Andy Griffith passed this morning at age 86. Griffith was a kind, folksy, highly intelligent guy and nobody’s fool, but the fact is that he peaked creatively during the ’50s. You can reminisce about The Andy Griffith Show (’60 to ’68) and Matlock (’86 to ’95) all you want, but 55 years ago Griffith, Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg made an eerily prescient film — A Face In The Crowd — that captured what Fox News is basically all about, and they did so 41 years before Rupert Murdoch‘s network was launched.

“This whole country is just like mah flock of sheep,” said Griffith’s Lonesome Rhodes in a key third-act scene. “Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, housefraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers…everybody that’s got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. They’re mine, I own ’em!…they think like I do!…only they’re even more stupid than I am so I gotta think for ’em.”

Griffith never did anything braver or more brilliant or spot-on or lasting.

In second place is Griffith’s Will Stockdale in No Time For Sergeants (’58), in which he was very funny. I’ve always loved that film for never portraying Stockdale as an idiot — under-educated and a hayseed, yes, but basically a decent fellow — fair-minded, straight-shooting — and “intelligent” as far as it went in a denim overalls vein.

I also admired (i.e., agreed with) Griffith’s pro-Obama commercial with Ron Howard, which Funny or Die ran during the ’08 campaign, and his pro-Medicare/Obamacare spot.