Fifty years ago, the Andy Griffith starred in what would become a prophetic commentary about monstrous media creations. "A Face in the Crowd" was his film debut that followed the rise of Larry Lonesome Rhodes, from a vagrant locked up in a country jail into a national household celebrity who wounds the nation while he charms it and then destroys himself.

(Soundbite of movie, "A Face in the Crowd")

Mr. ANDY GRIFFITH (Actor): (As Larry Lonesome Rhodes): You know what the public's like? A cage full of guinea pigs.

Goodnight, you stupid idiot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIFFITH: (As Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes) Good night, you miserable slobs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But over the years, Andy Griffith has become most famous as the gentle small-town sheriff of Mayberry and the courtly southern lawyer Matlock. He is back in films now, a small but critical role in a film that is filled with poignancy. The film "Waitress," about a diner, its staff and one young woman's belief in the curative powers of pastry. The film won rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, but its writer and director, Adrienne Shelley, died before it could be released and lauded.

Andy Griffith joins us now from his home in Manteo, North Carolina. Mr. Griffith, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. GRIFFITH: Oh, it's a pleasure, Scott. Thank you very much for asking me.

SIMON: What drew you to the material - the script - when you first saw it?

Mr. GRIFFITH: Well, I was sent about three scripts, all about the same time, and I read them all - Cindy and I - my wife and I, Cindy. But we responded to "Waitress" and to the character of Old Joe.

SIMON: Old Joe is the man who runs the diner.

Mr. GRIFFITH: Old Joe doesn't actually run it so much, but Old Joe owns it.

SIMON: What was there in Old Joe's character that drew you to say, I want to play him?

Mr. GRIFFITH: Well, he was very firm - firm in his beliefs and that firmness is what turned the picture around at the end.

(Soundbite of movie, "Waitress")

Mr. GRIFFITH: (As Old Joe) This is my pie diner. I own it.

Ms. KERI RUSSELL (Actress): (As Jenna) I know you do, Joe.

Mr. GRIFFITH: (As Old Joe) And I think it's warm in here. I know I'm warm.

Ms. RUSSELL: (As Jenna) I'll tell Call, (unintelligible).

Mr. GRIFFITH: (As Old Joe) They keep following my business is too warm on the inside - my gas station, the supermarket, my laundromat. But this is my favorite business: Joe's Pie Shop. I'm Joe and I will not tolerate the in-too-damn-warm-in-here.

SIMON: There must be some special poignancy in the scene in - this film, which realized so much of what Adrienne Shelly wanted to do - open and be celebrated after she's gone.

Mr. GRIFFITH: All of this picture - every part of it - is Adrienne. Adrienne knew what she wanted to hear. She wanted me to be especially firm. And I was fighting it. And she said, firmer, firmer. And I said - one day, I said, I'm trying. She said, that way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIFFITH: And I did it that way. I did it that way. Adrienne knew exactly what she wanted to see and hear from everybody.

SIMON: Well, what's it like to take direction from Adrienne Shelly - any young director - when you've been around as much as you have and you've worked with so many different people?

Mr. GRIFFITH: It's not difficult for me at all. If I ever disagree with a director, I would certainly let them know. But I have to feel like they know the material and I can discuss it whether or not I do disagree.

SIMON: May I ask, where were you when you heard about Adrienne Shelly's death? And for those people who don't remember, she was murdered? It was...

Mr. GRIFFITH: I know...

SIMON: a brutal senseless crime.

Mr. GRIFFITH: We were here in our house in North Carolina. And we heard it on the phone. And we both wept. She was a fabulous writer and of course, a wonderful director. She was good all around.

SIMON: Yeah. Can I ask you about "A Face in the Crowd"?

Mr. GRIFFITH: Of course.

SIMON: Because we're coming up on an important anniversary. "A Face in the Crowd" is the story of Larry Lonesome Rhode, who's, kind of, plucked out of a small town jail, becomes a big radio and television star. Ultimately gets full of himself and...


SIMON: ...destroys himself.

Mr. GRIFFITH: Destroys himself. Yeah.

SIMON: And a lot of other human wreckage in his wake. What did that film represent to you?

Mr. GRIFFITH: Oh, my. Let me just tell you a little story.

SIMON: Please.

Mr. GRIFFITH: I have a friend - R.G. Armstrong, and Bob who's a little older than I am. I'm 80. And Bob was in "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," that Gadg had directed - Gadg, I call him Gadg - Elia Kazan. And he said, do you know anybody that can play Lonesome Rhodes? Bob Armstrong, without hesitating said, Andy Griffith can play it. Elia Kazan said, I would like to meet him sometime.

SIMON: Now, what were you doing at that point in life?

Mr. GRIFFITH: Probably nightclub.

SIMON: You were a standup comic, weren't you?

Mr. GRIFFITH: Yeah. But, anyway, I met Elia Kazan the second night of "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof." And he said, let's talk sometime. And we did, many times. And I met Budd Schulberg one night. And Budd didn't think I could play Lonesome Rhodes. He told me so. One night, I met Budd and Elia Kazan at a restaurant down at 52nd Street - Gallagher's.

SIMON: Oh, famous steakhouse.

Mr. GRIFFITH: That's right. Something came to me. And I asked Gadg and Budd if they'd ever heard of Oral Roberts. You know, the television evangelist?

SIMON: Of course.

Mr. GRIFFITH: They hadn't. Well, I did Oral Roberts. That is, I did an impression of Oral Roberts.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. GRIFFITH: And near the end, I took Elia Kazan's head in my hands. And I healed him. I walked out of that restaurant with the part.

SIMON: Having healed the director.

Mr. GRIFFITH: Aha. At Elia Kazan's 90th birthday, I was sitting by Budd, and Budd, for the first time said, you did a good job at that part.

(Soundbite of laughter)


SIMON: You know, I'm struck by how fondly you speak of directors and producers, and, of course, you've worked with some of the greats between Elia Kazan and Sheldon Leonard - very accomplished television...


SIMON: ...producer and director and for that matter now, Adrienne Shelly. Forgive me for not knowing, have you ever made a film for Ron Howard?

Mr. GRIFFITH: No. Ron and I have talked many times. And he said, sometime, sooner or later. And so, whenever there is a part that's right, I know he will think of me.

SIMON: Does an episode of the "Andy Griffith Show" run somewhere in the world every hour or so?

Mr. GRIFFITH: I don't know about every hour. It does play everyday. And that shows never been off the air in over 40 years.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Andy Griffith Show")

Mr. GRIFFITH: (As Andy Taylor) Good morning, son.

Mr. RON HOWARD (Actor): (As Opie) Pa.

Mr. GRIFFITH: (As Andy Taylor): Uh-mmm.

Mr. HOWARD: (As Opie) Could you take this skunk to the courthouse and hold it there for me?

Mr. GRIFFITH: (As Andy Taylor): I guess I could. (unintelligible) do that for?

Mr. HOWARD: (As Opie) Well, if something was to happen, they got my clothes torn and messy, I figured I could go over to the courthouse and change so (unintelligible) won't know about.

Mr. GRIFFITH: (As Andy Taylor): Oh, I see.

Mr. HOWARD: (As Opie): You know how she is when I fell again these clothes that are little torn and messy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIFFITH: (As Andy Taylor) She sure does kick off the fuzz, don't she?

SIMON: What does it feel like to know you're part of something that touches people like that?

Mr. GRIFFITH: It's very gratifying. I have a joy almost everything I've ever done. And I enjoy the old "Griffith Show." I enjoy "Matlock" although on different level.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. GRIFFITH: They are different shows.

SIMON: You're still open for business?

Mr. GRIFFITH: Oh, yes. I've recently read a script called "I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down" and it's an independent film. Independent means you work for scale.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. GRIFFITH: That's fine.

SIMON: Well, I bet you can afford to do that after all these.

Mr. GRIFFITH: God has been good to me.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. GRIFFITH: I can't afford it and I'm glad to afford it. And I'm glad to do these wonderful shows. I was only on "Waitress" four days and they were some of the best four days I've ever spent.

SIMON: Mr. Griffith, thank you so much for all of your time.

Mr. GRIFFITH: Oh, thank you for your time.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: And you can see a clip of Andy Griffith in "Waitress" and find the link to one of his 1950s comedy routines at our Web site,

This is WEEKEND EITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from