Even though Nancy Stafford never played a character on “The Andy Griffith Show,” she did play opposite of the show’s creator and star Andy Griffith, in the show “Matlock.” She visited Mount Airy on Wednesday to see what inspired her mentor to create his life’s work.
As Griffith’s co-star on “Matlock,” Stafford said she grew up watching him on the show and was thrilled to get the part of Michelle, his attorney assistant on the show “Matlock” show. Before Wednesday, she had never been to Griffith’s hometown, but now that’s she’s been here, she’s looking forward to returning — possibly to Mayberry Days next year.
The Felker family, Ronnie Elease and their son Jacob came to Mount Airy on Wednesday just to see Stafford at her book signing at Mayberry on Main. They came from Clinton, S.C., all dressed up like Barney, Thelma Lou and Little Ernest T. Bass.
The Felkers started watching “The Andy Griffith Show” right after they were married, on a 9-inch black and white TV. Ronnie Felker said he immediately fell in love with the show. The couple started dressing up as Barney Fife and Thelma Lou and began attending Mayberry Days nearly 20 years ago. While the family was in town Wednesday to see Stafford, they said the recent death of Griffith broke their hearts.
“He’s the only movie star (dying) that really got to me. You feel like he is a part of your every day life,” said Ronnie Felker.
While in town, Stafford took a Squad Car Tour led by Melvin Miles. She stopped off at the Andy Griffith Playhouse and had her picture taken with the kids who are participating in the Missoula Children’s Theatre this week. She also took time to pose with the statue of Andy and Opie. She said that was the moment that his death really hit home.
“It’s funny, I got a reaction I didn’t quite expect. We took a few pictures over by the Andy Griffith statue and I just started balling. It was especially hard for me to say goodbye. As I was standing there next to his statue, I realized that he has left a hole in my heart because I just love that man. I thought about what an impact he has had on our culture and on our values. As Emmett (Forrest, Griffith’s longtime friend) said, he left a big foot print,” said Stafford.
She also took time to visit with Forrest at the Andy Griffith Museum before lunch.
Stafford said the five years she worked with Griffith were the best years of her career.
“I’m grateful for what I learned from him as an actor. He was so generous. He was also great fun,” said Stafford.
“He expected a lot of the people he worked with and that’s because he gave a lot. He gave even more than anyone else. He had a high level of excellence that was required. He worked hard and he played hard,” said Stafford.
Stafford’s visit to Mount Airy has been in the works since January, according to Mayberry on Main Owner Debbie Miles. She said a big crowd turned out for Stafford’s book signing.
“We had a line all the way to the end of the store. We are just happy she is here,” said Miles.
Stafford has two books out now, “Beauty by the Book, Seeing Yourself as God Sees You,” and “The Wonder of His Love, the Journey into the Heart of God.”
The Felkers and the Miles family, that owns Mayberry on Main, all went to lunch with Stafford at Pandowdys restaurant before the book signing that began at 1 p.m.
She said she enjoyed her first trip to Mount Airy and was surprised by how friendly and nice everyone was.
“I’m floating. It’s awesome,” said Stafford. “Ever since I started watching ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ I wanted to be here. I’ve just had a blast.”
Jeff Branch, who is the tribute artist for Howard Sprague, visited Mount Airy from Montgomery County where he is a D.A.R.E. officer, just to see Stafford.
“I’m a fan of ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ and ‘Matlock’ as well. I never thought I’d get to meet her. She is an unbelievable actress. I’d love to see her at Mayberry Days,” said Branch.
Kenneth Junkin, who is an Otis tribute artist, came all the way from Gordo, Ala. to see Stafford.
“I watched her on TV. I was very excited to meet her. I’m very impressed. She is a great people person,” said Junkin.
Stafford will be in Winston-Salem for the next three days participating in the Western Film Fare at the Hawtorne Inn & Conference Center.
Reach Mondee Tilley at email@example.com or at 719-1930.