Neill Shelton is Angry. You would be too, if your plans of building a statue of Barney Fife had just been lopped off at the knees. For the past couple of months, this Mount Airy native and others have been working furiously to bring a bronze effigy of the bug-eyed deputy to Andy Griffith's hometown. Funds were raised and sketches were drawn, but now a letter from a big city attorney has informed the group they don’t have the rights to recreate the late, great Don Knott’s likeness. The cease and desist order from an overdressed out-of-towner has left the wobbly lawman’s legion of fans positively thunderstruck. When I sat down with Shelton the day after he got the news, he crumpled into the Kountry Kitchen’s corner booth like a broken man.
“It’s such a shame we made so much progress,” he said with the empty stare of a freshly displaced storm victim, “just have it nipped in the bud, so to speak.”
If this lavish devotion to a decades-old sitcom character strikes you as strange, you didn’t grow up in North Carolina - and you damn sure ain’t been to Mayberry. If you had, you’d know the echoes of the Andy Griffith Show still reverberate in the Old North State. Sure, those idyllic and omnipotent episodes represent a simpler time that really never was, but they serve as a comforting touchstone for generations of viewers. Further, this indelible folly is an endless source of pride for many North Carolinians. One person’s scatchy rerun is another’s deeply revered mythology. Me - I’m somewhere in the middle. The age old comedy’s glaring lack of Arfican-Americans always troubled me for a series set so firmly in the South, but then again, who looks for realism in a sitcom anyway? I was just happy to bask in the comedic genius that was young Don Knotts. For that reason alone, I always enjoy the breezy streets of Mount Airy and would stand in line to pause somberly before an emboldened Barney in bronze. Alas, it wasn’t mean to be.
“Who wouldn’t wanna pay tribute to one of the funniest humans ever?” Shelton asks.
Attorneys for the Knotts estate, apparently.