A much more mellow Don Rickles got invited to visit Mayberry
The insult comic got married the same year he appeared on The Andy Griffith Show, and he said his wife helped keep the sting in his nightclub act.
When Don Rickles wanders into Mayberry, it's with a trunk full of junk he's looking to sell cheap to anybody willing to pick through his goods. Goober gives him his first sale when he buys a transistor radio, and when Floyd buys a watch, one of the first lines we hear from the famous insult comic is a compliment.
"Looks nice on you!" Rickles tells Floyd, smiling that big smile.
In 1965, Rickles was already a nightclub legend famous for his fiery putdowns. A reporter for the Dayton Daily News that year proclaimed:
"To be publicly chastised by Rickles has become something of a status symbol among celebrities, and the greatest insult of all is for the so-called name performer to attend a Rickles performance and not be signaled out by the comic as the butt of at least five quick barbs."
But when Rickles got cast as the featured guest in The Andy Griffith Show episode "The Luck of Newton Monroe," this was one of the insult comic's first meaty "serious" roles as an actor — which was his original dream as a performer, before the nightclub act took over everything.
When Rickles was studying acting at the Academy of Dramatic Arts, he hoped to snag a guest spot like Newton Monroe, but in those early days, there weren't as many jobs to go around. He said he and his acting school roommate were faced with a choice: starve trying to make it as actors or stoop to performing in nightclubs.
Rickles' roommate stubbornly "went through some very lean years." On the other hand, Rickles said he was too hungry to wait around for a meal ticket. He ended up really taking to performing in nightclubs. There, he could make crowds roar taking punches at bigger and bigger audiences, eventually playing the lounge of the Sahara in Las Vegas for 30 weeks a year.
"I have no regrets about the path my career took," Rickles said.
In the Fifties, Rickles served as an announcer often in bit TV roles. Then in the early Sixties, his acting picked up and he got cast in popular shows like The Twilight Zone, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Wagon Train, and The Addams Family — suddenly he was doing much more TV work than he planned.
He told the Daily News he now felt like if he wanted to pivot to acting, he could finally make a living doing that, but actors still vying for roles like his old roommate can relax, the insult comic jabbed, "I love working nightclubs."
The year Rickles appeared on The Andy Griffith Show was also the year the comic got married. He said in his act, he was already mellowing, his insults becoming more general. Only hecklers felt the old Rickles fire that made him famous.
On The Andy Griffith Show, Sheriff Any suspects Rickles' character is selling stolen goods, but when he finds out that the traveling salesman has just hit a long streak of bad luck, Andy decides to help him build up his self-confidence.
It's a funny plot when you consider Rickles’ larger-than-life bullying persona was probably the reason why the phrase "I am rubber, you are glue" was invented as a retort to use against insults.
He said in the interview that some people had said by 1965 that he'd lost his sting, and seeing him smile in Mayberry might not have helped with that image problem.
But Rickles warned readers that the insults didn't vanish just because he'd learned to hold his tongue — and in fact being a newlywed led him to save up many insults for a rainy day when the wrong heckler gave him reason to unload.
"Since I wouldn't dare insult my wife, think how many choice ones I'll be able to store up on the average day," Rickles joked.
Watch The Andy Griffith Show on MeTV!
Weeknights at 8 & 8:30, Sundays at 6 & 6:30 PM*available in most MeTV markets
Of course, as I matured I 'got it' and all was good. It would be interesting to know how many fat lips he received as a result of his 'persona'.