Unpublished Letter to
Angeles Times Staff Writer Mark I. Pinsky
Yes, this is a debate about the fictional
setting for The Andy Griffith Show -- one of the best
known, albeit least real, towns in America!
I cannot agree with Richard Kelly, whom you
quoted in "Return to Mayberry: The Myth Endures", when he
stated that "Mayberry is totally conservative..." Mayberry
was mythical and traditional but also, in many ways,
The absence of blacks was, of course, unreal and
unfair (although perhaps not as absolute as your article stated --
I believe I recently saw on a rerun a black man among other
old men laughing at something ridiculous Barney did). However,
the driving force of The Andy Griffith Show plots was usually
the interplay of far-from-homogenous characters -- although
Andy often tolerated more than respected them, neurotic cousin
Barney, goofy Gomer and Goober, absent-minded Floyd, drunken
Otis, and the superstitious Darling family were accepted for who
Mayberry was a very (although not totally)
conservative environment. As in most small towns, anyone who
desired privacy was considered an unsociable hermit; and in this
small town the Justice of the Peace was also the arresting
officer -- now, there's a dangerous precedent, even though
Sheriff Taylor used common sense more than "by-the-book"
Deputy Fife did. Although the central character was a powerful
authority figure, both father and sheriff, this sitcom of the
Sixties was not always Father Knows Best (for that matter,
neither was the Fifties' Father Knows Best): Although almost
always well-meaning, Andy was often shown in the end to be
wrong, usually having operated on an incorrect assumption. In
fact, seeing the show again after a decade, I was surprised at
just how many times Andy did wind-up getting "dumped" on.
And often as not, it was someone like Aunt Bea
or girlfriend Helen who ended-up smelling like a rose. Although
they were, unfortunately, often deferential and rarely if ever
in positions of significant community authority, each of the
women in The Andy Griffith Show was almost always
strong-willed, with a mind of her own and sometimes even with an
unequalled streak of compassion and common sense, like that
which often surfaced in the repressed, yet emerging Edith Bunker
character, in the Seventies' quintessentially liberal All
In The Family.
Why, even Opie, the child, was often one up on
Andy. And significantly, in contrast to the "spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child" philosophy so vital to
the mind-set of the far right, the pa almost always resolved his
problems with the son by talking, although sometimes after
sending the boy to his room or threatening a spanking -- when
did Andy ever beat Opie? Parenting through love -- not anger -- is a progressive, not conservative ideal, which succeeded
I do not recall that Sheriff Taylor ever shot
anyone either. Although this, too, is unrealistic, given the
dangerous criminals that he did come up against, the moral of
the stories was clear: Understanding, if sometimes uncomfortable
talk was preferable to violence. I believe in our heart of
hearts we know that today's "Rambos" are, in mind if not
physique, more like quick-on-the-draw Deputy Fife than
self-composed Sheriff Taylor.
As for the real-life "local television
editorialist [you mentioned] who railed each night on a Raleigh
station against civil rights, the emerging women's movement, 'sexual perversion', Israel, Medicare, and Social
Security" -- Jesse Helms [!] -- I cannot believe that Andy,
who deflated the egos of several pompous politicians in his day,
and the other good citizens of Mayberry would ever in good
conscience vote for such a hatemonger. For JFK, yes; for Jesse
Responsible peace, love, and humanity, as
flourished in The Andy Griffith Show, are progressive
traditions, worth conserving -- and expanding upon -- by all
us honorary Mayberryites!
Reply from Mr. Pinsky
you for your extremely thoughtful -- and thought-provoking -- letter regarding my column on Mayberry. I think I would make two
points by way of response. First, had the show been set in the
Midwest or Far West, I would not have had much objection, since
many small towns in those regions had few if any black citizens.
Second, regarding the two elections of Jesse Helms, I cannot say
exactly how the citizens of Mt. Airy, N.C. [the real-life
prototype for Mayberry], voted, although much of Helms'
support came from small town, rural whites. An interesting note
in that connection is that Andy Griffith himself supported
Helms' Democratic opponents and in 1984 backed former Gov.
James B. Hunt, Jr.