Thursday, July 2, 2009

What It Was, Was A Young Andy Griffith


Just about everyone knows that Andy Griffith played Andy Taylor, soft spoken `Sheriff without a gun’ in the rural comedy The Andy Griffith Show of the 1960s.  

That show will undoubtedly play in reruns, along side other classics like I Love Lucy and the Dick Van Dyke Show, until sometime after the apocalypse. 

It made a star of Don Knotts, and really helped to launch the career of actor/director Ron `Opie’ Howard

And no doubt, many of my readers have seen the movie version of No Time For Sergeants, the role that made Andy Griffith a star. Released in 1958, it was based on the Broadway play of the same name, which starred Griffith, and whose cast included Don Knotts.

But before the 1958 movie version, and before the successful Broadway run of 796 performances which began on October 20th, 1955 at the Alvin Theatre, there was a live TV production of No Time For Sergeants on the United States Steel hour.   

The U.S. Steel hour was an hour long anthology series that produced live dramas on TV between 1953 and 1963.   It actually began on radio in the 1940’s as the Theatre Guild On The Air.

Like most over night successes in show business, Andy Griffith worked for several years in in relative obscurity.  He was a monologist: a standup comedian who, rather than telling jokes, would tell stories.  

In 1953 Griffith would record a monologue called `What it was, was football’, which would shoot to the #9 spot in the top 40 standings.

His country-bumpkin description of watching a football game was a hit, and it led to appearances on the Steve Allen Show and Ed Sullivan.  We’ve got a youtube video of this recording, along with some vintage (1958) MAD MAGAZINE illustrations to go along with it.

You can view the illustration at : What It Was, Was Football

The following year, Mac Hyman, who was from Cordele Georgia, published a book called No Time For Sergeants, which recounted the humorous story of a country bumpkin in boot camp.  It became a best seller, and in 1955, was selected to be produced for TV.

Andy Griffith – due to his comedy act - was the best known `bumpkin’ in the country, and was of the right age to play the role of Will Stockdale.  

He got the role, and the show was a success.  It led directly to his starring in the Broadway version, and to such important film roles as A Face In The Crowd.

Here, from the Internet Archive, is the original No Time For Sergeants – made 3 years before the movie version.  Fans of the movie will note that the plot is a bit different, but that makes this early glimpse at a rising star no less entertaining.

click to play movie 

No Time For Sergeants
The U.S. Steel Hour
March 15th, 1955
Will Stockdale......Andy Griffith
Sgt. King...........Harry Clark
Major...............Robert Emhardt
Ben Whitledge.......Eddie Le Roy
Captain.............Alexander Clark
Irvin...............Arthur Storch
Lucky...............Bob Hastings
Colonel.............G. Albert Smith
Infantry Sg.t.......Joe Brown, Jr.
WAF Captain.........Adnia Rice
Pfc.................Thomas Volk
Soldier.............George Kilroy

After the critical acclaim of A Face In The Crowd, and the success of the movie version of No Time For Sergeants, and the disappointing Coast Guard comedy Onionhead,  Griffith’s next big break would be landing the role of a country Sheriff on an episode of Make Room For Daddy (The Danny Thomas Show).  

That episode would become the springboard for the Andy Griffith Show in 1960, which Griffith would star in until 1967.

The 1970’s would bring a number of TV movies and a couple of less-than stellar TV series. Griffith would strike gold again in the 1980s, playing the Atlanta Lawyer Ben Matlock.

At 83, Griffith still works occasionally, with the Internet Movie Database listing these four appearances over the past 3 years.

  • Play the Game (2008) .... Grandpa Joe

  • Christmas Is Here Again (2007) (voice) .... Santa Claus

  • Waitress (2007) .... Old Joe

  • The Very First Noel (2006) (V) .... Melchoir

  • With a career that has stretched nearly 60 year, Andy Griffith has become a cultural icon and a symbol of homespun honesty and integrity. 

    Not bad for a boy who hailed from Mount Airy, North Carolina.

    Not bad at all.


    J Blinkoff said...

    Andy is truly an icon! And he's at good at 83 as he was at 23. Just saw him in Play The Game which I just found out is releasing in theaters nationally on August 21st, and he's spectacular. The trailer is hilarious. You can see the trailer at

    FLA_MEDIC said...

    Thanks J for the comment, and for the link!

    Doug Gilford said...

    You were kind enough to link to my page that has the original Mad illustration of Andy's "What it was, was football". The page for that link has changed to:
    Thanks for your site.
    Doug Gilford

    FLA_MEDIC said...


    Thanks for stopping by. I've changed the link.