High Point author’s book paints intimate picture of Andy Griffith

May 13—HIGH POINT — For decades, Andy Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy has been linked to Mayberry, the fictional town Griffith made famous on his beloved 1960s sitcom, “The Andy Griffith Show.”

To this day, Mount Airy officials tout the widely held belief that Griffith based Mayberry on the city where he grew up, and Mount Airy businesses cash in on that connection with the countless fans of the show who come to town searching for Mayberry.

To find the real Mayberry, though, High Point author John Railey says you’ve got to look farther east — about 350 miles farther — to Manteo, the Roanoke Island town where Griffith launched his career as a young actor and lived most of his adult life until his death in 2012.

“That island defined him,” says Railey, whose new book — “Andy Griffith’s Manteo: His Real Mayberry” (The History Press, $21.99) — peels back the layers of Griffith’s notorious privacy and paints an intimate picture of his life in Manteo, courtesy of those who knew him best, his fellow islanders.

“If he hadn’t gone to that island, there wouldn’t have been an Andy Griffith the star,” Railey says. “Andy said in 1982 that he was indebted to the people of Dare County and that he would spend the rest of his life repaying that debt, and he did.”

Railey, a former journalist for The High Point Enterprise — who also has spent much of his life on the Outer Banks — recounts in his book how Griffith was introduced to the island through “The Lost Colony,” Roanoke’s famed outdoor drama that Griffith performed in during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

According to Railey, Griffith embraced Manteo and his people because they embraced him—a sharp contrast to his native Mount Airy, where he never forgot being referred to as “white trash” when he was growing up there. In Manteo, I have found not only the welcoming locals, but also the island’s welcoming physical beauty and slow pace of life.

It was also there that Griffith began to find his artistic freedom, first in “The Lost Colony,” and then taking his first stab at comedy when he performed a comedic retelling of “Hamlet” at the old Shrine Club at Whalebone Junction in 1952. His better-known monologue, “What It Was, Was Football,” came along a year later.

Griffith went on to his storied career in Hollywood — “The Andy Griffith Show,” “A Face in the Crowd,” “No Time For Sergeants,” “Matlock” — but he always came home to Manteo.

For his book, Railey interviewed many of the islanders who befriended Griffith and knew him not so much as Sheriff Taylor, but as their neighbor who walked around the island barefooted — and sometimes bare-chested — and enjoyed fishing, hunting, playing volleyball, and having a drink with his buddies.

They also shared stories of what Griffith did to protect their island: Taking a public stand against Food Lion, which planned to locate a store there. Providing laptops for local schoolchildren. Setting up a community foundation. Buying a van for a church and a house for a single mom.

“He was doing these things quietly,” Railey says.

The book also takes a closer look — through the eyes of those who were there — at the small, simple ceremony that took place when Griffith died. Per his wishes, he was buried on his land in Manteo before the news ever went public.

“Andy’s friends told me he’d seen what a zoo Michael Jackson’s funeral was (in 2009), and he didn’t want that to happen on his island,” Railey says. “He was private, sure, but he was also looking out for his island folks from him.”

As compelling as the stories are in “Andy Griffith’s Manteo,” the book’s photos — dozens of them, many of them never before published — are equally compelling, showing Griffith just being himself: Fishing. Hunting. Shooting billiards. Laughing with friends. Enjoying a boat ride. Playing his guitar from him.

“There’s never been anybody like him, and there never will be again,” Railey says. “He just had a hell of a good time — he did what he wanted to do.”

And, to the book’s point, he did it where he wanted to do it.

jtomlin@hpenews.com — 336-888-3579

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