Andy Griffith was a fan of Don Knotts years before they met
''I knew I recognized that voice!''
Classic TV fans know about Andy Griffith and Don Knotts co-heading The Andy Griffith Show as Andy Taylor and Barney Fife. Real Mayberry fans might even know about their first time working together on the 1958 film No Time for Sergeants.
However, even before then, Andy was a fan of Don's work.
Long before Mayberry, Don Knotts was cast on one of the very first juvenile radio programs. It was a revival of Bobby Benson and The B-Bar-B Riders, a show that originally aired in 1932. It told the story of a young orphaned boy who inherits a cattle ranch in Texas. He's joined by a cast of colorful sidekicks, and they fight off cattle rustlers, escaped criminals, and stagecoach robbers.
One of those colorful sidekicks was old-timer Windy Wales, a handyman who would tell tall tales as a form of comedic relief from the action-packed adventures. Knotts, though he was only 25 at the time, was cast as Windy Wales.
Knotts was terrified to get into the recording booth with so many seasoned radio stars. "Let me tell you," he said, as documented in Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show, "I was just about as nervous as a person could be and still function. My body ached so much from the entire experience that I thought I was coming down with the flu."
He had no reason to be nervous. The show was a hit, and kids loved the funny Windy Wales, who bragged about his past exploits with more than a touch of imagination. "Yessiree fellers," he said in one episode, "I've killed so many men the cemetery men made me a partner!"
After Bobby Benson was canceled, Knotts ended up in No Time for Sergeants along with a rising southern comedian named Andy Griffith. On their second day of rehearsal, Knotts walked out of a stage door to find Griffith whittling while sitting on a fire hydrant. "Excuse me," Griffith said, "are you Windy Wales?"
It turned out that while Griffith had been touring nightclubs with his comedy act, he liked to tune into Bobby Benson during long hours on the road. His favorite character was an old man named Windy Wales who told tall tales with a wheezy voice.
Knotts, stunned at being recognized, confirmed that yes, he was Wales. Griffith grinned and said, "I knew I recognized that voice!" and a friendship began.