MILWAUKEE — Forget the small-town belief in letting bygones be bygones.
The star of “The Andy Griffith Show,” who portrayed the sheriff of the fictional town of Mayberry, has sued a Wisconsin man who unsuccessfully ran for the Grant County post after legally changing his name to Andrew Jackson Griffith.
The lawsuit, filed Nov. 3 in U.S. District Court in Madison, alleges that William Harold Fenrick, 42, violated trademark and copyright laws, as well as the privacy of actor Andy Samuel Griffith, when he used his new name to promote his candidacy for sheriff in southwestern Wisconsin.
The lawsuit says the former Fenrick changed his name for the “sole purpose of taking advantage of Griffith’s notoriety in an attempt to gain votes.” It asks the court to order him to go back to his original name.
The actor’s lawsuit also asks Griffith to publish disclaimers and an apology in Grant County newspapers that say he has no association with the actor. It seeks unspecified damages and court fees.
“Now that the election is over, if Fenrick is willing in some fashion to clear the record, we probably could find a way to resolve it,” said the actor’s lawyer, Jim Cole.
Griffith argues that he did not benefit from the name change.
“During this campaign I never sold or profited even one nickel from the use of the name Andy Griffith or any item bearing the name Andy Griffith. Everything was a promotional item, and everything was given away for free,” he said.
The Platteville music store co-owner said he spent $5,000 on his failed campaign and changed his name to garner publicity for the race.
Incumbent Sheriff Keith Govier, a Republican who has held the post for 10 years, won with 8,452 votes, followed by Democrat Doug Vesperman with 6,985 votes. Griffith, an independent, had 1,248 votes.
Griffith described the lawsuit as “incredibly absurd” and said he does not think people actually believe he is the actor.
“For such an American icon, it’s a pretty un-American thing to do to me,” said Griffith, who has about three weeks to respond to the filing.
The 80-year-old actor is best known for the 1960s show bearing his name, which remains one of the most popular series in TV history. He also played an unorthodox lawyer on “Matlock” in the 1980s and 1990s.
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