Howard, Here's Your Cudo's
Do You Know A Howard Sprague?
I guess we all have known a Howard Sprague at sometime or other. And the most-difficult thing to do is write about these minuscule, myopic, and yet vital segments of our lives in a way that does them the deserved justice that they require. Writing about the mechanical engineering of a John Deere tractor would be easier than writing about the true-life "Howard's" I have been associated with over the years.
Now as for the character, Howard Sprague, that rounded out the cast on the highly-successful "Andy Griffith Show," it's as easy as sipping coffee to write a quick rundown on Sprague's role in the innermost workings of life in the fictitious town of Mayberry. This is easy for me, for I, like millions of Americans and probably millions of people in Japan, Korea, Spain, China, England, and other locales, have been card-carrying, died-in-the-wool "Andy Fanatics," for years.
Jack Dodson played the role of Howard Sprague on "The Andy Griffith Show," and played it very well. So well in fact, that Griffith and the show's producers decided to have Sprague's role exanded, but not enough to tarnish or change, in the least, his calm, meek, quiet-spoken character that fans had come to love and cherish. Andy Griffith knew his business right down to the last word in every script. Griffith knew just when to expand or scale-back a character if he knew that it would benefit the show and cast.
Here are a few background facts about Jack Dodson: He was born May 16, 1931 and passed away, September 16, 1994 from heart failure. Born John S. Dodson in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Dodson was an American television actor who kept his character of Howard Sprague busy in The Andy Griffith Show and its spin-off Mayberry R.F.D. Dodson was married to television art director Mary Dodson.
Dodson was no stranger to the stage as he had appeared in many Broadway plays as well as films over the years before Andy Griffith hired him to be Howard Sprague, county clerk, for the town of Mayberry, a job that he held until the "The Andy Griffith Show" left the air.
Here are a few Mayberry Facts about Howard Sprague . . .
- Howard was never married on the Andy Griffith Show, and was seen only twice on dates in the show's years on the air. Once, he was seen with Andy and Helen at Mario's Diner with the pretty blond who had taken over the office next to the County Clerk's office in her job as County Nurse. Another time, Howard fell in love with "Millie Swanson," played by legendary character actress, Arlene Golonka, who opened a bakery in Mayberry. Howard dated Millie frequently and decided that Millie was 'the one' for matrimony, but writers couldn't have a married county clerk on the show, so it was written that Millie and Howard found on the train going to her parents home for the wedding, that she and Howard really didn't have that much in common, so they cancelled the "I do's," and chose to remain good friends.
- Howard was the most-misunderstood character on the Andy Griffith Show thanks to his love for knowledge, reading numerous books, and on many occasion, dropping famous historical quotes as, "Millions for country, but not one penny for defense."
- Howard was the most-obscure character on the Andy Griffith Show for his low-key lifestyle of working (probably) from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., then going by the Mayberry Diner for a low-fat meal, and then home to relax, read, or attend a school board meeting or meeting of the All Souls Church (the church in Mayberry) Youth Committee, which Howard was an active member of both factions.
- Howard had the tough task of facing "Millie Swanson's" old flame, "Clyde Plump," played by another legendary character actor, Allan Melvin. Mayberry writers sometimes, and every smoothly, used a plot from an older episode in current shows. In this show, the writers used the same format as the one where Opie had to face the school bully who was extorting his milk money from him every morning, except it was meek and puny, Howard Sprague who had to face "Plump," and as Andy Taylor told him, "Howard, Opie learned something with his experience with the school bully. It seemed to Opie, that a busted nose didn't hurt as long as it did running from the bully to avoid a fight." Howard, who respected Andy's wisdom, stood up to the former beau of Millie's and ended up with more confidence and self-esteem.
In my career that spanned 23 years with our local newspaper in Hamilton, Alabama, I met and worked with a "Howard," but I will call him "Joe," for I do not want to reveal his real name here. "Joe," was just like Howard Sprague in every respect. From his bow tie, yes, I said bow tie he would wear to work with his "Sunday suit and slippers," he chose to wear a quaint-looking sweater while in the office writing up his latest story or interviewing one of our county or state officials who were in town for some civic business. "Joe" never missed a beat. Even when the phone would ring and someone wanted to speak with him about a certain photo he was to take the next day, "Joe," was cordial, patient, and always-quiet spoken. That by itself was always astonishing to me, for in the weekly grind to get out a newspaper, tempers will sometimes flare from the stress generated by meeting deadlines and getting your part of the paper finished on time. I know. My temper flared a lot and now since I am not able to work, I regret those times that I would get irritated with "Joe," for being so slow sometimes when it came time to proofread stories and choose negatives for prints in that week's issue of the paper.
My "Joe," was just like Howard Sprague in another way. He was single and loved it. Our managing editor and us guys, sometimes girl staff members too, would lovingly poke fun at "Joe," to see what kind of girl that he would love to date. And we were determined to see his days of bachelorhood come to a merciful end. There was this one instance where "Joe" did take a young lady to dinner in a town called Florence, Alabama, a mere one hour drive from Hamilton, where I life. I was told by reliable sources that "Joe," dressed in his "Sunday best," took the pretty young woman to a fine restaurant, seated her as a gentleman should, and began to form small talk. Both "Joe," and his pretty date ordered salads when the waiter came to see what he could get for them.
But before you could say, "Seven Islands Salad Dressing," "Joe," threw down his fork, napkin and informed the young lady, "It's time to head home. I am not feeling well." So with a huge black could of disappointment forming over the head of "Joe's" date, they proceeded to leave the restaurant and didn't speak one word on the trip back home to Hamilton. An insider who knew "Joe," well, said the real reason that "Joe" wanted to leave suddenly was that he didn't like the fashion in which his date was chewing her salad. "Joe," we found out, had standards that were too high to reach in the 'getting a date with a woman department.'
"Joe" took this in stride as he did all the conflicts he would have in the public while her performed his job as reporter and news editor for the paper where we worked. One problem was "Joe," had a super-high I.Q. and didn't fit well into rural Hamilton, Alabama, where most of the citizens, even those raised in metropolitan Hamilton, talk, act, and live rural. Not "Joe." He liked to be as correctly-spoken as possible. Some in our office said that "Joe," had a case of A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder) as well as O.C.D. (obsessive compulsive disorder) and mixing these two ingredients with his low-key, low-self-esteem, well "Joe's" life was not that of happiness. I studied "Joe," as sometimes we would be working late in the office--I designing display ads, and "Joe," catching up on his news articles for the paper. "Joe," I thought to myself, would work extra-long hours and entire weekends to hide from the realities of life and not have to face the social challenges that most people take as easy as a bite of chocolate cake.
This I do know. "Joe" and I became good friends. In and out of the newspaper. We would take our nightly breaks together and I would be "Joe's" sounding board to listen to his current troubles and problems that always seemed to be a "David and Goliath" match for "Joe," on a daily basis with "Joe," naturally playing the part of David.
Do not fret. "Joe" is still around. Thriving. Prospering. Living his quiet-natured, meek-shall-inherit-the-earth lifestyle. And doing that quite well.
How "Joe" and I became such good friends in such a short time is simple.
I didn't make any attempt to change "Joe" in the least. "Joe" didn't try to change me.
We accepted each other and our faults, flaws, and weaknesses. Unconditionally.