It was Andy Griffith's personal manager who saw me at a dinner theatre in Fort Worth, Texas and said if I ever wanted to take a shot in Los Angeles, he would like to manage me. That is exactly what I wanted to do and in the short span only two months, moved to LA. The manager's name was Dick Linke.
Long before Michael Ovitz used the idea of talent packaging as a show business wedge, Dick was already an accomplished master of the technique. Everything revolved around Andy. If someone wanted Andy to do the Merv Griffin Show, then they needed to book me as well. If they wanted Andy for a Vegas gig, I was the opening act. I was teamed with Andy on several different venues and opened for him a lot. He was always very nice to me and we became friends.
Dick also handled Frankie Avalon. One day Dick called and said Andy, Frankie and I were flying to Pennsylvania to do a free show. Dick was very specific that there were to be no Italian jokes and especially no jokes about the Mafia. It seems that the mob was our host, this was a show for them, and I was to keep my eyes open, and mouth shut about anything that I saw. No problem. Even now I don't want to use real names in this blog.
Although Frankie was friends to most of the "guys" especially the Godfather, Andy and I were totally innocent about the life style of the mob. We were like Dorothy in the land of Oz, it was definitely not Kansas anymore, Toto.
Normally I dine for free on this story alone with all its details, but here I abbreviate. If we are ever together for an evening and I am free to tell the whole true story with details, it is quite jaw dropping, and I have to admit that I tell it very well.
Cutting to the chase, hours after our performance Andy and I find ourselves with the Godfather, Frankie and several others at a club near the edge of town. Frankie leaves with "friends", the Godfather calls it a night but Andy and I are still partying. The Godfather says good evening, and leaves his driver/body guard and limo for us to get back to our hotel when we are ready. I remember distinctly he told the uni-neck driver, "Stay with them and take them any place they want to go."
We stayed about an hour more and decided it was time to go back to the hotel. The driver pulled the car around, we got in, and the burly driver said, "Where too, Gentlemen?" In that distinctive southern drawl Andy looked at me and said, "Well, Jaaay, the Godfather said for him to take us where ever we wanted to go didn't he?" I said, "I believe so, Andy,"
"Well, I know this nice little after hours place at Fifth and Fifty-Fifth in Manhattan, why don't we go there and have a drink." I smiled in the knowledge that we were half a days drive from NYC, but with the same drawl, Andy turned to the driver and said, "Fifth and Fifty- Fifth, New York City."
The driver smiled and raised the divider between us and him and the car sped off.
In hushed tones Andy and I compared notes about the evening. "Did you feel the gun under that guys coat when he hugged us?" "Did you see how the Godfather had two fingers missing and smoked his cigar with the other three?" "Who was that girl that Frankie was with?" We both giggled like two teenagers after seeing their first porno movie.
We got deep into conversation, there was wine in the Limo, we popped the cork and we were having a great time. But after awhile we realized that we were not back at the hotel. As we remembered, it was only a 30 minute drive to get from the hotel to the club we just left. What's more we were driving in the middle of open country side, there was no town anywhere to be seen.
I remembered all those gangster movies where guys would be wined and dined and then driven to some isolated location never to be heard of again. I could see the same thought running through Andy's eyes as well. Andy lowered the divider and said to the driver, "Uh, where is it that you are taking us?"
The driver didn't look back, he just said, "Fifth and Fifty-fifth... Manhattan." Andy said, "Oh no that was just a joke, we need to go back to the hotel." Without comment, complaint, or even acknowledgement the driver slowed down, maneuvered a U-turn in the black stretch Lincoln and in an hour we were back at the hotel.
That adventure sealed the bond between me and Andy, we would speak of this moment many times after and giggle to ourselves. It is the way I remember my friend Andy Griffith.
There were those who experienced a different side of the man, an angry aggressive side. I never did, and found the stories I heard about that side of him hard to believe based on personal experience. I have not seen him since his Matlock days. I am grateful that he was willing to show me the ropes and set me on my own path. I will miss my friend and wish him a wonderful eternal rest.
As you were,