The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show ……… by Daniel de Vise
I guess I should start by clearly stating that The Andy Griffith Show is my all time favorite TV Show. There really isn’t a close second despite my truly loving many others. MASH, Have Gun Will Travel, Seinfeld etc. I often ponder what makes it so and the obvious answer has to be in both the comedy and love that comes across between the characters of Andy Taylor and Barney Fife. It’s only enhanced by knowing of the love that these two actors, Andy Griffith and Don Knotts held for each other for a lifetime. Another reason might be that I have no desire to live in war torn Korea, the western frontier or the streets of New York. Would I like to live in Mayberry? Shrugging my shoulders I’d have to say, “Who wouldn’t?”
Author de Vise does a wonderful job of bringing these two actors to life in the pages of this book that focuses on not only the TV show years but their early years of growing up, the war which found Don serving and entertaining the troops as he learned to hone his skills at ventriloquism and working with Mickey Shaughnessy to their fateful meeting on Broadway for Griffith’s starring turn in No Time For Sergeants. The story line weaves smoothly from their working together to the ups and downs of acting solo.
Having worked well together on Broadway and Don’s appearing in the subsequent film opposite Andy, they lost touch until Don happened by chance to see Andy’s appearance as Andy Taylor guesting on the Danny Thomas Show. He would place a call to Andy the next day and ask, “Listen, don’t you think Sheriff Andy Taylor ought to have a deputy?”
By the time of the TV show, Andy had already scored a critical success with Kazan’s A Face In The Crowd while Don had mainly been a supporting player including a stint opposite Lee Grant on the soap opera Search For Tomorrow and scored some success in radio for his vocal talents. As we now know, the TV Show would prove a resounding success making the duo famous across the nation. Emmy’s would soon follow for Don as the iconic Deputy while Andy would become a wealthy man owning a large portion of the show that was put together by perennial on screen bad guy, Sheldon Leonard.
The story isn’t all rosy and there are plenty of jealousies and broken marriages along the way. But loving the show and characters the way I do, all is easily forgiven when the story reconnects the two actors and when a story is relayed by those interviewed for the book (folks like Billy Bob Thornton who witnessed them first hand) about the two conversing, it’s like Ange and Barn are sitting about talking of local gossips. “Bless their hearts.”
For film and television buffs, the book caters to both, offering up each actors career path. Don of course left the show after five years but not Andy’s thoughts, to embark upon his movie career. A career that was in large part an extension of his Barney Fife character and his perfected Nervous Man alter ego. Three’s Company and Disney would follow where he teamed with Tim Conway for some fun and games that I would see in theaters as a kid thanks to Mom of which I’m eternally grateful. Andy’s movie career never regained momentum and following numerous failed series pilots, he finally regained his mojo as Matlock. Guess who turned up in a few episodes? Andy made sure to have his pal Don guest star every now and then rejuvenating their working relationship.
Considering the characters of Andy, Barney and all the Mayberry players good friends in my house growing up and to this day, I find it especially sentimental knowing that Andy Griffith was at Don’s bedside the night before he passed away. Knowing that and reading this book only strengthens my love for the show and the interaction these two actors played out on camera for our enjoyment. It’s a show that I’ve shared with my two boys while they were growing up. We’d watch an episode or two around dinner time getting through all eight seasons and on Christmas morning we still grab the episode that features Don in his Santa suit and old Ben Weaver wishing he could share in the Christmas cheer.
For fans of the actors and show, a must read. For others, give it a go and discover the world of Mayberry and the two iconic actors who brought the town to life along with Jim Nabors, Ronny Howard, Frances Bavier, Floyd McNear, Betty Lynn, Aneta Corsaut, George Lindsay, Jack Dodson and all the others who walked the streets of the imaginary town.