villagers who watch episodes, share memories of the show, and answer trivia questions. They even occasionally display a Mayberry patrol car replica driven by a young fan whom Bruce flagged down one day in The Villages. And if anyone says anything negative, they will nip it! Nip it in the bud!
The show’s popularity endures because of the characters, the family bond they shared, and the homespun humor, members say.
“It was the kind of a town you knew couldn’t exist but you wished it would,” Tom Quay says.
“There’s always a story behind it, always a moral,” adds Anita Rateike.
For Bruce, the show presents life lessons and values while still having fun. He watched “Andy Griffith” as a kid, but took his fandom to new heights as an adult. For special occasions, he and his wife, Sue, host Mayberry-themed parties where guests dress up as the lead characters or recurring characters like Ernest T. Bass or the “Fun Girls,” Skippy and Daphne.
“It’s pretty funny to see people dress up as their favorite character,” Bruce says. “Ernest T. Bass brings a rock. One guy came as Mr. McBeevee wearing a belt with tools and a hat.”
The “Mr. McBeevee” episode, in which Opie describes seeing a man with 12 extra hands (his tools) who walks in the trees (as a lineman) and blows smoke out of his ears (a trick with a cigarette), teaches Andy about trusting his child.
That episode is one of Bruce’s favorites, along with “Man in a Hurry,” perhaps the quintessential depiction of Mayberry. Mr. Tucker, a harried businessman whose car breaks down on a Sunday, learns how to take life more slowly from the town’s easygoing souls.
“Those are both good ones. I like them all, but they all add something a little different,” Bruce says.
Sue, Bruce’s wife of 48 years, also watched the show growing up, but wasn’t as big a fan and didn’t entirely know about Bruce’s obsession while they were dating.
“He never mentioned it too much when we started going together or were first married,” she says. “But that wouldn’t have kept me from marrying him.
“It kind of grew on me,” Sue adds. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Sue may have become a little alarmed in the 1980s when Bruce started getting up in the middle of the night to set the VCR to record the show, which aired at 3am on WGN. He wanted a collection of every episode in the days before DVDs.
“It was exciting when he finally got the last episode,” she says.
When Bruce can’t see the show on TV, he still can see Mayberry in his home. He has a “Mayberry Village” display with about 15 figurines of characters and town buildings, similar to a smaller-scale model train village, he says.
The Sperrys also visited Andy’s hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina, where Mayberry Days is staged each year. The festival includes events linked to episodes and characters, such as Aunt Bee’s Bake Sale, Pickleland, Mr. Tucker’s Apple Peeling Contest, Mrs. Wiley’s Tea Party, the Chester Jones Checkers Tournament, and the Goober Says Hay Bale Toss.
At any given time, dozens of Andys, Barneys, Goobers, and Gomers are walking the streets—Shazam!
“It’s pretty incredible. It was a sight to see,” Bruce says.
He’s not the only hard-core fan in the club. Anita and her husband, Don, have not only visited Mayberry Days in North Carolina, but also a Midwestern version of the event, along with the Mayberry Cafe in Danville, Indiana, and the Taylor Home Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Clear Lake, Wisconsin, that’s an exact replica of the Taylors’ home in the show—they stayed in Opie’s room. Anita also gets an online newsletter called Weaver’s Department Store that shares Mayberry-related news and sells merchandise.
Several club members have attended Mayberry Days and met surviving cast members, such as Maggie Peterson, who played Charlene Darling, and Rodney Dillard, of the Dillards band, who was one of her bluegrass-playing brothers known as the Darlings. Griffith and George Lindsey (Goober) died in 2012, Knotts in 2006, and Bavier in 1989. Jim Nabors (Gomer) died Nov. 30 at age 87. “Little Ronny Howard,” now 63, is an Oscar-winning director.
Tom Quay jokes that his “claim to fame” is getting a kiss from Thelma Lou—actress Betty Lynn, who played Barney’s girlfriend.
“She was easy to talk to,” Tom says. “I asked her, was being in the show as much fun as it looked like? She said it was just like you see on TV—one big family.”
Regina Hovey and her husband, Dane, found the Mayberry sheriff’s car while shopping online. Son Chase, who graduated three years ago from high school, now drives the ’67 Plymouth Fury everywhere and sometimes wears a Mayberry deputy’s uniform, complete with a lapel pin that has Barney Fife’s photo on it.
Photo: Bob Snow
“My husband told our son, ‘Think about which car you want for graduation,’” Regina says. “We didn’t figure it’d be this car!”
While the club has some fanatics, not everyone remembers the show from their youth. Robin Parrow had the audacity to read books rather than watch Andy each week along with millions of viewers. She started attending club meetings to support her friends, the Sperrys, but Andy has won over a new convert.
“It’s a pleasant program to watch and it’s funny and it makes you laugh,” she says. “It goes back to when things were so much simpler and not as complicated. I’m enjoying going, because I keep going back.”
Villager Hal Stone ran a recent meeting in Bruce’s absence, and an intimate group of a dozen fans munched popcorn while watching “previews,” a rarely seen reel of commercials with the “Griffith” cast in character pitching products like Sanka and Post Toasties.
Then the screening began with “Wedding Bells for Aunt Bee,” in which Bee dates boring dry cleaner Fred Goss because she mistakenly thinks she needs to get married so Andy can have a social life. The lesson: Family comes first. Griffith always said the essence of the show was people who loved each other.
Then they watched “Three’s a Crowd,” where Andy tries to woo Mary, played by lovely Sue Ane Langdon, only to have Barney continually interfere. The lesson: Everybody cares about everybody else in Mayberry, and there’s no getting around it.
Club members laughed about the antiquated TV habit of characters smoking cigarettes, reminisced about times when you still could leave your doors unlocked, and remarked about the refreshing lack of foul language and nudity found in many of today’s shows. (Langdon saved some partial nudity for Playboy in 1966. There’s some trivia you might not hear at Friends of Mayberry).
They also recalled that the “Griffith” show developed from an episode of Danny Thomas’ “Make Room for Daddy.”
“The only time you got to stay up late was to watch Danny Thomas and then Andy Griffith, Monday night in Iowa,” Sue says.
No need to stay up late these days. “The Andy Griffith Show” can be found at all hours, all around the world, still providing laughs, lessons, and love—all in about 25 minutes, Bruce says.
“They put on a pretty good show,” he says.
Go ahead. Whistle the theme song. You know you want to.