Beloved character lives on, thanks to tribute artist
By Jeremy Henderson
All of a sudden Allan Newsome’s wife, Jan, will point at him: “There — you’re doing it right now!”
He doesn’t hear it. In his mind, when he gets back from a Mayberry Days event and it’s time to hang up the coat and put away the scissors, that’s it. He’s back to being regular old Allan Newsome, a 54-year-old Huntsville man with a mustache that he’s had since high school, an IT guy at Redstone Arsenal who happens to run a couple of personal websites on the side, not a barbershop.
But he’s outnumbered. His son Adam swears he hears it, too.
They’ll all be at the dinner table or on the couch and Allan won’t even be talking about the show. It might just be a quick comment about the weather, or something he saw on the news that he can’t wait to forget, and Jan will stop him and say, “Now, come on, Allan. That sounded just like him.”
He’ll laugh. Sometimes he’ll argue. Hey, if it’s true — if he occasionally forgets that he’s not on stage and lapses back into character — then, well, that just comes with the territory. That’s what nearly three decades as the world’s premiere (and only, as far as he knows) Floyd the Barber tribute artist will do to a man.
Allan Newsome is one of the top powerbrokers in a thriving community of “The Andy Griffith Show” aficionados large enough to spawn multiple annual fan events, a dozen or more books, a popular Bible study curriculum (born in Huntsville’s Twickenham Church of Christ), and even an upcoming quasi-documentary of sorts (which Newsome stars in). He is, to reference a Season Two classic, a keeper of the flame for fellow fans, having maintained practically every major Griffith fan site for more than 20 years, including WeaversDepartmentStore.com, an online emporium (named for Aunt Bea’s favorite place to shop) of Griffith kitsch and collectibles that is currently pushing a line of “The Andy Griffith Show”-themed coffee and bacon. Jan handles the orders.
And, of course, there’s his podcast, “Two Chairs No Waiting,” another Season Two reference. He’ll be recording the 586th episode tonight. Should be a good one. There’s been a bombshell development in the mystery of “Nice Dress Nellie,” the nickname of a recurring show extra. A fan claims to have a solid lead on the woman’s last name. That may not sound quite as thrilling as when Allan got the guy in Indiana to isolate and reverse the audio of the rewinding tape recorder in Season One’s “Mayberry on Record,” but it’s still pretty sensational stuff.
But his greatest contribution to the culture, by far, is Floyd Lawson, the Mayberry town barber.
In the beginning
It all started in 1994. He was at Mule Day in Gordo, Alabama, and a group went out to eat, David Browning included. Until his recent retirement from the impersonation circuit, Browning was the king of Griffith tribute artists. His spot-on Barney Fife was a must-have at Mayberry meetups for 30 years.
So, they’re all just waiting for a table, quoting the show to each other, doing voices and everything like always, and Allan does Floyd’s “Bobby Gribble hates Emma Larch” routine from the “Case of the Punch in the Nose” episode. He nailed it. Browning loved it.
Not long after that, Allan and Jan were at the Mayberry Squad Car Rendezvous in Bradford, Ohio, a town that boasts a full-sized replica of Wally’s Filling Station. And, of course, Browning was there.
“He kept getting me to come over and talk to people like Floyd,” Allan says. “Then he took me aside and said ‘Hey, you want to dress up and come to Mount Airy as Floyd for Mayberry Days?’”
Mayberry Days is the big one. It’s held every year in Andy Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina, which has capitalized on the show’s phenomenal syndication success by billing itself as the real-life Mayberry. The Snappy Lunch diner downtown? It’s actually mentioned in an episode. And of course, so is Mount Pilot, Mayberry’s slightly larger sister city. Only, on an actual map, it’s Pilot Mountain, southeast of Mount Airy by 11 miles.
Griffith pilgrims can visit the Andy Griffith Museum, tour the town in a vintage squad car, pose in a replica courthouse, and yes, have their bangs trimmed at Floyd’s Barbershop. The town’s official website is VisitMayberrry.com, and you don’t have to scroll far to find a photo of Allan Newsome.
He thought dressing up for that event would be a one-time deal. Instead, he’s become a fixture. You don’t come back from Mayberry Days without a selfie with Allan Newsome.
Allan got hooked on “The Andy Griffith Show” while a student at Auburn in the late 1980s. He’d seen it before heading off to college, obviously, but something about the simplicity of it, and the clockwork regularity — 5 p.m., 10 p.m. — seemed tailor-made for an electrical engineering student trying to keep sane between exams.
“We’d need a break from studying and you’d just pop some popcorn and sit down and watch ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’” Allan says. “It would just relieve some of the stress that you had from just trying to do all that dadgum homework.”
Reminders of home
Plus, it reminded him of home. He’s from Henegar, a DeKalb County town of 3,000 people or so. Aunt Bea’s friends — Clara Edwards and Myrtle? They might as well have been ladies from his church. And he can’t watch an Ernest T. Bass episode without thinking of this one farmer down the road he’d see as a kid.
Allan’s dad, Wayne, laughs at that one.
“Yeah,” he says, “that’s a pretty fair assessment.”
Wayne and his wife Ann still live in Henegar, and, yes, they now hear traces of Floyd in their son’s voice, too. The first time Wayne met Allan’s alter ego was at a Huntsville Stars baseball game years back. Allan and David Browning were both there, in character, as part of the team’s perennial “Mayberry Night” promotion.
“I said ‘I can’t believe I sent him to Auburn to do that,’” Wayne laughs. “It just didn’t seem like him. He’s always been a matter-of-fact guy, but to see him as Floyd, it’s like a totally different person. But he loves it.”
And the more Allan stuck with, the more it made sense. What he said about seeing Henegar in Mayberry, and vice versa? Wayne sees it, too. He still sees it.
“Allan grew up in that type of town. It’s still a Mayberry town,” he says. “No one locks their doors. Everybody’s friendly. Everybody knows everybody. And, yeah, we definitely have a few characters around here.”
If we’re talking Mayberry parallels, Wayne actually might be one himself.
For starters, he was police commissioner for a short while in the ’80s.
“We had more than one police car, though,” he says. “We had two or three.”
He also even used to own Stone’s Department Store, which might as well have been a Weaver’s come to life, he says. At least that’s what he’s gathered from watching the show.
Wayne may not know that the new kid in town framed Opie for busting the streetlight with an apple rather than a rock — that would have knocked him out of the Mayberry Days trivia preliminaries in a heartbeat, I told him — but he’s definitely a fan.
“Oh yeah, it still comes on, it’s a great show,” he says. “Mayberry is just the place you want to be.”
Exactly, Allan says. That’s the reason the show endures. It’s not just because it’s good. It’s because it’s an escape to simpler times. In 2020, that’s something that grows more valuable by the day. Almost by the hour.
But it sure is hard on his ties.
“A lot of times we don’t even call him on doing the voice anymore, but that’s the other thing he does now,” Jan says. “He fiddles with his ties all the time, just like Floyd.”