By Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher
“In 1960, a father took his son fishing, and we’ve never stopped watching …” So goes the opening of Mayberry Man, an independent film thanks to Kickstarter and a labor of love for brothers Cort and Stark Howell, producer and writer-director respectively. If you’re already whistling the theme song to The Andy Griffith Show, you’re not alone.
Released in fall 2021, this G-rated, feature film celebrates the Mayberry lifestyle with the story line that a modern-day, arrogant Hollywood actor, played by Brett Varvel, goes before a small-town judge who finds him guilty of speeding. The sentence? He must attend Mayberry Fest.
The movie’s tagline says, “He was sentenced to a better life.”
The real Mayberry Days in Andy Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy, NC, draw large crowds annually to take a spin in Sheriff Andy’s look-alike squad car, get “locked up” in the jail and interact with folks who are mighty reminiscent of Barney, Floyd, Goober, Ernest T. Bass, Otis and the gang.
Among the film’s executive producers is Griffith’s daughter, Dixie Griffith. Appearing in the film is one of its three producers, Gregory Schell, son of Ronnie Schell, who portrayed Corp. Duke Slater on TV’s Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. and who also appeared in two episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.
Said Schell, “Our Kickstarter was a huge success. These were people who absolutely love The Andy Griffith Show and the (fictitious town of) Mayberry. These people showed up with their own vintage cars and their own costumes.”
He gives writer/director Stark Howell kudos. “I think there’s a lot of shots in our movie that look like Back to the Future. It feels like a Hollywood movie, something that would come from Zemeckis and Spielberg.”
For the story line, the Howell brothers drew from real life. Their father, Hoke Howell, actually appeared as Dud Wash in two episodes of the The Andy Griffith Show. The movie’s main character sentenced to Mayberry Fest ends up signing autographs for his own father who likewise was on the show a few times. Fun entails when he, a big-time movie star, is of little interest to festival fans, but they all lovingly recall his dad.
Many of the tribute artists at Mayberry Days made it into the film. “Kenneth Lunkin, who plays Otis, is the perfect example,” says Schell. “Kenneth knew exactly what he was supposed to do when he acted in his jailhouse scene. The same thing goes for Floyd, (portrayed by Allan Newsome), who already had ithis shtick down. Rik Roberts has been doing Barney for a long time, so he had the goods too. Our director, Stark, would just let them run with it as if we had all these seasoned actors.”
Fans of the real Mount Airy gatherings will delight in seeing the North Carolina town on the big screen. Large parts of the movie were filmed elsewhere — Indiana, Virginia and California. For instance, the Mayberry Cafe in the movie is a real place with the same name in Danville, Ind., home to the annual Mayberry in the Midwest festivities.
The Mayberry Trading Post in Meadows of Dan, VA, featured in a pivotal scene in the movie, is about a half-hour drive from Mount Airy. Mayberry Trading Post was called Mayberry long before the fictitious TV town was created.
Scott Freeman of Mount Airy’s The Loaded Goat is in the film, as is his restaurant. He laughs saying he had to try out for the part of his real job. (For the uninitiated, The Loaded Goat gets its name from the show’s episode 18 in season 3 when Sheriff Andy and Deputy Barney have to deal with a goat that’s swallowed dynamite.)
“When I first got to Mount Airy, summer 2018, shortly thereafter I got the restaurant, and then was witness to my very first Mayberry Days parade. At that point, I knew I was going to be in the next year parade. I was gonna find a real live goat and be in the parade and make it the mascot for my restaurant.” He did. “We named him Jimmy.” From then on, Jimmy’s been in all the parades — Mayberry Days, July Fourth, Christmas — and is available at times for photo opps at the restaurant.
Freeman, a retired Marine, says of those who portray the beloved TV characters: “All those tribute artists, they do a fantastic job. They really do it for a love of the community… for the love of the fans of The Andy Griffith Show. Even when the cameras are off, they interact with people, always taking time for a picture or an autograph.” Just before Mayberry Days kicks off, the group will oftentimes visit his restaurant. “They’ll meet up at the restaurant from around the country, sit around and have dinner and get ready for the week.”
As to being in the film, he says, “I’m just honored that I had the opportunity to be a part of it. I was there at the very beginning when Stark (Howell) and Greg (Schell) were in town several Mayberry Days ago and sought me out wanting to hear about the restaurant. I was on board immediately. I really love this community and thought this was a great opportunity to perpetuate the Mayberry Spirit. I have such love of the community and these unique opportunities to showcase it.”
Fans of The Andy Griffith Show will delight in Mayberry Man and the sequel that Stark Howell announced is in the works.
Schell puts it this way: “The whole movie was not only an homage to The Andy Griffith Show but it really is about the Mayberry spirit — looking at a society where you treat each other with respect, know your neighbors and do things for the love of your fellow man. I think it can exist today just as it did in some previous time. You can still have a great society if you really believe in the Mayberry spirit. Follow that wisdom. I have a lot of hope and optimism, always have.”
Sounds a lot like Andy Taylor.
FIND OUT MORE
- Rent or purchase the movie at Amazon Prime or MayberryMan.com. See some of the actors as Levi Riggs performs the movie’s theme song he wrote along with Jefferson Denim and Stark Howell: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuDXMksi-bA
- Also out in 2021 is Chris Hudson’s documentary The Mayberry Effect. Info on how to view or buy is at TheMayberryEffect.com.
- Some portions of Surry Arts Council’s 2022 Mayberry Days require a ticket and portions are free. For the particular events that require a ticket, Sept. 19-25 in Mount Airy, visit https://www.surryarts.org/mayberrydays/tickets.html
- Mount Airy offers year-round attractions like the Andy Griffith Museum, Andy Griffith Playhouse and Squad Car Tours that point out key locations including the house where Griffith was raised, which is available for overnight stays.
(Go Magazine Online Exclusive December 2021)