Mayberry had no psychiatrists, but the Andy Griffith Show cast were into mental health
Don Knotts and Andy Griffith saw psychiatrists — and even ribbed Don's doctor on the sitcom.
In "Barney's Sidecar," the overeager deputy gets carried away with his new motorcycle. Barney causes trucks to roar through downtown, tosses parking tickets like confetti, and even slaps Aunt Bee on the wrist for jaywalking. The townsfolk boil over. Even sweet Aunt Bee suggests violently clotheslining Barney on his bike.
"I wish we had a psychiatrist in town," Andy bemoans to Aunt Bee.
It's a rare reference to mental health on The Andy Griffith Show, a show designed to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. (Well, outside of Barney constantly noting that Ernest T. Bass is "a nut.") There is another hidden reference to a psychiatrist, but we'll get to that in a bit.
Mayberry may not have had a psychiatrist but behind the scenes, the stars were advocates of mental health.
In 1977, Andy Griffith sat down for an interview with the Chicago Daily News Service to promote his latest project, the made-for-TV movie The Girl in the Empty Grave. In the decade following The Andy Griffith Show, The 51-year-old struggled to shake the stereotype of the folksy sheriff. Audiences could not sense where the character ended and the actor began. The journalist asked Griffith the difference between his real persona and Andy Taylor.
"I don't think he ever would have gone to a psychiatrist," Griffith explained.
He opened up about his struggles with mental health and his gratitude for his doctor.
"I put my fist through a wall one day on the set and I started to back into the corner," Griffith confessed. (This is why you can see a cast on Sheriff Taylor in two episodes.) After the incident, the sitcom's producer, Aaron Rubin, sat down with its star. "Am I going crazy?" Andy asked his colleague and friend.
"No," Rubin said. He instead recommended that Andy see someone.
"It took me three years to realize that my marriage was driving me crazy," Andy said. "When I [left her], I never felt better." The piece went on to add, "Now Griffith sees a psychiatrist once in a while."
Meanwhile, his best pal, Don Knotts, was in a decades-long relationship with a noted Hollywood psychiatrist. The revealing biography Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show by Daniel de Visé, the brother-in-law of Knotts, lifted the curtain on the comedian's inner conflicts.
"By 1960, Don was hopelessly addicted [to sleeping pills]," de Visé wrote. "Don sought out Dick Renneker, a prominent Hollywood psychiatrist. Dick began seeing Don and quickly surmised what lay at the root of his maladies." Knotts was "still haunted by the childhood fears he was going to hell."
Renneker helped Knotts kick the pills and find sleep.
"I'm convinced my dad wouldn't have made it [without Renneker's help]," Tom Knotts told de Visé. "He would have committed suicide or something."
Knotts clearly appreciated the work of Renneker. He and Andy made Renneker an honorary citizen of Mayberry. He turns up in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show — well, in a comical way.
In "The Shoplifters," just a few weeks after "Barney's Sidecar," Andy and Barney are sitting in the squad car people-watching.
"Howdy, Dick!" Andy hollers to someone off-camera. "Dick Renneker," he notes to Barney. Hey, a nice shout-out! Well, kind of. They then joke about his toupée. Extensively.
Renneker made headlines of his own. In July 1960, around the time he started seeing Knotts, Renneker was vacationing in Newport Beach, California. The doctor was enjoying a plate of swordfish when a suicidal man crept onto the ledge of a 10-story building nearby.
Renneker left his meal and talked the man off the roof. How did he do it?
"You're ruining my dinner, you know that?" Renneker told the man. The guy came down from the roof.
"I lied to that fellow up there," Renneker confessed. "My dinner isn't ruined. It's only cold."