“The Andy Griffith Show” ended in 1968. The characters, however, never have.
Actors who impersonate the ever-vigilant Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife, sideburn-challenged barber Floyd Lawson, earnest goofball Gomer Pyle and others have kept the show’s world in orbit. They reappear annually at festivals such as Mayberry Days in Mount Airy, North Carolina, and Mayberry in the Midwest in Danville.
For years, the energy from these festivals and online groups like the Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club have resulted in a nationwide fan community that’s active enough to convince the sons of a former Hollywood character actor to make a modern-day movie. And in a nod to the Hoosier state’s fandom, much of “Mayberry Man” will be filmed in Danville and the Indianapolis area, with a few days spent in Mount Airy and Los Angeles.
The feature-length, family-friendly comedy centers around a rude star actor who is pulled over for speeding while driving in a small Southern town. His sentence? To attend Mayberry Fest, where he learns a few things from the townspeople. While fans of “Andy Griffith” can anticipate a storyline that embraces friendship and life lessons, they shouldn’t expect the film to mirror the 1960s series.
The project will bring Hollywood pedigree—in the form of former “Andy Griffith” stars and their children—to central Indiana. At the same time, producer Cort Howell and writer-director Stark Howell, the sons of actor Hoke Howell, are opening up “Mayberry Man” to Hoosiers who want a part in it through their Kickstarter campaign.
“We also saw it as an opportunity to create something that included both some original stars from ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ those that are still around, and let fans participate and actually appear in the film with them or work behind the scenes,” Cort said.
The producers have raised a little more than 80% of the $100,000 they need for the movie. If they reach their goal by the end of the month, then Indiana businesses, actors and extras will leave a large and indelible mark.
Hoke Howell was known for his deep Southern drawl and ability to mold himself into all kinds of characters over a multidecade career. He played a watchman on “The Dukes of Hazzard,” a loan officer on “The Wonder Years” and the crew boss in 1992’s “Far and Away.”
But Hoke’s portrayal of PFC Dudley A. “Dud” Wash on two episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” forged an ongoing legacy for his family. His sons played with Ron Howard, who starred as Opie Taylor, and his brother, Clint Howard, while their dads worked on writing projects, Cort Howell said.
Hoke also frequented “Andy Griffith” events. After their dad died in 1997, Stark and Cort discovered the widespread fan base the show still had.
The idea to crowdfund a movie was born. Not only would it allow fans to have roles, it also would give the filmmakers more freedom. The fanbase is small by big studio standards, and Hollywood isn’t necessarily keen on G-rated movies set in Mayberry, Cort said.
The filmmaking team also includes co-producer Gregory Schell, cinematographer Steven Douglas Smith, makeup artist Dennis Liddiard and composer Brett Perry.
Once producers set out to work on the film, they had no problem finding a location. Through the “Andy Griffith” community, they’d already become friends with the regulars who returned each year for Danville’s Mayberry in the Midwest. Cort lives in Westfield and runs a production company in Carmel, where he moved after meeting his wife.
“When my brother looked at Danville, he was blown away that that really looks like Mayberry. He kind of fell in love with the look of Danville, and then, plus, the town really got behind the project when we started talking to them,” Cort said.
The origins of Mayberry in the Midwest are, fittingly, in a diner that celebrates all things “Andy Griffith.” Brad and Christine Born started Mayberry Cafe in 1989 in Danville, about 20 miles west of Indianapolis. Twenty-five years later, their customers finally convinced them to try a Mayberry festival like the ones down south.
The experience stuck. Most notably in the world of “Andy Griffith” fans, it became the home of the “Squad Car Nationals,” where owners of replicas drive through an obstacle course and their passengers jump out to complete tasks. Characters—including Terry Varvel as Barney Fife and Allan Newsome as Floyd Lawson—return to play their roles. Kids can play in “Opie’s World,” and anyone hungry enough can compete in a pickle-eating contest.
This year, the annual parade on May 16 will be a focal point in “Mayberry Man.” Christa Miller, the executive director of the Downtown Danville Partnership, said she expects that to make the crowd even bigger. Filmmakers will capture the character actors and guests stars on the route.
“They will be portraying themselves attending a festival,” Cort said.
Filmmakers also are considering the former governor’s residence in the Meridian Kessler neighborhood as a contender for the movie star’s home. At 4343 N. Meridian St., it housed Hoosier governors from 1945 to about 1970.
“The Howell brothers wanted a house that could pass for old Hollywood, and they needed a sweeping driveway with big formal gates that could swing open,” said Allie Madden, president of the Meridian Street Foundation.
William N. Thompson, president of Stutz Motor Car Co., built the home in 1920, according its documentation on the National Register of Historic Places. It boasts limestone steps, an arched stained glass window and gold bathroom fixtures.
The home resides in a preservation area, Madden said, which means that homeowners must follow rules on how they can change their landscapes and homes. If it’s chosen, however, she’s looking into temporarily borrowing palm trees and other plants that could be found in California.
The movie star also will drive a red convertible Ferrari borrowed from a Carmel resident, Cort said.
While “Mayberry Man” isn’t another episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” its roots are clear. The core of the cast is made up of original stars, who will play themselves in cameo-type roles, and their family members, Cort said. That includes:
— Clint Howard (Ron Howard’s younger brother, who played the tiny cowboy Leon),
— Ronnie Schell (who played Duke Slater on the spinoff “Gomer Pyle: USMC”),
— Maggie Peterson (who played Charlene Darling),
— Karen Knotts (daughter of Don Knotts, who played Barney Fife),
— Dixie Griffith (Andy Griffith’s daughter) and
— George Lindsey Jr. (son of George Lindsey, who played Goober Pyle).
At this point, the actor who will play the movie star has not yet been cast, Cort said. Who they choose depends on the fundraising campaign. So does the Indiana contingent of the cast. The filmmakers have an undisclosed amount of preliminary fundraising, Cort said, but the script and local opportunities depend on raising an additional $100,000, and ideally more than that, by Feb. 29.
“This was incremental dollars and an opportunity to involve the fans on a greater scale,” Cort said. “So we will make some sort of a movie, but without the Kickstarter money, it’s a much different movie.”
Additionally, the storyline will be set once they know their budget. The Kickstarter offers different levels for fans and businesses to contribute, and some of those levels include product placement and acting as an extra or featured extra with a speaking role.
“We’ve written roles to accommodate nonactors,” Cort said. “It’s going to be a nice blend that provides opportunities for regular folk to get on camera … local talent — actual working actors in the Indianapolis area to participate — and we hope to bring in the best-caliber lead talent.”
More information on how to donate can be found here or search for “Mayberry Man” on Kickstarter.com.
The Mayberry in the Midwest festival will be May 15-17 in Danville. Find the full schedule at mayberryinthemidwest.com.