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Matlock’s Right Hand

It’s taken her a couple of seasons, but actress Nancy Stafford feels that her character, Michelle Thomas of NBC’s “Matlock,” has finally blossomed out from under the shadow of the formidable, but friendly, presence of actor Andy Griffith.

“I think the character of Michelle Thomas has really grown. I’ve had a couple of cases thrown right into my lap this season. I hope I get to do more.”

“I think the most interesting thing about Michelle is you’ve gotten a chance to watch her progress as an attorney, from being Andy Griffith’s assistant to being a full-blown peer and partner to him. The Ben Matlock character is beginning to rely on her a lot and I like that because that gives me more opportunities to do courtroom.” The courtroom is no terra incognita to the former Miss Florida of 1976. Her brother was trained as an attorney and is now mayor of the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., suburb of Wilton Manors, where Stafford grew up.

“I spend a lot of time talking to my brother and also watching Andy. As I launched out to do my own courtroom stuff, I purposefully brought to it every now and then a little shade of Andy, as he’s been my mentor. It’s fun to bring him into the courtroom, to be sly like a fox as he is and establish my own style at the same time.”

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Stafford didn’t actively pursue acting as a career, until it practically fell into her lap when there was an actor’s strike in 1980. Up to that point she had pursued modeling and even had her own PR firm in Florida. But her beauty pageant work proved useful in getting her face known, and she landed five national commercials in one week.

“Matlock” is the actress’ third series (she was also in “Sidekicks” and “St. Elsewhere”). But surprisingly, it was Stafford’s 1985 Disney Sunday Night movie “The Last Electric Knight” that really put her career in high gear. “I was among the first five actors the Disney team put together under studio contract, when Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner first came on board. So they freeze the contract while I’m shooting ‘Matlock,’ then on hiatuses and such, I go under their umbrella. So, far, I’ve done nothing for them.

“Matlock is a show of great integrity and shows people of high moral values. These people are committed to doing what is morally right. My long-term desire is to stay in this medium and become one of those people who can influence it for good.”


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