Did you catch this subtle Don Knotts tribute in Jerry Van Dyke's only appearance on The Andy Griffith Show?
Aunt Bee can't believe it!
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In Morgantown, West Virginia, there stands a statue of Barney Fife. It's a hometown tribute to Don Knotts, who grew up in Morgantown. Most of Knotts' fans know this fun fact when it comes to TV's favorite deputy, so it was an extra special moment in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show called "Banjo-Playing Deputy" when the cherished classic series took some time to add in a subtle reference to Knotts' birthplace.
"Banjo-Playing Deputy" was episode 32 of season five, and it was only the second episode that aired after Knotts had left the show to make his famous series of delightful family comedies on the big screen. It starred Jerry Van Dyke in the titular role, and he first shows up in the episode when Andy Taylor is watching him perform as a one-man-band in a harem show at a carnival. After Andy gets Jerry's show shut down, the sheriff soon learns the banjo player is basically broke, denied wages as soon as he was fired.
Feeling responsible for Jerry's bad turn of luck, Andy invites the banjo player over for dinner. It's in this scene, following dinner with Andy, Opie and Aunt Bee, that the sheriff's young boy asks the visitor where he's from.
Jerry answers, "Morgantown," smiling big.
Aunt Bee reacts, "Morgantown! West Virginia?"
Jerry says, "I was born and raised there."
Aunt Bee says, "Mercy me! You know I lived there for five years?"
Then Aunt Bee searches her memory, repeating Jerry's last name "Miller." At last she squeals, "You're not Robie Miller's little boy?"
Jerry jokes, "Well, I used to be."
It's charming to watch Aunt Bee so overcome, gushing at how Jerry's got his father's good looks, but it makes the awkward Jerry a little uncomfortable, and he clears the dishes as an excuse to duck the conversation. But in this charm, there's an extra layer for fans in the know, who likely made the connection between Jerry and Barney when Aunt Bee later suggests that Andy give Jerry work around the courthouse. This, of course, culminates in Jerry stepping directly into Don Knotts' well-worn shoes as deputy.
Only Jerry manages to hilariously be even less up to the task than Barney, bungling things and getting in Andy's way. In the end, Jerry redeems himself by finding a thief who snatches Aunt Bee's purse, but his days of a being Andy's deputy remain confined to just this single episode.
Coming so soon after Knotts' bittersweet exit from the show, even a subtle nod to Andy's old pal surely sent home the message that Knotts was never far from anybody's mind when it came to Mayberry.