Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Ernest T. and Me

Somewhere back around the turn of the century, an elderly but energetic Howard Morris burst out of the back door of the Andy Griffith Museum in Mt. Airy, N.C.
Dressed as the character he made famous - Ernest T. Bass - Morris had grown bored disrupting the 'Mayberry Days' ceremonies inside. Looking around, he spotted a local cameraman he'd seen earlier and brusquely bummed a cigarette off of him.
I fished my pack out of my pocket and offered it to the man I'd grown up watching in grainy black and white.
"Mr Morris, it would be my honor," I said, offering him a light.
"You're damned right it is!" he said, leaning into the flame. As the end of the Marlboro turned orange, he held me in his gaze, his eyes bulging comically. Then he leaned back and with an air of satisfaction, blew smoke in my face.
For a native North Carolinian, it was nothing short of knighthood.
For the next few minutes we chatted about the squirrels scampering in the distance. I wanted to ask him a bunch of questions about Don Knotts, old Hollywood, production techniques I'd noticed on 'Andy Griffith', but I didn't dare break the reverie.
I've met A LOT of famous people. Most disappoint. But Mr. Howard Morris didn't. He was exactly what I'd hoped he would be. And while I'm proud to say I don't smoke anymore, I'm so glad I could spare a square the day Ernest T. needed one.
I just wish selfies had been a thing back then.