Andy Griffith’s first film still a big deal for small town - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Andy Griffith’s first film still a big deal for small town

Visitors can check out photos like this one, showing Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal on the set of "A Face in the Crowd," at the Matilda & Karl Pfeiffer Museum in Piggott. Visitors can check out photos like this one, showing Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal on the set of "A Face in the Crowd," at the Matilda & Karl Pfeiffer Museum in Piggott.

PIGGOTT, AR (KAIT) – That familiar whistling tune still welcomes television viewers back to Mayberry, where Andy Griffith served as America's Favorite Sheriff.

Griffith died Tuesday morning at his home in North Carolina, but, years before his iconic turn on "The Andy Griffith Show," the actor got his breakout role in a dramatic film shot in Northeast Arkansas.

Griffith made his big screen debut in a 1957 film entitled "A Face in the Crowd."

The story centers on a drifter, who rockets to fame after being discovered in a small town by a radio producer, played by Patricia Neal.

The filmmakers chose to set the movie in Piggott, Ark., and, for a short while, it became the center of a Hollywood production.

"Andy Griffith at that time was not really a big name," said Gerald Morris, the mayor of Piggott. "That was kind of the beginning of his career.

"The movie also created a lot of money being spent around town," he added. "Kids, adults, seniors, everybody was kind of getting in on a little bit of a quarter here, a dollar there."

Morris says that money went to locals cast as extras. One scene, in particular, employed a lot of the young people.

In the movie, Griffith's character broadcasts over the radio, asking all the local kids to jump into his boss' pool on a hot summer day. That pool was converted into a pond a few years ago at the Matilda and Karl Pfeiffer Museum, a local landmark.

"In the swimming pool scene, my brother – of course a bunch of ‘kiddos' come running and jumped in the pool – my brother is one of the kids," said Don Roeder, a museum trustee. "Of course I can't find him in there."

Roeder shows that famous pool scene to the museum's visitors, who can also peruse pictures from the set. 

Roeder's father and sister also appear in the movie, and he says almost everyone in town knows someone that can be found in the background.

"I'll always see somebody else that I know who is deceased now," Roeder said, having watched the movie multiple times, "and that's what's a lot of fun because that's been a few years ago now.

The town of Piggott may not be able to take credit for Andy Griffith's eventual stardom, but neighbors say their family and friends at least got to witness the beginning of Griffith's prolonged success.

TV Land will run a marathon of "The Andy Griffith Show," beginning at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

For those who have yet to see "A Face in the Crowd," Turner Classic Movies will air it on July 18.

Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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