Questions for Tom Perry: 12-4-2012
for the Greensboro News & RecordPUBLISHED DECEMBER 23, 2012
Q: You’ve edited or published 35 books on regional history. This is your first that’s part memoir, part biography with former Mt. Airy resident Andy Griffith as the subject. What were the challenges and rewards in writing this kind of a book?
This book had been on my mind for a long time since I found the marriage certificate of Andy’s parents in the Patrick County Virginia courthouse. When he passed in July, I escalated my efforts. I was recovering from prostate cancer surgery and I used the laughter of the Andy Griffith Show to get me going again. This book was easy to write as I grew up near Mount Airy and like most people my age Andy was part of my life from as long as I could remember. The reception of this book has been amazing from people telling me how they feel about it to the amazing sales it is generating.
Q. Beyond Mayberry is loaded with details such as Andy Griffith had a birthmark on the back of his head his mother called “Andy’s strawberry patch.” He swept out buildings for $6 a week to buy his first trombone. You also delve into his parents and grandparents past. You pored over old records in libraries and courthouses. How did you keep it organized and was there a lot you didn’t use?
Most of this book was from printed sources. The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History had a huge archive of files about Andy Griffith and Mount Airy. I did visit Andy’s papers at UNC-Chapel Hill and Goldsboro, where he lived and taught school after graduating college. Almost everything I found is in the book with the focus being mainly on Mount Airy.
Q: You say Andy Griffith never said for sure that Mayberry was based on Mt. Airy. His cagey reply when asked was, “It sure sounds like it, doesn’t it?” There’s been a bit of controversy over where the “real” Mayberry is located. Could you describe it and your thoughts on the subject.
In Jerry Bledsoe’s book about biking the Blue Ridge Parkway, he tells about visiting the Mayberry Trading Post and Addie Wood the owner telling about Andy visiting the place as a kid. In Andy’s papers at UNC-Chapel Hill, he had a photocopy of the related pages and the paragraph I mentioned above was circled without comment. You can read into that maybe that Andy was pleased to see that. I think his visits to Mayberry Virginia were a pleasant memory of his youth with his mother’s family from Patrick County, where his mother, Geneva Nunn Griffith was from, but that is just my opinion.
Q: The photographs in the book are fantastic. Is there somewhere on the internet where they, and those not used, can be viewed? Which are your favorites?
Most of the photos came from people who knew Andy, Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, and the Mount Airy News. I loved the cover photo of Andy with his parents in the parade in Mount Airy on his 31st birthday, which I believe was for the opening of his movie A Face in the Crowd.
Q: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about Andy Griffith?
I think many people assume that Andy Griffith was Sheriff Andy Taylor. He was not. I came to believe that Andy Taylor was Carl Griffith, Andy’s father, who was a great storyteller and Andy’s first wife said was “the funniest man I ever knew” and she was married to Andy Griffith. Andy Griffith was a serious actor and he was playing a role. In real life, he was not as approachable as the character he played.
Q: Why do you think the appeal of The Andy Griffith Show has endured through generations?
I think the Andy Griffith Show was one of the funniest shows ever on television especially when Don Knotts was on it. I think Andy took Mount Airy with him into the show and that made it real. I think part of the appeal of the show is that it is taken from real life.
Q: You wrote this book while recovering from surgery for prostate cancer that has side effects that, though generally temporary, could throw any man into a depression. How did writing the book help you through that time?
I had surgery in February 2012 and when Andy Griffith died in July, I was struggling to start work again. As I said earlier, I used the laughter from the show to heal, but it was a subject that I knew and that made it easier to write about something so close to home for myself too. Prostate cancer for men is not easy, but I had robotic surgery at Baptist in Winston-Salem and am now almost fully functional again.
Q: What were the most unexpected discoveries you made about yourself and Andy Griffith while writing or promoting Beyond Mayberry?
I think the thing about Andy that I did not realize was how much a product of his parents he became. He got his musical ability from his mother’s side, which was the only thing he ever received recognition such as Grammy Awards for his albums. He got his story telling from his father Carl and probably the acting.
As for myself, I think I was surprised at how much pride I began to feel for being from the same place as Andy Griffith. He received a Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush and if you look at the ceremony, you can see the joy Andy Griffith in his face. It is the first thing in the book because I don’t think we will see anyone from Mount Airy getting one of those any time soon and I came to feel what a memorable event that was for Andy Griffith and Mount Airy.