Howard Sprague came to Mayberry the hard way
Jack Dodson went through a lot for the gig.
Mayberry needed a change. It was the show's sixth season, and it was missing a lot of what made it special. By 1965, The Andy Griffith Show hardly resembled itself. For starters, new episodes were being broadcast in full color. Gone was the quaint appeal of its earlier black-and-white episodes. With it went Don Knotts, who left the cast to pursue a film career. Sure, Barney showed up occasionally to guest star in a few stories, but he was no longer the reliable source of comedy the writers depended on. Jim Nabors was nowhere to be found, as Gomer had left for the Marines in his spin-off. Worse, Warren Ferguson, the new deputy in Mayberry, proved incredibly unpopular.
Remember Howard Sprague? He was the county clerk, as introduced in season six's "The County Clerk". Confusingly, Jack Dodson, the actor who played Howard Sprague, appeared just seven episodes earlier as a different character. In "Lost and Found", Dodson played insurance salesman Ed Jenkins. But rather than flesh out that character, Dodson was reintroduced as Sprague.
Howard Sprague was supposed to reintroduce neurosis to the Mayberry goings-on. Andy was always a straightforward voice of reason, and so the show needed someone unstable for him to play off of. But how did Dodson work his way into the mix?
According to Daniel de Visé's Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show, the details are even weirder than Howard was.
One night in 1965, Andy and Barbara Griffith attended a Eugene O'Neill play called Hughie. According to the play's star, Jack Dodson, Griffith went backstage after curtains and "just raved about it." Encouraged, Dodson soon approached The Andy Griffith Show's casting director, Ruth Burch.
Burch quickly dismissed Dodson, deflating his confidence and bursting his newfound connection to the popular show. As he wasn't expecting that kind of treatment, Dodson had his agent contact Desilu Studios, hoping to capitalize on his earlier meeting with Andy Griffith. The message was passed on to Griffith, who replied, "I don't know who the hell you're talking about."
So, Dodson tried again. He had his agent contact another assistant at the studio. Again, when approached about his connection to Dodson, Griffith waved it away. "I've never heard of the son of a b****," Griffith reportedly said.
That same night, Andy and Barbara Griffith went to the movies and saw a new Julie Christie film called Darling. The movie didn't suit their tastes, and the couple discussed their dislike for it on their way home.
"You know, that picture stank," Andy grumbled. "The best acting we've seen in a long time was that play with those two guys in it."
Luckily for the course of Jack Dodson's career, Griffith realized his mistake.
"Oh jeez, that's who that was," said Griffith, before contacting Dodson. He quickly hired the actor to appear on his show.