A Face in the Crowd (1957): “Dark Night of the Soul”
A radio / TV host drunk with power aspires to sway and control the masses for a Senator running for the President of the US. His long time producer / girl friend finally sees the problem with the personality she has created. Written 52 years ago by Budd Schulberg as a cautionary tale about the abuse of power available via radio and television.
Griffith receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, November 9, 2005
Andy Samuel Griffith (June 1, 1926 – July 3, 2012) was an American actor, television producer, Grammy Award-winning Southern-gospel singer, and writer. A Tony Award nominee for two roles, he gained prominence in the starring role in director Elia Kazan‘s film A Face in the Crowd (1957) before he became better known for his television roles, playing the lead characters in the 1960–1968 situation comedy The Andy Griffith Show and in the 1986–1995 legal drama Matlock.
Early Life and Education
Griffith was born in Mount Airy, North Carolina, the only child of Carl Lee Griffith and his wife Geneva Nunn. He was born on the same day and year as Marilyn Monroe. As a baby, Griffith lived with relatives until his parents could afford to buy a home. With neither a crib nor a bed, he slept in dresser drawers for several months. In 1929, when Griffith was three, his father began working as a carpenter and purchased a home in Mount Airy’s “blue-collar” southside.
Griffith grew up listening to music. His father instilled a sense of humor from old family stories. By the time he entered school he was well aware that he was from what many considered the “wrong side of the tracks.” He was a shy student, but once he found a way to make his peers laugh, he began to come out of his shell and come into his own.
As a student at Mount Airy High School, Griffith cultivated an interest in the arts, and he participated in the school’s drama program. A growing love of music, particularly swing, would change his life. Griffith was raised Baptist and looked up to Ed Mickey, a minister at Grace Moravian Church, who led the brass band and taught him to sing and play the trombone. Mickey nurtured Griffith’s talent throughout high school until graduation in 1944. Griffith was delighted when he was offered a role in The Lost Colony by Paul Green, a play still performed today on Roanoke Island. He performed as a cast member of the play for several years, playing a variety of roles, until he finally landed the role of Sir Walter Raleigh, the namesake of North Carolina’s capital.
He began college studying to be a Moravian preacher, but he changed his major to music and became a part of the school’s Carolina Play Makers. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and graduated with a bachelor of music degree in 1949. At UNC he was president of the UNC chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, which claims to be America’s oldest fraternity for men in music. He also played roles in several student operettas, including The Chimes of Normandy (1946), and Gilbert and Sullivan‘s The Gondoliers (1945), The Mikado (1948) and H.M.S. Pinafore (1949).
Career – From rising comedian to film star
Griffith’s early career was as a monologist, delivering long stories such as What it Was, Was Football, which is told from the point of view of a rural backwoodsman trying to figure out what was going on in a football game. Released as a single in 1953 on theColonial label, the monologue was a hit for Griffith, reaching number nine on the charts in 1954.
Griffith starred in Ira Levin‘s one-hour teleplay version of No Time for Sergeants (March 1955) — a story about a country boy in the United States Air Force — on The United States Steel Hour, a television anthology series. He expanded that role in Ira Levin‘s full-length theatrical version of the same name (October 1955) on Broadway in New York City, New York. The role earned him a “Distinguished Supporting or Featured Dramatic Actor” nomination at the 1956 Tony Awards, losing to Ed Begley. He did win the 1956 Theatre World Award, however, a prize given for debut roles on Broadway. “Mr. Griffith does not have to condescend to Will Stockdale,” (his role in the play) wrote Brooks Atkinson in The New York Times. “All he has to do is walk on the stage and look the audience straight in the face. If the armed forces can not cope with Will Stockdale, neither can the audience resist Andy Griffith.”
Griffith later reprised his role for the film version (1958) of No Time for Sergeants; the film also featured Don Knotts, as a corporalin charge of manual-dexterity tests, marking the beginning of a lifelong association between Griffith and Knotts. No Time for Sergeants is considered the direct inspiration for the later television situation comedy Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
His only other New York stage appearance was the titular role in the 1957 musical, Destry Rides Again, co-starring Delores Gray. The show, with a score by Harold Rome, ran for 472 performances – more than a year. Griffith was nominated for “Distinguished Musical Actor” at the 1960 Tony Awards, losing to Jackie Gleason.
Dramatic role in A Face in the Crowd (1957)
With Patricia Neal in A Face in the Crowd(1957)
In 1957, Griffith made his film début, starring in the film A Face in the Crowd. Although he plays a “country boy,” this country boy is manipulative and power-hungry, a drifter who becomes a television host and uses his show as a gateway to political power. Co-starring Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Tony Franciosa, and Lee Remick (in her film début as well), the film was directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg.
A 2005 DVD reissue of A Face in the Crowd includes a mini-documentary on the film, with comments from Schulberg and the then surviving cast members Griffith, Franciosa, and Neal. In his interview, Griffith, revered for his wholesome image for decades, reveals a more complex side of himself. He recalls Kazan prepping him to shoot his first scene with Remick’s teenaged baton twirler, who captivates Griffith’s character on a trip to Arkansas. Griffith also expresses his belief that the film was far more popular and respected in more recent decades than it was when originally released.
Television roles – Early television roles
Griffith’s first appearance on television had been in 1955 in the one-hour teleplay of No Time for Sergeants on The United States Steel Hour. That was the first of two appearances on that series.
In 1960, Griffith appeared as a county sheriff (who was also a justice of the peace and the editor of the local newspaper) in an episode of Make Room for Daddy, starring Danny Thomas. This episode, in which Thomas’ character is stopped for speeding in a little town, served as a backdoor pilot for The Andy Griffith Show. Both shows were produced by Sheldon Leonard.
The Andy Griffith Show (1960–1968)
Beginning in 1960, Griffith starred as Sheriff Andy Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show for the CBS television network. The show took place in the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina, where Taylor, a widower, was the sheriff and town sage. The show was filmed at Desilu Studios, with exteriors filmed at Forty Acres in Culver City, California.
From 1960 to 1965, the show co-starred character actor and comedian — and Griffith’s longtime friend — Don Knotts in the role of Deputy Barney Fife, Taylor’s best friend and partner. He was also Taylor’s cousin in the show. In the series premiere episode, in a conversation between the two, Fife calls Taylor “Cousin Andy”, and Taylor calls Fife “Cousin Barney”. The show also starred child actor Ron Howard (then known as Ronny Howard), who played Taylor’s only child, Opie Taylor.
It was an immediate hit. Although Griffith never received a writing credit for the show, he worked on the development of every script. While Knotts was frequently lauded and won multiple Emmy Awards for his comedic performances (as did Frances Bavier in 1967), Griffith was never nominated for an Emmy Award during the show’s run.
In 1967, Griffith was under contract with CBS to do one more season of the show. However, he decided to quit the show to pursue a movie career and other projects. The series continued as Mayberry R.F.D., with Ken Berry starring as a widower farmer and many of the regular characters recurring, some regularly and some as guest appearances. Griffith served as executive producer (according to Griffith, he came in once a week to review the week’s scripts and give input) and guest starred in five episodes (the pilot episode involved his marriage to Helen Crump). He made final appearances as Taylor in the 1986 reunion television film, Return to Mayberry, and in two reunion specials in 1993 and 2003, with strong ratings.