An excerpt from 'Andy and Don,' a book about the lasting friendship of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts
Read about the genesis of Barney Fife in this advance taste of an upcoming book about 'The Andy Griffith Show.'
On November 2, 2015, Simon & Schuster will release Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show, a heartwarming and insightful new book that takes an in-depth look at the lifelong bond between Andy Griffith and Don Knotts — behind the scenes of The Andy Griffith Show and beyond. It's a rich biography of both a friendship and a television series, written by Daniel de Visé, a brother-in-law of Knotts. For fans of The Andy Griffith Show, Matlock and pop culture history, the tome is an invaluable profile of two beloved icons. We at MeTV are priviledged to bring you an early taste of Andy and Don. Order the book now on Amazon.
Don Knotts and his wife, Kay, spent the evening of February 15, 1960, playing bridge in the beige-carpeted living room of Pat and Marjorie Harrington. The Harringtons lived in a rented Spanish colonial on Le Conte Avenue in Westwood, not far from the historic Fox Theater and UCLA. The room was large but sparsely furnished: a baby-grand piano, butterfly chairs, and a coffee table, around which the two couples sat. Pat was a young actor, yet to hit his peak as the mustachioed handyman Schneider in the urban sitcom One Day at a Time. He and Don had struck up a casual friendship on the set of The Steve Allen Show, an irreverent sketch-comedy affair that had just migrated from New York to Hollywood. The cast had moved west with the show, and the shared journey had fortified the friendship between Don and Pat. This night was bridge night; Don took his bridge seriously.
Steve Allen would air at ten o’clock; yet, that Monday evening was a night off for Don and Pat, whose show had passed from live broadcast to prerecorded tape with the move west. The gathering was bittersweet: Steve Allen had just been canceled, a victim of diminished energy and dwindling ambitions, maladies Don attributed to the retreat from live broadcast. Both Don and Pat would soon be out of work. But Pat, at least, had a prospective gig on the horizon: a guest spot on The Danny ThomasShow, a CBS ratings powerhouse that aired an hour before Steve Allen. At nine o’clock, Pat paused the bridge game so he could watch that night’s episode. He switched on the set. As the dot of light swelled to life on the screen, Don beheld the face of an old friend.
The program opened with a hand-drawn sketch of Andy Griffith, a young actor from North Carolina with wild eyes and tousled hair, known chiefly for his jubilant portrayal of farm boy Will Stockdale in the Southern military farce No Time for Sergeants, first on Broadway and then in the movies. The drawing shortly gave way to a shot of Andy sitting in a Ford Galaxie 500 squad car, escorting Danny Thomas and his family through a town called Mayberry. Andy was its sheriff.
“You picked on the wrong guy this time, Clem,” Danny bristled.
“Name ain’t Clem,” Andy replied, his face cleaving into a broad grin.
“It’s Andy. Andy Taylor.” On that cue, the audience erupted in polite applause.
Andy and Don had lost touch since forging a powerful bond in the Broadway cast of No Time for Sergeants, half a decade earlier. Now, they were three thousand miles apart—Don in Hollywood, Andy in New York—and they had allowed their correspondence to fall off. Andy was unaware Steve Allen had been canceled. Don had no inkling Andy was working on a television show.
As Don beheld Andy on Pat Harrington’s television set, “the wheels in my brain began to whirl,” Don recalled. The part of Sheriff Andy Taylor seemed perfect for Andy. A show like that would be honey to the sponsors, with all its homespun charm. And Don wondered if there might be a place for him in Mayberry. A part on Andy’s new show just might rekindle Don’s career—and revive his old friendship with Andy. Don had always hoped he and Andy might work together again someday. Don told no one at the bridge table of his plans: He wasn’t about to give Pat Harrington a jump on his part. He waited till the next day. Then, he placed a call to New York, where Andy was headlining a halfhearted Broadway musical titled Destry Rides Again. Andy was surprised and delighted to receive Don’s call. Don told Andy how much he’d enjoyed the pilot. Then he asked, “Listen, don’t you think Sheriff Andy Taylor ought to have a deputy?”
Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show (Simon & Schuster; $26) is released on November 13. Read more about the book here. Photos courtesy of Simon & Schuster.