I know I may upset some people with this blog piece, but the story I tell today is the Emmis.
One of my favorite actors was (and is) Andy Griffith. His laconic Andy Taylor was the voice of reason on The Andy Griffith Show. His portrayal as the hick Will Stockdale in No Time for Sergeants was a classic. I believe his interpretation of the manipulative Lonesome Rhodes in Elia Kazan’s “A Face in the Crowd”was deserving of an Academy Award. His cynical work as Howard Pike aka Billy Pueblo with Jeff Bridges in “Hearts of the West” was brilliant. And as I posted before, he never won a Emmy and received very little in the way of honors.
However, much like his portrayal of Lonesome Rhodes where he was far from the “down-home” guy he conveyed to the public- he was a lot darker, angrier and arrogant as a person. He was almost totally unlike the warm, kindly Sherrif Andy Taylor of Mayberry. He was a great actor- let’s face it. In the same vein- Don Knotts was totally different than Deputy Barney Fife.
While he had a G rated relationship with school teacher Helen Crump on The Andy Griffith Show, he had a long term f**k buddy affair with the actress who played Helen (Aneta Coursaut) since Andy was married at that time. That information is from the wonderful Simon & Schuster book- Andy and Don and Me by Daniel de Visé.
I interviewed Andy in 2006 for a book I was doing research on with legendary TV pioneer and Producer Bob Finkel. I interviewed, through the arrangement of Bob many great television legends. Most were wonderful. Bob Newhart was a delight and was funny and down to earth. Suzanne Pleshette was absolutely hysterical. Eddie Fisher was a real character- but helpful. Tony Curtis was a great story teller.Even Jerry Lewis was a great help. And there were many others who worked with Bob Finkel in his long career. One was Andy Griffith.
Andy Griffith was an absolute terror to interview. He was very bright, quite intellectual but he was quite abrupt, even rude. He yelled at my son for moving in his chair- he said it distracted him. I wrote off that first interview – thinking he was just having a bad day. The second time, however, he was no different.
Bob Finkel told me that was just “Andy being Andy.” He told me he was rather cold and aloof to anyone outside of his cadre of friends. Later, I heard from many who had dealt with Andy have the same experience.Bob ranked Andy with Jackie Gleason as the two “monsters” he worked with. As a side note, Bob Finkel had produced the ELVIS specials (with Col. Tom) that introduced the Elvis letters and the white costume Bob had in his home in Beverly Hills. He even had Elvis dye his hair for the specials- but that’s another story for another day.
Which brings us to the wonderful character actor Jason Wingreen. Jason had a long career on stage, on television and on film. Jason was one of those actors you recognized but didn’t know his name. Jason was a founder of Circle on the Square Theater in NYC. Many may remember Jason from the Twilight Zone episode- “A Stop at Willoughby”, and as the conductor (and other episodes), he was also the voice of Boba Fett in Star Wars and he was even on Seinfeld. Near the end of his career, his old pal Carroll O’Connor remembered him and secured him the role of bartender Harry Snowden in All in the Family and as a regular on Archie Bunker’s Place. This role gave Jason the security to retire with his wife in the Valley. He was forever grateful to Carroll whom he adored .His last role was on Carroll’s series “In the Heat of the Night.
Jason made 11 appearances on Matlock as Judge Arthur Beaumont from 1987-1991 . Jason, who was a very caring, family man highly disliked Andy Griffith. He swore me to secrecy to this story until after he passed. He died on Christmas Day (December 25) in 2015. He was 95 and had retired in 1994. Jason was happy with the money he was paid for the series and they flew him to Atlanta to shoot the show. He said Andy was an absolute nightmare to work with. He said Andy was an utter bastard to most of the crew and the other actors.
However, what finally set Jason to quit the series was Andy’s treatment of actor Kene Holliday (who was African-American). On the last episode he worked, he said Kene was late to the set and Andy was having a fit. to quote Jason, Andy bellowed- “If that “N word” is f**king late again, I’m firing his black ass.” After that episode, Jason was determined not to appear on another Matlock episode.He said “I was financially secure due to Carroll. My wife was ill and I said it wasn’t worth any amount of money to work with Andy Griffith ever again.”And he never did.
I learned from Andy never to judge a person on the character they portrayed. This is not to disparage a wonderful career or to assail his talent. However, as a person- Andy was vastly different from what he was known for.
As I wrote about Mickey Rooney in my current book from Simon & Schuster- “The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney” you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.
OK- I’ve run out of cliches.