I don’t have time to do an extended post here, but the news of Andy Griffith’s passing made me sad, though he had a long and very full life. I want to pay tribute to a man I greatly admired. He was most well known for The Andy Griffith Show, a show that will probably remain in syndication for the rest of my natural life.
Griffith also had a very successful film career as well. His first film performance in “A Face in the Crowd” had a powerful effect on me and remains one of my favorites. It follows the rise and fall of Lonesome Rhodes, a charismatic drifter who becomes a radio and television star and flirts with a career in politics. He becomes drunk from his power, which corrupts him and gives him such delusions of grandeur that he inevitably falls from grace in a spectacular fashion.
Discovered by Marcia Jeffries in a county jail, where he is sleeping off a night of drunkenness, Rhodes charms radio listeners with his down home charm and aw-shucks wit. Jeffries falls in love with the hillbilly philosopher, but is later horrified to learn of his duplicitous true nature.
Perhaps this film, directed by Elia Kazan, was too raw for the time in which it was made, because it received mixed reviews in 1957. I found Griffith’s performance riveting and believable. At the time, television was still a new medium. This film elucidated the fact that it would be a powerful force for swaying public opinions. With the advent of the digital age, the message is even more relevant today. We are constantly bombarded with messages, information, and cults of personality that are carefully crafted and packaged neatly for public consumption. Most of us are blissfully unaware of the myriad ways in which we are influenced. Lonesome Rhodes, when he reveals his true nature, echoes the disdain that many of those in power must feel for the masses who so eagerly and uncritically accept what they are told as gospel.
Although Andy Griffith was involved in politics, he chose not to run for office, even when prodded to run against NC’s most famous longtime senator Jesse Helms. I have to wonder what effect he would have had on the tone of civility had he chosen to pursue a career in politics. With his undeniable popularity in the South and his moderate to left-leaning political stance, he might have held great sway with traditionally conservative voters. But he chose to remain above the fray, perhaps still influenced by inhabiting the corrupted soul of his fictional character, Lonesome Rhodes.