Andy Griffith was more than an actor; he was an icon. That goes double in North Carolina, inspiration for the mythical Mayberry, where his Sheriff Andy ruled wisely and warmly. Griffith died last year at the age of 86, and now some friends and fans are objecting to his widow’s apparent plans to tear down a small house he owned on the North Carolina waterfront.
Would it make a fine museum, a place to display memorabilia? Could it one day rival Graceland, Elvis Presley’s former home and present shrine in Memphis?
We may never know if Cindi Griffith follows through on the demolition permit that records show she’s obtained. But should we care?
William Ivey Long, the Tony Award-winning costume designer, said in an AP story that Griffith told him in 2007 that he wanted to preserve the older home as a museum. Long’s parents were friends with Griffith and his first wife, Barbara.
Another family friend, Della Basnight of Manteo, said that although it’s Cindi Griffith’s decision, “When he gave her the power to do anything, I don’t think he thought she would want to do that.”
Who knows, though, what Andy Griffith would want? He kept people guessing during his lifetime. He was not Sheriff Andy Taylor, any more than he was lawyer Ben Matlock or Lonesome Rhodes, the countrified demagogue from Elia Kazan’s 1957 classic film “A Face in the Crowd,” or any of the other characters he played. Anyone complaining about his widow’s choice for the property will have to leave it at that, unless there’s a secret will no one knows about that names them as surprise beneficiaries.
Griffith was said to be an onscreen charmer who, in private, preferred that privacy. Fans who thought they had him pegged were often surprised. He did such a good job conveying a soothing Southern presence during decades of change in America that when the loyal Democrat endorsed Barack Obama and health care legislation, his popularity dropped.
Actors who stick to a certain role for years run the risk that folks will confuse make-believe with real life. Griffith didn’t exactly discourage it, basing Mayberry in part on the Mount Airy, N.C., of his youth. I might have wished he had taken more risks on more challenging roles, since he proved with his work as Rhodes that he could handle most anything. But that wasn’t anyone else’s choice to make either.
Now his widow is doing as she wishes with his estate, and after almost 30 years of marriage, that’s her right.
If anyone needs a fix, there always the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy. Plus, reruns are forever.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3