The REAL Mayberry
The Andy Griffith Show is a timeless and heartwarming portrayal of American small-town life during simpler times, where traditional values were cherished, and people respected and cared for one another.
The weekly comedy featured the steady, unflappable Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith), the bumbling but hilarious deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts), Andy’s young son Opie (Ron Howard), and the ever consummate homemaker Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier).
The backdrop for The Andy Griffith Show (TAGS) was the sleepy little fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina (population 1800).
Now, for the first time, we take a look behind the scenes of this small town and its residents, through countless interviews, historic film and television archives, old aerial photos of the Desilu Studio’s backlot, and closeups of subsequent shows of that era, to learn much more about this euphoric spot in television history.
While perceived to be hometown, USA, the actual location of Mayberry was not in North Carolina, but in Culver City, California – just down the street from the 1965 Los Angeles race riots. But who cares. Many still enjoy in reruns, the wholesomeness of a make-believe world that has yet to be duplicated.
As you can see, most of the Mayberry buildings are much taller than they appear on The Andy Griffith Show. Andy and the producers felt that, by keeping the camera angles low, viewers would get more of a ‘small-town feel’ rather than showing the taller buildings – such as the four-story Mayberry Hotel1 (top right).
“Forty Acres” Backlot
There is significant history to the Mayberry set. The Culver City studio opened in the early 1920’s by Thomas H. Ince – his second studio in the city.
In 1928, David Sarnoff, president of Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and Joseph P. Kennedy, merged the largest theater chain at the time, Keith-Albee-Orpheum, with Pathe Studios and the Film Booking Office of America (FBO) – a movie distribution organization acquired by Kennedy two years earlier. The new company was renamed the Radio-Keith-Orpheum Corporation, or RKO Studios.
One of RKO’s first movies, The Bird of Paradise, was filmed at this location, then the studio started building up the backlot for jungle and village scenes for what later became the location for the Tarzan and King Kong movies.
In 1935, David O. Selznick leased the backlot property from RKO to construct the city of Atlanta, a railroad station, and the Tara mansion for the $4 million blockbuster movie, Gone With The Wind.
Several of the ‘Atlanta’ buildings used in the original Gone With The Wind set (that weren’t burned down), were later used for the town of Mayberry.
In 1948, multi-millionaire tycoon and movie producer Howard Hughes acquired the studio, made a few forgettable movies, then it changed hands a few more times until 1956, when Desilu Studios purchased the studio buildings and backlot grounds then affectionately known as ‘Forty Acres.’
On this ‘Forty Acres’ wedge of property adjacent to Ballona Creek (which was actually just under 29 acres), many popular television shows were filmed.
In addition to The Andy Griffith Show – The Adventures of Superman, Ozzie and Harriet, The Green Hornet, The Untouchables, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Hogan’s Heros, Lassie, Batman, and episodes of Star Trek, were among the successful shows filmed at this location.
On Star Trek, the most-notable appearances of the forty acres lot were in the Miri episode (first airing on October 27, 1966 – season 1, episode 8) and City on the Edge of Forever (#28 originally airing on April 6, 1967). City on the Edge is a classic for The Andy Griffith Show fans where Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy end up in the early 20th century. One of the more interesting shots is where William Shatner and Joan Collins are walking down Main Street, passing in front of Floyd’s Barber Shop!
Filming of Interior Shots
While the outdoor filming was produced at Desilu Studio’s ’40 Acres’ backlot, many of the interior shots were filmed at Desilu’s Cahuenga Studios, now Ren-Mar Studios, at 846 N. Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood. Old Desilu production schedule reports reveal that The Andy Griffith Show reserved Desilu-Cahuenga’s Stage 1 and 2 for Thursday through Wednesday shoots (with weekends off) for each of the 249 episodes they produced.
In 1967, Desilu sold the studio buildings and backlot to Gulf & Western Industries, and later to Paramount Studios – a G&W subsidiary. All good things must eventually come to an end, however, and in 1976, the ‘Forty Acres’ backlot was bulldozed to make room for an industrial park.
Mayberry’s Fishing Hole
Myers Lake, as it was affectionately called, is shown during the opening ‘fishing hole’ credits and used in several episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. The lake used on the show is actually Franklin Canyon Lake (originally Upper Franklin Canyon Reservoir), located at 2600 Franklin Canyon Drive in Beverly Hills, California.
William Mulholland began construction of the reservoirs of Franklin Canyon in 1916, where there is currently 605 acres of parkland, the three acre lake, a small duck pond, and an oak woodlands forest that remains one of the last available wilderness areas in Los Angeles.
This location has been heavily used by the television and movie industry over the past fifty years. In addition to The Andy Griffith Show, Combat, Bonanza, Star Trek, How the West Was Won, and the movie, On Golden Pond, with Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda were filmed here. The lake and park area is now managed by the National Park Service, and is open to the public.
Myers Lake was named after Frank E. Myers, the production manager for The Andy Griffith Show. His name was also used in episode 39, where Andy is forced to evict Frank Myers from his home only to find that Myers had kept an old Mayberry bond that is first believed to be worth over $300,000.
Colin Male was the uncredited, yet distinctive announcer for the show’s opening when Andy and Opie walk to Myers Lake. Male also acted in one episode, playing the game warden that caught Andy and Helen without a fishing license (episode 140, Andy and Helen Have Their Day).
Stars Made in Mayberry
Other than The Andy Griffith Show‘s (TAGS) starring roles, few television viewers were familiar with the show’s supporting cast. That, however, soon changed. In addition to Jim Nabor’s phenomenal success with Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., many famous stars today were originally noticed in the small town of “Mayberry, North Carolina.”
Among the actors making guest appearances on The Andy Griffith Show in the 1960’s were: Buddy Ebsen (Barnaby Jones), Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie), Jack Nicholson (2 TAGS episodes), Bill Bixby (My Favorite Martian), Denver Pyle (Dukes of Hazzard), Edgar Buchanan (Petticoat Junction), Frank Sutton
(Gomer Pyle, USMC), Jamie Farr (MASH), Larry Hovis (Hogan’s Heros), Ronnie Schell (Gomer Pyle, USMC – 2 TAGS episodes), Teri Garr, George Kennedy, Gavin MacLeod (Love Boat), Bob Denver (Gilligan’s Island), Rob Reiner (All in The Family), Arte Johnson (Laugh-In), Don Rickles, Jerry Van Dyke (Coach), Morgan Brittany (Dallas), Joyce Van Patten, Sue Ane Langdon, Jesse White (The Maytag Repairman), Ruta Lee, John Dehner, Bernard Fox (Bewitched), Alan Hale (Gilligan’s Island), Jack Albertson (Chico and the Man), and WKRP’s Howard Hesseman (2 TAGS episodes).
TV Guide Also Makes a Guest Appearance
There were a total of eight TV Guide covers for The Andy Griffith Show that were published between January 28, 1961 and July 13, 1968. Andy had 2 additional covers for Matlock, Don Knotts had one more in 1970, and Jim Nabors had 4 covers for Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C between 1965 and 1969.
As shown above, the TV Guide issues for The Andy Griffith Show included: January 28, 1961 (Andy and Ron Howard), May 12, 1962 (Don Knotts), May 11, 1963 (Andy, Don Knotts, and Ron Howard), March 21, 1964 (Andy, Don Knotts, and Jim Nabers), April 24, 1965 (Andy Griffith), June 4, 1966 (Andy Griffith with guitar), May 20, 1967 (Andy with Anita “Helen” Corsaut), and the last TV Guide was an illustration depicting Andy on the shoulders of Don Knotts and Jim Nabers for the July 13, 1968 issue.
In one episode of The Andy Griffith Show, one of their own TV Guide covers even made it on the show! On January 19, 1961, in episode #24 called “The New Doctor,” filming began at the Desilu’s Cahuenga studios. During production, a then-current copy of TV Guide (Jan 28-Feb 3, 1961 featuring Andy and Opie on the cover), can clearly be seen in the magazine rack at Walkers drugstore as Barney reaches up to repair Ellie Walkers’ doorbell.
Like most TAGS episodes, there was considerable delay between filming and actual airing. While shooting wrapped on the set of “The New Doctor” episode on January 25th – it didn’t air until March 27, 1961 – more than 8 weeks after filming was completed.
Shazaaaam! Gomer Becomes a Marine!
America’s favorite gas station attendant, quickly became America’s favorite befuddled Marine, as Jim Nabors’ career change moved him less than 10 yards from the set of Wally’s Service Station, to the set of the Camp Pendleton Marine Base – all on the Forty Acres backlot.
Jim Nabors’ character, Gomer Pyle, first appeared in Mayberry during the show’s third season on January 14, 1963 (#79 Man in a Hurry), then continued for one and a half seasons when Andy helped him move on to his own hit CBS series on May 18, 1964 (#127 Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.). Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., which ran through 1969, was also a ratings hit during its six-year run.
The Mount Airy Connection
While Griffith often dismissed any ties between his show and the sleepy little town of Mount Airy, North Carolina, even Andy can’t deny the many similarities.
For example, if you’ve wondered where the talented TAGS writers came up with the various names, it’s apparent they didn’t have to look far from Andy’s hometown. The small towns surrounding Mount Airy – where Andy Griffith was born in 1926 – were a treasure trove for many of the now-familiar characters and locations seen on the show.
Among the names too obvious to ignore are: Mulberry, NC (Mayberry), Pilot Mountain, NC (Mount Pilot), Taylorsville, NC (Andy Taylor), Lawsonville, NC (Floyd Lawson), Crumpler, NC (Helen Crump), Walkertown, NC (Ellie Walker), Jonesville, NC (Sam Jones), Warrensville, NC (Warren Ferguson), and Stoneville, NC – Mayor Stoner (That’s ‘Stoner,’ for those who recall the “Barney and the Governor” episode). All of these little municipalities are less than 25 miles from where Andy grew up.
Other TAGS characters were named after real people, including childhood friends, family and acquaintances such as Andy’s best buddy since grammar school – Emmitt Forrest, and former Mount Airy mayor E.T. Clark (collectively “Emmett Clark”), Jim Slate (Jim Slater), the Beasleys (Juanita, and Goober in one episode), the Roundtrees (Miss Roundtree), Earl Gilley – and to keep his in-laws happy – Andy’s then-wife Barbara ‘Edwards’ Griffith (Clara Edwards, who was in 21 episodes).
In addition to the real North Carolina cities of Charlotte, Raleigh, Bannertown, and Siler City, there were many streets that were shared between fact and tv fantasy. There’s Haymore Street (Andy and his parents, Carl and Geneva, lived at 711 Haymore), Rockford Street (where Andy’s grammar school was located), Main Street, Turner Mountain (Turner’s Grade – speed limit 35mph), Oak, Elm, Maple, Willow, Orchard, and River Road – all the rural byways of Mount Airy.
The Town With An Identity Crisis
Mount Airy, North Carolina comes from established roots in the heart of the Blue Ridge foothills. The town was incorporated in 1885, and over the next fifty years, the Surry County area was among the state’s largest producers of tobacco, furniture manufacturing, textiles, and granite.
With more than a century having passed, and all the big industries long gone, Mount Airy – population 8,484 – is now home to a few hosiery manufacturers, some scattered wineries, and a dozen small manufacturing companies. One of the town’s largest employers, NCFI, manufactures polyurethane foam insulation products – and yes – they were the foam supplier to NASA for the space shuttle fuel tanks.
To offset its weakened economy, it seems like the whole town of Mount Airy has turned to tourism as a way to fan the demand flame for ‘everything Andy.’
Starting in the early 1980s – twenty years after The Andy Griffith Show was produced – Mount Airy’s City Barber Shop became Floyd’s City Barber Shop, the Mount Airy Inn became The Mayberry Inn, then came the Mayberry Mall, Mayberry Cinema, Mayberry Antiques, Mayberry Alarm & Lock Co., Mayberry Waterworks (Car Wash), Mayberry Country Hair World, Mayberry Candle Shop, Mayberry Coffee Company, Mayberry Embroidery, Mayberry Learning Center, Mayberry Square, Mayberry R.F.D. Developers, Mayberry Collectors Center, Mayberry Bed & Breakfast, Simply Mayberry Gifts, Andy’s Homeplace Bed & Breakfast, The Andy Griffith Museum, The Andy Griffith Theater, Aunt Bea’s Barbeque (albeit misspelled), Aunt Bee’s Room, Wally’s Service Station, Bluebird Diner, the Old Mayberry Jail, and Knight’s Inn Mayberry.
One notable exception to the madness, is the Snappy Lunch diner. On November 14, 1960, in the seventh show to air (episode 9 – “Andy the Matchmaker”), Barney had been walking shy seamstress, Miss Rosemary to church every Sunday. Andy decided it was time to get them together and suggested they “take in a movie, then go down to the Snappy Lunch to eat, have some coffee, and talk.”
The real life Snappy Lunch diner is Mount Airy’s oldest business whose southern heritage goes back to 1923, and a spot where Andy himself ate as a young boy. The diner’s owner, Charles Dowell, nearly fell off his couch when he saw that episode in 1960 – and business at the Snappy Lunch diner has prospered ever since.
While subsequent episodes often have Andy and Barn going to ‘the diner,’ it’s clear to Mount Airy residents that they were referring to their very own little Snappy Lunch eatery.
Epicurean note: If you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to try Snappy Lunch’s tasty cheeseburger for $1.55, or if you’re feeling particularly decadent, go all out for the mouth-watering World Famous Pork Chop sandwich for $3.50. They’re open Monday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch – and just like Wally – they don’t work on Sundays.
While continuously dismissing any ties between The Andy Griffith Show and Mount Airy for decades, on October 16, 2002, Andy Griffith publicly returned to Mount Airy for the first time in 45 years to be honored by North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley in renaming a ten mile stretch of Highway 52 to Andy Griffith Parkway.
During the dedication ceremony, Andy, then 76, said “I’m proud to be from the great state of North Carolina. I’m proud to be from Mount Airy. I think of you often, and I won’t be such a stranger from here on out.”
Then he gave the local residents what they had been hoping for, for years: Validation. “People started saying that Mayberry was based on Mount Airy,” Griffith said. Then pausing with a sly grin, he added: “It sure sounds like it, doesn’t it?”
“The Andy Griffith Show; The Real Mayberry” by Jake Easton
Copyright (c) 2004-2017 by Jake Easton. All rights reserved.