A few hours with the sheriff

Published 7:24 pm Thursday, August 15, 2013

By Frank Roberts

Recently, a columnist, writing a tribute to Andy Griffith, noted that the actor was a very private person, “who refused personal visits or photographs.”

I managed to be the exception and had the pleasure of spending several hours with him in his handsome Manteo manse, which is now for sale. A mutual friend, a doc, asked Andy to welcome me, which he did, with open arms.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

It was time well spent. I found the actor friendly and a good conversationalist. Some of his language was rather un-Mayberry-ish. I was, as they used to say about Clark Gable, all ears. So was Disney’s beloved elephant, and I wound up like him.

Andy let me take all the pictures I wanted, and therein lies my Dumbo tale.

The interview was for the Virginian-Pilot. I clicked happily away. When I opened the camera, I discovered a black hole. Yeah, I forgot to put the film in.

When I was doing television news on Channel 7, I was also a visitor to “photographer hell.” I suffered with Satchmo. I was angry. The producer was VERY angry. We wound up with a studio head shot. Dumbo Frank struck again.

Louis Armstrong was doing a concert at East Carolina University. With him were some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians. After the concert I interviewed him in a broom closet-sized dressing room. He suggested I stop by their motel the next morning. I got there when the guys were going from rooms to vehicles. These great men of music were clowning for my camera.

Later, I opened the camera and stared at a black hole. We ran a head shot, and I ran a fever.

Getting back to Mayberry (Mount Airy, N.C.): The one piece of conversation I most remember, because it was so dominant, centered on Barney Fife. Sheriff Andy went on and on about his TV deputy. Andy thought the world of him as a friend, comedian, and actor.

If you watch enough of his shows, you realize Griffith did something few actors did — he turned them loose, letting them take the spotlight, a happy trick Jack Benny also used.

Andy also talked reverently about “A Face In the Crowd,” wherein he showed the world he was an outstanding dramatic actor. He said he would like to find a similar script. He never did.

I also spent a couple of happy hours with Mrs. Sam Spiegel, who was visiting a mutual friend in Currituck County, N.C. Her husband produced some of moviedom’s best-known blockbusters such as “On the Waterfront,” and “Bridge On the River Kwai.”

She was about 80 and gave me a picture of herself from when she was about 30 — and absolutely beautiful. With her in the photograph are her husband, and Lauren Bacall with her post-Bogart husband, Jason Robards Jr.

As I write this, I can look at the pic above my desk, along with, among other items, an original promotional photograph of Italian actress Silvana Mangano starring as “Anna.”

Such happy memories keep smiles on the face of this 84-year-old.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.