The July 3 passing of Andy Griffith brings back very special memories. On Oct. 31, 1965, as a 16-year-old, I had the experience of a lifetime. I was a junior at Warsaw Central School and was a shy, introverted country boy.
About three weeks before Halloween, I received a telegram - yes, the 1960s version of email. The message was from the producers of the CBS show "What's My Line?" The show inquired if I would be interested in appearing on the highly rated Goodson/Todman show. What a question to a rural teenager. Of course I would!
Then a combination of fear, anxiety and stage fright set in. In 1965 there were only three networks, and the prospect of appearing live in front of millions of viewers was mind-boggling.
The local telegraph office was inside a local business, and news of the telegram soon spread as quickly as gossip from Floyd's barber shop in Mayberry.
The telegrams came every three or four days. First the producers wanted references to properly vet my young background. Finally, they decided I was good to go. Two airline tickets arrived via certified mail and since I was a minor, my mother, Dorothy Price, accompanied me to the show in New York City.
When the producers discovered I had never been to New York City, they arranged for a five-day stay with an incredible (for the time) $500 in spending money!
I was approved for my 15 minutes of fame because my line was pumpkin growing and that particular night was Halloween.
It was a weekend of many first-time adventures. My first commercial airline flight, my first stay in a very upscale New York City hotel and, of course, the TV appearance.
On Sunday night, a limo was dispatched to our hotel and in royal style, for a teenager, we were transported to a CBS studio around the corner from the Ed Sullivan Theater.
Upon arrival, my mom was directed to a front-row seat and I was shown where to walk by directions taped to the studio floor.
About one hour before the live broadcast, I was ushered to a waiting area and there he was. My mouth became dry and when I attempted to return a hello greeting, I was taken aback by the familiar smile and that very familiar southern drawl. To my delight and amazement, the mystery guest was "Sheriff Andy Taylor."
He was warm, friendly and very inquisitive about me. He soon put me at ease, reminding me of our small-town roots. That conversation will remain one of those very special memories that our travels through life embed in our persona.
All too soon, we were ushered to the stage and that classic intro music began. I was the first to appear that evening. I remember extreme fear and froze in place when John Charles Daley spoke his famous words: "Will you enter and sign in please?" A voice from behind me, in that well-known Mayberry accent, said, "Go get them, boy!" He then pushed me on the stage and everything went well from then. After all, Sheriff Andy had my back!
Out I went to a panel composed of Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen and Steve Allen. Francis, a crafty questioner, quickly guessed my line but I was granted the $50 prize anyway.
On July 3, we lost a great role model for America. Thank you, Andy Griffith, for a very special experience. May you be at peace.