Sometimes Andy just beats all
Tar Heel icon Andy Griffith gives archives to UNC-CH
By Patrick Winn, Staff Writer
Andy Griffith was so homesick he could die.
It was his first night in a University of North Carolina dorm, and the freshman comforted himself by penning a letter to his folks back in Mount Airy.
"I think I like it here," Griffith wrote. But in truth, he was unsure of his new life at the university, where his high school principal said they'd eat him alive.
Instead, they ate him up -- and Griffith's performing career of nearly 60 years was born.
Now, with his working days all but over, the internationally known actor is ready to make UNC-Chapel Hill the permanent home for his memorabilia.
"It's time for me to pass this on to you folks," said Griffith, 79, as he held aloft scripts from "The Andy Griffith Show"on Friday at the university.
The letters, postcards, film reels and playbills already gathered at UNC-CH's Wilson Library offer only a taste of what's to come. University faculty and Griffith himself have yet to sort through boxes of keepsakes still sitting in the actor's California house and his home in Manteo on North Carolina's coast.
More than a year may pass before the Andy Griffith Collection is on display in the university's Southern Historical Collection, the largest collection of artifacts from the American South.
So far, the collection includes every script of "The Andy Griffith Show" -- used and marked up with pencil -- and a 16-millimeter film reel of the first episode. It includes every script of "Matlock," Griffith's 1980s courtroom drama series.
But Griffith's letters home -- which bear one-cent stamps and no ZIP code -- reveal his college years as a young performer in bloom.
In that first letter from 1944, he tells of boys singing under a tree outside his dorm room. Though Mount Airy knew Griffith's voice well -- he'd sing at Sunday church services until his nose bled -- he just lay on his top bunk, listening through the open window.
"I didn't have the courage to go join them," said Griffith, who went on to become the campus glee club's president.
A letter written two months later found Griffith as a dining hall busboy making $8 a week. In another one, he lovingly describes Chapel Hill as "one huge park" where the "sun is shining brilliantly and all the earth is blossoming."
The still-young collection already includes a recording of "What It Was, Was Football," Griffith's comedic take on a university football game as perceived by a Carolina bumpkin. Recorded in 1953, four years after Griffith's graduation, the Capitol Records hit sold 800,000 copies.
But before the studio captured that "old football piece," as he now refers to it, Griffith performed it in Chapel Hill's Kenan Stadium and once for $25 at the Carolina Inn.
Griffith didn't forget his alma mater in the early 1960s, when he was starring in and co-writing "The Andy Griffith Show."
In one episode, he told Opie, his character's son, that "if he wanted to go to the University of North Carolina, he had to study hard."
The show, set in the fictional North Carolina town of Mayberry, was originally meant to take place "just somewhere in the South," Griffith said. "But I wanted it to be in the Old North State."
His character, Andy Taylor, is even the subject of a bronze statue placed in Raleigh's Pullen Park by the cable network TV Land.
But what does Griffith, who introduced small-town North Carolina life to the world through television, think of today's prime time lineup?
"I have to be honest with you," he said. "I go to sleep at 8 o'clock. I don't really know what's on."
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