You probably never knew you saw all these Andy Griffith Show writers appear on classic TV
One proposed to Cher, another punched out Rob Petrie!
It's hard not to give Andy Griffith and Don Knotts nearly all the credit for how funny The Andy Griffith Show was. However, that kind of thinking unintentionally erases all the gifted writers who made the episodes worth treasuring, penning all those hilarious plots that really allowed these great characters to shine.
From 1960 to 1968, dozens of writers contributed ideas and screenplays to The Andy Griffith Show, and for the most part, all these funny folks would remain behind the scenes, never seen onscreen. Yet among this merry crew of Sixties TV writers, there were also a handful who, in addition to writing, also actually appeared onscreen. Even more amazing, some of them even have pretty big roles, sharing scenes with TV icons like Lucille Ball, Dick Van Dyke, Valerie Harper, and even both Sonny and Cher.
Of course, some of The Andy Griffith Show's writers were also well-known actors, including sitcom star Danny Thomas, Emmy-nominated actor Sheldon Leonard and memorable character actor Pat McCormick (who played Big Enos Burdette in the Smokey and the Bandit movies). Then there's Rance Howard, who in addition to being Opie actor Ron Howard's real dad, has the distinction of being the only writer for The Andy Griffith Show to appear on the show itself.
That brings us to our mission today. We wanted to see who else on The Andy Griffith Show's writing staff that we probably forgot we saw featured in guest roles through classic TV history. Here, we take a tour of some of our favorite TV credits of Andy Griffith writers, while connecting them to all the episodes of the hit series each one is responsible for.
Sheldon Leonard is a co-creator and executive producer of The Andy Griffith Show, playing a big role in how the series was shaped, but we also saw Leonard all over classic TV. On Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., he played the director of the movie Gomer and his fellow Marines are cast in "A Star Is Not Born," but before that we saw him show up at Lucy's door for the episode "Sales Resistance," trying to rip off the Fifties' favorite housewife! He's been featured in tons of shows, including Cheers, Matlock, The Facts fo Life, Sanford and Son, and I Spy.
Perhaps our favorite early TV role from Leonard, though, is one he did from offscreen. For The Dick Van Dyke Show episode "Divorce," the episode ends with Rob and Laura back at home, only to hear a knock on the door. Rob answers and offscreen, Leonard yells about some well-meaning advice Rob's given that's gone awry, and the next thing we know, Rob's been clocked in the face, by Leonard's offscreen fist!
Most folks know about The Danny Thomas Show, a sitcom that aired the pilot episode of The Andy Griffith Show. For that reason, its star Danny Thomas is also credited as a co-creator of The Andy Griffith Show, but Thomas also oversaw production on eight episodes, including "The Great Filling Station Robbery" and "The Darlings Are Coming."
In addition to his own sitcom, Thomas has been featured on classic TV shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show, Get Smart, The Mod Squad, Here's Lucy and his daughter's sitcom That Girl. Our favorite role, however, saw Thomas cast as Mr. C's dad and Richie's grandpa on Happy Days. For the episode "Grandpa's Visit," Thomas shows us all where Mr. C got all that loving advice from (and demands a smooch from his "sonny" upon arriving on set).
Thomas wasn't the only Andy alum to be seen on Happy Days. Bill Idelson, who wrote 19 episodes including "The Taylors in Hollywood" and "The Return of Barney Fife," also popped up on the retro show. He played a head doctor to the Fonz, telling Winkler when he walks in his office, "You can say anything to me." To that, the Fonz responded, "I don't like your suit."
As an actor, Idelson might be best remembered for playing Sally Rogers' boyfriend Herman Glimscher on The Dick Van Dyke Show, but we also saw him on The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, Dragnet, My Three Sons, The Odd Couple and many other shows in the 1960s and '70s.
So many classic episodes of The Andy Griffith Show came in part from Everett Greenbaum, including "The Bank Job," "Barney's First Car," "Dogs, Dogs, Dogs," "A Date for Gomer," "Citizen's Arrest," "The Song Festers," "The Education of Ernest T. Bass," and both "Mountain Wedding" and "Divorce, Mountain Style."
It's no wonder Griffith must've maintained a soft spot in his heart for the writer, because years later, Greenbaum would take on his first-ever TV role on Griffith's later hit series Matlock. Greenbaum appeared four times as Judge Lawrence Katz on the legal drama, leading him to feature in a string of hit 1990s sitcoms, including Seinfeld, Ellen and Third Rock from the Sun.
Several of The Andy Griffith Show writers appeared on Love, American Style, but Arnold Margolin probably has our favorite appearance. In the segment called "Love and the Sack," Margolin played Henry, a poor dolt caught between the variety show duo Sonny and Cher. In the segment, Sonny's shipped himself to Cher in a sack, and he hides there when Margolin arrives at the apartment. By the end of the bit, Margolin's Henry has discovered Sonny, and as you might expect, The Andy Griffith Show writer loses the iconic singer to Sonny.
On classic TV, Margolin only appeared in two segments for Love, American Style, and a few episodes of Hey, Landlord, but on The Andy Griffith Show, you can thank him for five episodes he penned with frequent writing partner Jim Parker – "Floyd's Barbershop," "Otis, the Deputy," "Only a Rose," "The Darling Fortune" and "The Lodge."
Pat McCormick is honestly best known for his "walrus mustache" and could actually be seen playing towering characters in movies like Smokey and the Bandit and Scrooged. But before any of those roles, McCormick would pen a pair of episodes for The Andy Griffith Show offering tiny glimpses into one of Mayberry's favorite towering figures, Goober Pyle. In "Mind Over Matter," Goober's convinced he's got whiplash from a minor car accident and in "Goober's Contest," it's all about a minor mistake in printing.
McCormick co-wrote both with Ron Friedman (who only ever appeared as a doctor on the 1980s series Harper Valley P.T.A.), and of the two, McCormick got way more screen time, appearing on shows like Get Smart, Laverne & Shirley, Sanford & Son and The Love Boat. We loved this random appearance on The Bob Newhart Show, though. In the episode "Bum Voyage," Bob's patients push him to take a vacation and they all show up to celebrate when he does. There's one stranger in the bunch, and he's played by McCormick, so he sure stands out. When Bob asks where he came from, McCormick delivers the line, "I was suddenly sucked right in here."
James L. Brooks
Most folks know James L. Brooks as the co-creator of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but he wrote episodes of The Andy Griffith Show first. Two, in fact: "The Mayberry Chef," where Aunt Bee is a happy homemaker who hosts a cooking show, and "Emmett's Brother-in-Law," a Paul Hartman-centric episode of the Sixties series.
Brooks only appeared on TV twice, once on Rhoda and once on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In his Mary appearance, Brooks played the Rabbi standing to Rhoda's right in the episode "Enter Rhoda's Parents." He's there to remarry Rhoda's parents, which is a pretty big gig!
We already talked about how Rance Howard is the only Andy Griffith Show writer to appear on the series, but it's just a bit of a stretch, you'll soon see. Howard didn't technically write the episode he's credited on, "The Ball Game," but it's based on a true story from raising little Ronny, so Rance got the "story by" credit.
On classic TV, we all watched Rance in scenes on shows outside of Mayberry, like Gentle Ben, of course, as well as The Fugitive, That Girl, Night Gallery, Bonanza, Battlestar Galactica, Gunsmoke, Happy Days and tons more. We're just most fond of The Andy Griffith Show appearances, of which there are four: "Cousin Virgil," "Barney and the Governor," "A Black Day for Mayberry" and "The Rumor."
No relation to Ron and Rance, Bruce Howard was a screenwriter who gave us "A Girl for Goober," which saw a dating service come to Mayberry. Bruce wrote for many TV shows, including The Brady Bunch, The Jeffersons, Gilligan's Island, The Love Boat and even The Jetsons. But on TV he only ever appeared twice, once on an episode of the short-lived Ronnie Schell sitcom Good Morning, World, and once on an episode of I Dream of Jeannie that he wrote, "Jeannie for the Defense."
"In Jeannie for the Defense," Bruce plays a highly comical role with ease despite his inexperience onscreen. The scene sees Major Nelson caught in the unlikely circumstance of finding himself in a small-town jail. (Sounds a little like The Andy Griffith Show, huh?) Bruce plays his drunken cellmate in one of the biggest roles granted to the TV writer in his career.
Although many of these TV writers took on serious dramatic roles, from Perry Mason to The Twilight Zone, in their comedic performances on sitcoms, viewers get a rare glimpse into how the brains behind some of The Andy Griffith Show's biggest laughs were able to foretell how well these scenes would do onscreen. It was occasionally from their own experience delivering jokes on hit shows we watched across all eras.