"Andy had a nice head of hair," says Russell Hiatt." And he was very particular about it."
Russell is the owner and sole barber at Floyd's City Barber Shop in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Andy, of course, is Andy Griffith, 84, who grew up a mile away. Russell speaks softly as he gives me a trim, applying lather to the back of my neck, opening a straightedge razor, and dispatching the hair‚ scritch, scritch, scritch, with a firm and even hand. Russell has been cutting hair for 63 years; he became Andy's barber after the actor graduated from high school.
I look in the mirror and watch half a dozen folks watching me. The barbershop, named after the one in "The Andy Griffith Show," is among the chief attractions in downtown Mount Airy. During my haircut three white-haired visitors step inside, sit down for five minutes, then quietly leave, evidently having found what they came for. A Maryland family‚ including a lanky teenage boy with braces‚ occupies several chairs. The boy is taking it all in, thrilled to be here. "So you're an Andy Griffith fan," I venture. He seems embarrassed, but smiles and nods. "He owns all 249 episodes," his mother reports in a tone of pride mixed, if I'm not mistaken, with resignation. I ask what he likes about the show. "I guess it's the old-fashioned stuff," he says. "They didn't have any crime."
I'm here in Mount Airy not for the haircut, but to search for Andy Griffith. Well, not literally‚ I'm told he lives quietly on the North Carolina coast, not far from the summer theater where he made his professional acting debut in 1946. Rather, I'm searching for the spirit of Andy Griffith, which maintains a steady, mystical hold on millions of Americans. Over the past few years Andy's name has topped the list of celebrities AARP readers are most interested in, beating out everyone from Tom Hanks to Colin Powell. TV Land, the MTV-owned cable network known for its classic shows, reports that reruns of The Andy Griffith Show are among its top three most-watched regularly scheduled programs, drawing 47 percent more viewers than the network average. The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club, an online community of fans, has 1,350 chapters nationwide. All this for a man who makes few public appearances, who doesn't give interviews, and whose trademark series went off the air in 1968.
I was three years old when "The Andy Griffith Show" debuted in October 1960, and 11 when it ended. Like others of my generation, I ran to the television like Pavlov's dog when I heard the theme song's lilting whistle. I was a kid of the New Jersey suburbs, which were far in spirit from small-town North Carolina. Mayberry struck me as unspeakably foreign, like those beach towns of southern California where teens in surfer movies lived. A town of picnic baskets and harmless eccentrics.
Ken Anderson lived in a small town like this. He's the author of Mayberry Reflections, a sort of Monarch Notes to the first four seasons. Ken grew up in Wisconsin and, for him, the show rings true. "We sat on our porch, and we knew every person who walked by," he says. "A lot of towns were like Mayberry. Once my generation is gone‚ and I'm 63‚ that type of life will be gone."
Know more about Mayberry than your own hometown? Try answering these ten fun questions about the show and its stars.