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Andy Griffith’s start in showbiz: From teaching to television (1960)

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Andy Griffith on a telephone

Andy Griffith show with Don Knotts

Andy Griffith Show debuts: Character is his own

Andy Griffith, who stars as a slow-talking, story-telling jack-of-all-trades with a sly Southern sense of humor in the new “Andy Griffith Show,” a weekly comedy series which premieres Monday night, is very much like the character he plays. The only difference is that Griffith is famous.

Were it not for a certain Broadway show called “No Time for Sergeants,” however, Griffith might still be a school teacher and part-time nightclub entertainer.

Griffith was born on June 1, 1926, in Mt Airy, NC, to Carl and Geneva Griffith, who still live there. He was graduated from the University of North Carolina.

As a youngster, he mastered the trombone, bass horn and guitar, buying his instruments with money he earned by sweeping out the high school.

it was at the university that he first became interested in acting, thanks to the influence of Foster Fitzsimons, one of his teachers, who had written “Bright Leaf,” which co-starred Gary Cooper and Patricia Neat. (Several years later, Griffith was to co-star with Miss Neal in “A Face in the Crowd.”)

But Fitzsimons wasn’t the only person who influenced Griffith in favor of the theatre. There was also a coed named Barbara Edwards, one of the leading actresses with the university’s drama group, the Carolina Playmakers.

Miss Edwards also urged Griffith to join the group. He did, and made his debut on stage as Sir Walter Raleigh in the outdoor pageant, “The Lost Colony.”

Andy Griffith and wife Barbara Edwards

After graduation, Andy and Barbara (they were married in August, 1949) turned to teaching. At the time, as Griffith puts it, “We were so broke that any item of furniture we needed for the house we had to beg, borrow, or build.” To earn extra money, the couple worked up an act, which they performed in small clubs. It became so successful that it enabled them to give up teaching,

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One of the numbers was an original monologue. “What it Was – Was Football,” a southern deacon’s reaction to his first football game. During an insurance convention in Greensboro. N.C., in 1953, Griffith recorded the monologue. Shortly after, a record company executive heard it on a radio show, and alerted his office to buy the rights and cut records of “Football” and several other routines. Since then, nearly a million copies have been sold.

Griffith’s first appearance on television was as a guest on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” on which he did several monologues.

It wasn’t long after this that a friend suggested he read the novel, “No Time for Sergeants.” Griffith was so intrigued by it that he journeyed to New York in an effort to get permission to make recordings of excerpts from the book. There he met Maurice Evans, who was in the process of having the novel adapted as a Broadway play. Griffith was signed for the leading role.

MORE ANDY GRIFFITH: The Andy Griffith TV show’s success & that catchy theme song (1960s)

Prior to the Broadway opening, the play was done on “The United States Steel Hour” with Griffith as the lead. Griffith has also starred in the film version of “No Time for Sergeants” as well as in “A Face in the Crowd” and “Onionhead.” The Broadway musical, “Destry Rides Again,” was his latest stage venture.

The Griffiths live on a 53-acre farm on Roanoke Island near Manteo, North Carolina. A good deal of their furniture was built by Griffith, who learned the trade from his father, an employee of a furniture manufacturing firm. They have two children, Dixie, 1, and Sam, 2-1/2.

Jamie Farr and Andy Griffith in No Time for Sergeants (1958)
Jamie Farr and Andy Griffith in No Time for Sergeants (1958)

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