Don Knotts was an actor and comedian best known for his role on The Andy Griffith Show as Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife – a role that earned him five Emmy Awards. You probably also remember him from Three’s Company, where he played Ralph Furley from 1979 to 1984. Knots was in many comedic films, like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) and The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). By 1979, TV Guide ranked him #27 on their 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time list.
The late great comedy legend will forever be remembered as one of the more beloved comedians. Everyone remembers his high strung characters and his high pitched voice. But despite all his popularity, Knotts kept his private life behind closed doors. It was only after his death in 2006 that information about the comedy star of the past was revealed. Continue reading for a look into the life of Don Knotts.
Not a Typical Childhood
Jesse Donald Knotts was born on July 21, 1924, in Morgantown, West Virginia. He was the youngest of four sons born to William Jesse Knotts, a farmer, and his wife, Elsie Luzetta Knotts. Don’s mother was 40 when she gave birth to him, and his father, who suffered from mental illness, had a nervous breakdown when Don was born.
His father was sadly afflicted with schizophrenia and alcoholism, sometimes frighteningly going after young Don, threatening him with a knife. These experiences taught the young Don to turn inwards and keep himself protected. Don’s oldest brother, Earl, died of pneumonia when Don was 13 years old. Don and his brothers were raised by their mother, who ran a boarding house. She died much later, in 1969, at the age of 84.
From Plucking Chickens to Making Movies
Knotts eventually grew up to be really good at putting smiles on people’s faces, despite a tragic upbringing. But before he made it to Hollywood, Don – like almost all celebrities – had to live a normal life and work a normal job. It’s amusing to discover some of the jobs that stars were working in before they got famous.
(Did you know that Patrick Dempsey was once a professional juggler? Or that Rachel McAdams worked at her local McDonald’s?) Anyways, Don Knotts’ job before finding fame was kind of strange. He worked as a chicken plucker, meaning he had to pull out the feathers from dead birds. He definitely had no idea he would end up making a fortune in an acting career.
A Beginning in Ventriloquism
Like some other successful comedians from back in the day, Knotts explored the world of ventriloquism before landing his major acting gigs. Knotts would go on stage and perform his act with the help of a wooden dummy that he called Danny “Hooch” Matador. Danny and Knotts worked together as a comedic duo for several years.
He did the ventriloquist act up until he ditched the doll during a military show overseas. Knotts decided that ventriloquism wasn’t for him. Sadly for the Danny the doll, that meant throwing Danny overboard into the South Pacific. Knots later joked around about how the doll was “missing in action.” Maybe one day some excavators will find that doll. But the odds are low.
His Role in the Military
Conspiracy theories were quick to spread after Knotts passed away at the age of 81. One of the many rumors that were swirling around included an urban legend that said how Knotts once served in the United States Marine Corps as a strict and mean drill sergeant. Can you imagine this man as a mean drill sergeant?
Fortunately, that myth remained as a myth. The only truth to that story is the fact that Knotts did indeed serve in the military, but he was nowhere near an intimidating soldier. Knotts spent his time providing entertainment for the troops in a variety act he called Stars and Gripes. According to Wikipedia, Knotts served in the U.S. Army from June 21, 1943, to January 6, 1946.
An Honorable Service
Despite his unusual role in the army, Knotts was recognized as a highly decorated non-combatant. He was discharged in 1946 after three years in the service. Knotts served in the U.S. Army from June 21, 1943, to January 6, 1946. He was discharged in the rank of Technician Grade 5 (which was the equivalent to a Corporal).
Throughout his service, Knotts was given several honors. He got four notable medals, including the World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, Honorable Service Lapel Button, and a marksmanship badge. He didn’t fight the enemies, but he had a meaningful role in bringing smiles to the soldier’s faces. If there was anything those soldiers needed in those times, it was some comedy.
His First Acting Gig
Following his stint in the military, Knotts came back to America and landed his first major acting gig in the TV soap opera ‘Search for Tomorrow’ from 1953 to 1955. Knotts’ character, Wilbur Peterson, had only a few lines in the duration of the show, but that role is considered his first big break. After that role, Knotts decided to stay away from dramas.
After playing a serious role in the soap opera, he found his passion for comedy. “It was the only serious role I ever played professionally,” said Knotts much later in an Archive of American Television interview. It was in 1965 that Knotts came to fame on Steve Allen’s variety show, as part of Allen’s theater company. He stayed with the Allen program through the 1959/1960 season.
He Almost Wasn’t on The Andy Griffith Show
After being on the Steve Allen Show, Knotts slowly began to get famous and recognized as the public was starting to see his unique and show-stopping sense of humor. He landed the legendary role as Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show soon after his appearances on Steve Allen ended. But what people don’t know is that Knotts could have easily been fired from the show after its first episode.
Why? Because he began shooting without having signed a contract. Luckily, the show’s executive producer, Sheldon Leonard, let Knotts stick around when he saw how incredibly talented he was on-screen with Griffith. Knotts played Barney Fife, the deputy, and originally cousin of Sheriff Andy Taylor.
Griffith Gave Knotts All the Major Lines
Sheldon Leonard wasn’t the only one who was impressed with Knotts’ acting on the show. While on set, Andy Griffith was also blown away by Don’s humor and ability to make everyone laugh. Griffith had so much respect for him that he let him steal the spotlight. The name of the show was revolved around Andy, and he was meant to be the star of the series.
But it was quickly discovered that the show was a lot funnier with the roles reversed. Griffith was modest, and he allowed Barney Fife to become the show’s star as the comic relief instead. From the first episode, Griffith and Knotts bonded and started a strong friendship that lasted throughout their lives. Griffith said in several interviews: “By the second episode, I knew that Don should be funny, and I should play straight.”
The Butt of His Jokes
Although they maintained a strong friendship throughout their lives, Griffith and Knotts’ friendship wasn’t always sunshine and lollipops. They had their ups and downs, especially while on set of The Andy Griffith Show. Knotts was constantly a victim of Griffith’s practical jokes and pranks. But for many guys, poking fun at each other is just part of the friendship.
According to biographer Daniel de Vise, Andy Griffith would often wake Knotts up from his naps by throwing a film canister onto the ground and making a big bang! Griffith also referred to Knotts by the name “Jess.” Why? Because he was mocking Don’s given name “Jesse,” which Don was known to really dislike. So that for sure, pushed his buttons.
After five seasons of The Andy Griffith Show, Griffith was allowed to renew his contract with the producers for another three years and he took it. This shocked viewers, including Knotts. It was generally expected that the show wouldn’t gain to be popular enough to last longer than five years. But the same can’t be said for Don Knotts.
Unfortunately, Knotts’ time on the show was over in 1965 when he said that he left to pursue a five-year contract with Universal Pictures instead. “It was a tough time for me because I enjoyed the Griffith Show so much that I hated to leave,” Knotts later recalled in an interview. In his autobiography, Knotts admitted that he didn’t yet sign a contract when Griffith announced his decision. He just already made up his mind to move on.
He Almost Stayed
Don made a tough decision, believing he wouldn’t get the chance again. But he ended up leaving the series in 1965. His absence on the show was explained as Deputy Fife having finally made the “big time,” joining the Raleigh, North Carolina police force. When Don was aware that his Universal Pictures contract would cause him to leave the show, he tried to find a way to stay for a bit longer.
As de Vise wrote in his biography, Knotts came to Griffith with a special offer. He told his co-star that he would stay on the show as long as he got a significant stake in the show’s production. Griffith declined his proposal, though.
His Film Roles Were Inspired by The Andy Griffith Show
Griffith declined Knotts’ offer because he mistakenly thought that Knotts wanted to go 50/50 on the profit. But Knotts would have been happy with a small share of the production. Either way, Knotts made his premature departure from The Andy Griffith Show. The show, however, made a real impact on his career and his future role choices, both in film and TV.
One of Knotts’ big roles after being Barney Fife for five years was featured in his first movie with Universal Pictures. He played the role of Luther Heggs in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken in 1966. The hit movie was actually based on one memorable episode in The Andy Griffith Show in a 1963 episode called “Haunted House.”
The Incredible Mr. Limpet
Knotts will forever be remembered in his first starring role in a movie as the hilarious character of Henry Limpet. The movie was called The Incredible Mr. Limpet, and it came out in 1964. The film was a comical hybrid between live-action characters and animation. In the story, Limpet transforms into a talking fish that essentially helps the U.S. Navy find German submarines before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
That doesn’t sound like a plot of an animated movie, but hey, those were different times. The movie premiered on January 20, 1964, at the Weeki Wachee Springs Underwater Theater. It became the world’s first underwater movie premiere. Don Knotts was proud of his work as Mr. Limpet, mentioning how he thought the film was “very, very good.”
Knotts’ Sense of Style
When Barney Fife wasn’t wearing his infamous police uniform, he was known for rocking an iconic straw hat and coat. His style wasn’t just about what he wore on and off the set. Knott was quickly recognized for his expressive face, and he was becoming known in the country as a killer comedian. Knotts’ look added a certain essence to his sense of humor.
The suit he wore on The Andy Griffith Show became an icon of his comedic persona and even appeared multiple times in some of his other work. For example, in The Reluctant Astronaut and The Incredible Mr. Limpet, he wore the same kind of suit.
Next, see what else he added to his already successful style…
He Was a Big Flirt
Don Knotts didn’t have the sexiest roles in his acting career, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t get the girls. He was something of a ladies’ man off-screen. After all, men with a good sense of humor are often irresistible to women, right ladies? Knotts had enough jokes and “isms” to woo women across the country.
“Dad was kind of wild,” his daughter Karen had joked around saying in an interview with People magazine in March of 2006. “He was really quite the ladies’ man, especially between marriages.” When she says between marriages, it’s because Don was married not once, not twice, but three times. Karen is from his first marriage to Kathryn Metz. But that was just the beginning.
Third Time’s a Charm?
His marriage to Kathryn lasted from 1947 until their divorce in 1964. From this first marriage, Knotts had a son, Thomas Knotts, and his daughter, actress Karen Knotts. He then moved on and married Loralee Czuchna in 1974, but they got divorced in 1983. His third marriage was to Frances Yarborough, which was short, lasting from 2002 until his death in 2006.
Despite being so flirtatious, Knotts was a married man for most of his adult life. His first marriage to Kathryn lasted 17 years, and they had two kids together. His second marriage lasted nine years and his last was during his last four years on this earth. His widow, Frances, had quite the acting career herself who is best known for her role in the film ‘The Electric Chair.’
Three’s Company Drama
In 1979, Knotts returned to TV in his second most identifiable role, which you know as the wacky-but-lovable landlord Ralph Furley. Three’s Company was already an established hit when the original landlords, Helen Roper and her husband Stanley (a real-life couple played by Audra Lindley and Norman Fell) left the show to star in their own spin-off series (The Ropers).
Three’s Company ended up being a big show in the future, but its rise to fame wasn’t so simple. In 1980, contract negotiations caused some major drama on set. Suzanne Somers had quite extravagant requests. For instance, she agreed to stay on the show only if she was given a huge raise that included 10% of the series’ profits. When those demands weren’t met, tensions were built on set.
Don Filled the Gap
When the show’s producers refused to grant Somers with an increased salary, she decided to go on strike. She refused to show up to film the scenes and so the producers feared that the sudden loss of Somers would ruin their ratings. They eventually reached a compromise with her. But during her absences, Knotts would fill in.
When Somers didn’t show up on set during that period, Knotts helped fill in the gap. He would often fill in for her by reciting her character Chrissy’s lines. Knotts integrated himself to the already-established cast really well. As the late John Ritter put it, they were “so scared” of him when he joined the cast because of his star status.
His Role in Pleasantville
As the years went by, comedy was evolving, and Don Knotts was talented and wise enough to go with the flow. He introduced himself to modern humor as well as younger audiences. He had a supporting role as a strange TV repairman in the comedy-drama film ‘Pleasantville’ that came out in 1998. But that role almost went to someone else.
And not just any “someone.” Knotts was very close to not getting the repairman role in Pleasantville. The part was initially meant to be played by fellow comedy star Dick Van Dyke. You know him – he was in ‘Bye Bye Birdy’ and ‘Mary Poppins.’ It was that same year that Don’s home town of Morgantown changed the name of a street to Don Knotts Boulevard on “Don Knotts Day.”
Overdubbed by an Impersonator
Although Knotts was lucky to land that memorable role in Pleasantville (instead of Van Dyke), he wasn’t as present throughout the entire process as he normally was back in his heyday. After shooting came to an end, the comedy legend wasn’t available to go back on set afterward for all the extra dubbing sessions. He was getting very old and less mobile.
Therefore, a professional dubber and impersonator by the name of Craig Shoemaker came in to take on the challenging role of imitating Don’s unique voice and style. Craig had quite a comedy career in his own right as well, having won Funniest Male Stand-Up Comic at the American Comedy Awards in 1997. Considering how we didn’t notice anything funny when watching this movie, he did the job well.
Knotts Spent His Final Hours With His Beloved Co-Star
Knotts and Griffith’s friendship lasted a lifetime – up until his final days. The men really had each other’s backs since day one. Knotts was known to have struggled with hypochondria and macular degeneration. After a hard battle with lung cancer, Knotts passed away with Andy Griffith by his side – the man who brought Don to stardom.
“I told him I loved him, and I held his hand,” Griffith later told People in an emotional interview. Knotts’ passing was devastating to all those who knew him and were touched by his humor and memorable smile. Comedians from all over will forever be inspired by his charisma and personality. One of Knotts’ co-stars on The Andy Griffith Show, Betty Lynn, described him as a “very quiet man. Very sweet. Nothing like Barney Fife.”
Knotts Was 81 on February 24, 2006
The official cause of death was a respiratory complication due to pneumonia, which he contracted while he was struggling with his lung cancer. He died at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles was laid to rest at the Westwood Memorial Park. In 2011, his gravestone was replaced by a bronze plaque that featured a list of Knotts’ film and television roles.
Knotts’ obituaries had cited him as a major influence on many other entertainers. On July 23, 2016, a statue honoring him was unveiled in front of The Metropolitan Theatre on High Street in Morgantown, West Virginia, where he was born and raised. Now, his family, friends, and all of his fans have a place to visit when in the town.
The Barney Fife Statue Had To Be Destroyed
Tom Hellebrand created a statue of Don Knotts to honor his most famous character, Barney Fife. The artist had the statue on display at Mount Airy, which was in Griffith’s hometown. The city of Mount Airy was also the inspiration for the TV show’s fictional setting. But unfortunately, the statue had to be destroyed.
Before the statue was even fully completed, it had to be taken down. The work on the statue was halted when Paramount Studio, who owned the rights to the TV show, didn’t approve of the artwork.
When the statue was put up in 2016, countless fans with their own “before he was Barney” stories had lined up on High Street outside the Metropolitan Theatre for the first Don Knotts Days celebration.
Karen Knotts Maintains Her Father’s Legacy
Don Knotts passed away almost fifteen years ago, but his daughter tries hard to keep his name alive. She decided to follow in his footsteps and pursue a career of acting and comedy on her own. When Karen was a kid, her protective dad did not like the idea of her going down the path down the film industry.
“‘No, that’s not a good life for a child,’” she remembers him saying. However, as she grew up, Don realized just how passionate his daughter was about comedy and chose not to shield her from the world of acting, even though his heart was in the right place. She admitted that he always supported her one hundred percent in the end, and she was forever grateful.
All Tied Up In Knotts
Karen grew up loving comedy and eventually chose to study acting at USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she chose to explore the realm of stand-up comedy specifically. She started her own show called Tied Up in Knotts and toured as a one-woman show on the road. She went all across the country performing her comedy act.
The act consisted of her reminiscing about her father’s legendary career, including scenes from the Andy Griffith Show and adding personal accounts about what it was like growing up with such a famous comedian as a father. Knotts still works as a stand-up comic as well as a SAG/AFTRA actor. Her TV and film credits include ‘Return to Mayberry,’ ‘An Occurrence at Black Canyon,’ ‘One of Our Own,’ and the ‘Vice Academy series.’
Karen Had to Leave His Deathbed to Laugh
As it turns out, Knotts’ show-stopping sense of humor was even present at his deathbed in his final moments. While lying there about to pass away, he still managed to cause his daughter to break out into laughter. “He was literally dying, but he did something or said something that caused my stepmother and me to go into fits of laughter, which is why I ran out,” Karen recalled.
“I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to be standing there in front of this man, my dearly beloved father, who’s dying, and laughing.’”
If you got this far and you’re a fan of Don Knotts, then maybe you’ll want to stick around and learn some lesser-known facts about The Andy Griffith Show next…
The Opening Song Took 15 Minutes to Write
The beloved American comedy series ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ was so popular in its time, that it was still the number one show on television the year it ended. The show aired from 1960 to 1968, during a period in which Americans needed something fun to watch and distract themselves with.
The program was created by Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas, starring Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor, Ron Howard as Opie Taylor and Don Knotts as Barney Fife. Here are 40 facts about the show that can not only shed some light on lesser-known facts about the show but also take you down memory lane.
“The Andy Griffith Show” had one of the most memorable theme songs in the history of television. What’s more remarkable than that is the fact that it was written in a matter of 15 minutes! The theme song also had a title, called “Fishin’ Hole.” Apparently, no one sang it better than Andy himself, which is why he originally sang the opening song! Griffith recorded a version of the show’s theme song which was written in under 15 minutes by Herbert Spencer and Earle Hagen. Everett Sloane, who composed TV theme songs for “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Mod Squad,” and “I Spy,” wrote the lyrics to “Fishin’ Hole.” The simplicity was meant to reflect the nature of the show.
Andy and Don Were Buddies in Real Life
Andy Griffith and Don Knotts weren’t just best friends on the show; they were also real-life pals. Their long-lasting friendship started in the mid-1950s when they met in New York City when both were co-starring in the Broadway play ‘No Time for Sergeants’. It was Don’s Broadway debut in which he played Corporal Manual Dexterity alongside Andy, who was leading the show as Will Stockdale.
The two friends stayed close for the rest of their lives. Andy was even at Don’s bedside during his last days in 2006. Hollywood friendships don’t get much more authentic than theirs!
Next, see what Andy really felt about onscreen love scenes…
Andy Griffith Was Never Comfortable With Onscreen Romance
Andy had his share of love interests throughout the series, but his first romantic relationship was with Ellie Walker (Elinor Donahue), the town’s newcomer who worked in her uncle’s drug store. Elinor Donahue was in 12 episodes as pharmacist Ellie Walker. Her character was intended to be Andy Taylor’s love interest for a while, but after one season, Donahue asked for a release from her three-year contract.
The reason was that she never felt true chemistry with Andy Griffith. Griffith later explained the reason for this as being his fault. He admitted that he actually had a hard time showing affection on screen. The result was that the onscreen relationship didn’t appear to be real and wasn’t believable. In the end, Elinor’s character disappeared with no explanation to the viewer.
Opie Didn’t Really Throw a Rock in the Lake
In the summer of 1960, the cast and crew of the show ventured out to Franklin Canyon (near Beverly Hills) to film the opening credits. Their plan was for Andy and Opie to stroll along a dirt road with their fishing poles, and Opie was to pause and throw a rock into the water. But six-year-old Ron Howard couldn’t throw well.
The little Ron Howard couldn’t hurl it far enough. They needed to either get him to throw the rock far enough or get someone else to do it. So they ended up coming up with a solution – they had a prop man hide in the bushes and throw the rock that made the right kind of splash. The timing was done to make it look as if Opie actually threw it. Oh, the good old days before special effects!
Next, the reason Barney never showed up after the 5th season…
Why Barney Fife Never Really Showed Up After Season 5
When the show premiered, Andy told Don Knotts and the rest of the cast that he only planned for the show to run for five seasons. They each signed contracts for five years. And when season five started, Don was already looking for other work and found something quite quickly.
He signed a five-picture film deal with Universal. But ultimately, he agreed to come back for a 6th season after sponsors and network staff persuaded him. As it turned out, the show went on for a 7th and even 8th season.
Don Knotts Received Bullets in the Mail
One of the show’s classic running jokes was that Barney was never allowed to carry more than one bullet in his gun. The reason was that Barney just couldn’t be trusted with a loaded gun (out of fear that he would shoot his own foot, or worse). So Andy would allow him only one bullet.
Fans of the show from all over, in the spirit of the ongoing inside joke, felt so bad for him that they sent Don Knotts actual bullets! It was at the same time a chide as well a gesture of endearment.
Next, a look at many of the continuity errors…
A Fair Share of Continuity Errors
The Andy Griffith Show was like many other TV shows on a budget, where minor goofs would slip by on the screen. In the 1960s, being in black and white, mistakes like seeing the shadow of a boom mic or an actor’s visible tape marks on the floor were not easy to spot. And now that the classic sitcom can be seen in digital images, these errors are easier to notice.
Reflections of the camera crew are briefly seen in Mayberry’s storefronts. Also, chalk and tape marks can often be seen. Re-filming is rather expensive, and many TV programs at the time didn’t employ full-time continuity directors. One example is from the episode where the new mayor was almost attacked by a bear, and he starts climbing up a tree. In the shot of the bear running toward the camera, the animal trainer can clearly be seen releasing the bear.
Andy and Frances Never Got Along
Andy Griffith and Aunt Bee had a fondness for each other on the show, but the two never got along off-screen. Frances considered herself too serious of an actress to play opposite the wisecracking Andy Griffith.
It was his constant joking and pranking that got on her nerves frequently. Andy and Aunt Bee made amends years later, just months before her death, when she called him to apologize for the conflict between them. They were able to end on a friendly note.
Next, a little something about Mr. Shwump…
The Mysterious Mr. Shwump
Mr. Schwump, one of the Mayberry citizens, was seen in at least 26 episodes. He never spoke, but Andy and Barney frequently address him by his name. In the episode “The Fun Girls,” Andy said, “Barney, I’m not going to a dance and stand in a stag line with Old Man Schwump.”
Later on, when the cast and crew were asked who the actor was that portrayed Mr. Schwump, no one could remember. Apparently, he was a friend of Andy Griffith’s who was originally given a speaking part. The problem was that he would freeze up on his lines, remaining silent.
The Show Was Like a Ford Commercial
Cars also played an important role in the show. Some of the best episodes were written around cars and the people driving them. A number of great cars were featured over its nine-year run, but Griffith’s cop cars were always Ford Galaxy 500 sedans. Fords were seen more as the show reached its later seasons due to the sponsorship from Ford Motor Company.
Ford would supply them with a car every time a new model was released. The show ended up with 10 cars in total, at an average of more than one car per season.
Did you know that the show wasn’t actually filmed in Mayberry?
Mayberry Was Actually Mount Airy
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ was filmed at Desilu Studios, and outside shots were filmed at Forty Acres in Culver City, California. Woodsy scenes were filmed north of Beverly Hills at Franklin Canyon. But it was Mayberry, the quaint hometown that was made famous on the show.
Mayberry was for a long time considered to be a fictional place. Although the town does exist, the show was filmed in Andy Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy, NC. Andy Griffith denied it for years, but in the episode “A Black Day For Mayberry” you can clearly see the words “Mount Airy” on the phonebook sitting on the sheriff’s desk.
Don Knott’s Favorite Episode
“The Pickle Story” episode was voted the #1 favorite of the entire series. Aunt Bee’s batch of pickles was far from her regular cooking creations. She just couldn’t make a tasty pickle. Clara Johnson, the twelve-time pickle champion, said Bee’s pickles were too heavy on the brine and didn’t have enough parsley in the vinegar.
Barney and Andy were forced to eat and get rid of as many pickle jars as possible as they never had the heart to tell her how bad they tasted. Don Knotts later said how much fun it was to film that episode.
Next, see how Andy wasn’t the only prankster in town…
Andy Wasn’t the Only Jokester
Andy gained a reputation for his practical jokes. As the boss of the show, he set a playful tone. And practical jokes were his favorite, especially when aimed at Don Knotts. Andy would tease Don daily just by calling him “Jess,” which was short for Jesse (Don’s first name). Don Knotts was surprisingly reserved off camera, and Andy loved to break his friend’s sense of calm. He would sometimes interrupt Don’s nap by dropping a metal film canister onto the floor.
The cast and crew would try to respond to Andy’s pranks with pranks of their own. One of the most legendary pranks was when the crew stole Andy’s shoes from the set, forcing him to wear his sheriff boots home. The crew eventually returned his shoes to him at the end of the season, but they were bronzed.
Nickname On and Off the Screen
Andy had a nickname throughout the show, as Barney commonly referred to him as “Ange.” Don Knotts chose the nickname, which was a mashup of his first and last names “Andy” and “Griffith.” Andy was so fond of it that he would habitually use it while filming.
But the show wasn’t the only place where Don called Andy by his nickname. He also called him Ange in real life, considering they were actually friends.
Next, when the actor who played Floyd had a stroke…
Howard McNear, who played the character of Floyd the Barber, needed a lot of assistance on-set after he suffered a devastating stroke mid-way through the series. Howard had trouble standing, so the show’s creators came up with a clever way to help him in his role.
They placed props for Howard to lean on during his scenes, which gave the illusion that he was in an upright position. They even made a special stool to make Floyd look like he was standing when he was in fact only half-sitting or leaning. Howard’s stroke left his left side permanently paralyzed. If you watch Floyd in later episodes, you’ll notice that he never moves his left hand.
Don Knotts’ Favorite Suit
If you remember, Barney Fife consistently wore a salt-and-pepper suit with a red bowtie and a white hat in every formal scene of the show. This salt and pepper suit was his nicest, and he would wear it to social events, dances or dates.
He actually wore it throughout the entire show; with its first appearance in the episode ‘Irresistible Andy.’ Don Knotts loved the show so much that he even wore it in a few feature-length films, like ‘The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,’ ‘The Reluctant Astronaut,’ ‘The Incredible Mr. Limpet’, and ‘How to Frame a Figg.’
Next, see who had some off-screen romance…
Andy and Aneta Had Some Off-Screen Romance
Playing lovers in the show must have sparked a little fling between Andy and Aneta Corsaut, the actress who played Helen Crump. She was only supposed to be in one episode, which is why the writers gave her an undesirable last name. They didn’t realize that Aneta would give such a great performance and become a favorite!
Aneta Corsaut was also a favorite of Andy’s, who quickly became smitten with the young actress. Despite being married, Andy started a little fling with Anet on the side. While this was hush-hush on the set, the rumor got out and spread like wildfire.
It’s Always February in Floyd’s Barbershop
Floyd the Barber was the slow moving and absent-minded barber in the show. He was first seen in the episode “Stranger in Town.” During the first few seasons, the importance of Floyd the Barber increased. Slowly, the writers changed his delivery of dialogue from fast-paced to slower as time passed.
If you watched closely, you might have noticed that the calendar in the barbershop was always in February. It’s unclear if it was done intentionally to portray Floyd’s forgetfulness or if it was a mistake on the part of the crew.
Next, see how much Andy Griffith was estimated to be worth…
The Pilot Show
Sheldon Leonard, producer of ‘The Danny Thomas Show,’ and Danny Thomas himself hired the comedy writer Arthur Stander to create the pilot show for Andy Griffith, which features him as justice of the peace and newspaper editor in a small town. At that time, Griffith was a Broadway, film, and radio star, was more interested in trying out a television role.
The William Morris Agency told Leonard that Andy Griffith’s country background and rustic characterizations were suited to the part. When Andy was offered the show, he only agreed to do it if he was given rights to 50% of it. By the time of his death in 2012, Andy was worth an estimated $35 million.
Andy Had a Temper
Many people don’t know that Griffith had a rather fiery temper. There was a moment of frustration filming the second season when Andy punched a wall that resulted in him fracturing several of his fingers.
Andy not only broke the set wall but his hand too. His hand was heavily bandaged, and they had to complete filming the season. In order to fit the bandaged hand into the show’s plot, the producers and writers decided to create a small episode backstory that involved Andy injuring himself while capturing some criminals.
Next, see how Don Knotts could have not been in the show at all…
Don Knotts Worked Without a Contract
Don Knotts was one of a few cast members who showed up on the first day of shooting without having signed an actual contract. That means, essentially, that there was a possibility that Barney Fife could have lasted for only one episode.
But after seeing his onscreen chemistry with Andy, the producers instantly offered him a one-year deal. It’s hard to imagine ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ without Barney Fife. Can you picture it?
Retiring Both On and Off-Screen
Following his stroke and subsequent health deterioration, actor Howard McNeal was eventually written off the show. His last appearance as Floyd was in the final episode of the 7th season. It was written that Floyd had retired because he managed to earn enough money. It was a matter of months after leaving the show that Howard passed away.
To fill in the space on the show, a new character named Emmett Clark, a fix-it-all man, was brought in. Emmett (played by Paul Hartman) moved his shop into Floyd’s old barbershop location in Mayberry.
Next, see how Andy and Barney went from cousins to childhood friends…
Andy and Barney Were Cousins at First
Early in the series, Andy and Barney were introduced as cousins. The reference was supposed to be a joke relating to small-town government positions being given to relatives, but their relationship was then changed to childhood friends.
The writers used a few episodes to make the connection less clear and suggest that Barney isn’t directly related to the Taylors. In one porch dialogue, Barney talks to Andy about buying his folks a septic tank for their anniversary. But Andy doesn’t refer to them as aunt and uncle.
Andy Was Originally Intended To Be the Comic
The original concept of the show was for Andy Griffith to be the comedic lead. But once Don Knotts showed his natural comedy, it was decided rather quickly that Barney would be the show’s funnyman to Andy’s straight man.
As Griffith said in interviews, “By the second episode, I knew that Don should be funny, and I should play straight.” Knotts revealed in an interview, “Andy found Barney funny. I think that helped, too. I could see sometimes when Andy’s eyes were just trying to keep from laughing, which would help me try and make it even funnier.”
Next, when ‘Star Trek’ came to Mayberry…
When Star Trek Came To Mayberry
If you want to know what Mayberry would look like after an apocalypse, see the episodes of ‘Star Trek’ when it first aired. At first, the show was so low budget that they were forced to use the set of the town of Mayberry in a few episodes – four episodes to be exact.
William Shatner and Joan Collins were seen going for a walk outside of Floyd’s barber shop in the episode “The City on the Edge of Forever.” And in the episode “Miri,” we caught a glimpse of what Mayberry might look like after an apocalypse.
There Was a Spin-Off
A spin-off and direct continuation of ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ was ‘Mayberry R.F.D.’ When Andy Griffith decided to leave the show, most of the other characters returned for the retitled show which ran for three seasons (and 78 episodes) on CBS from 1968–1971.
It was during the final season of The Andy Griffith Show that widow farmer Sam Jones and his young son Mike are introduced and they gradually became the show’s focus. Sheriff Andy Taylor took a backseat in the plot lines.
The reason why the show ended, next…
Quit While You’re Ahead
Many shows tend to drag on and cause the audience, as well as production, fatigue. The producers of the show didn’t want this to happen, so they ended it after the eighth season. In the entirety of the series, it never ranked lower than 7th in the Neilsen ratings. The show had the honor of being one of only three shows that ended above the chart. “I Love Lucy,” and “Seinfeld” are the other two.
TV Guide ranked the program as the 9th-best and 13th-best show in American Television history. Though Andy Griffith never won any awards during its 8-season run, co-stars Knotts and Bavier received a combined total of six Emmy Awards.
His Southern Upbringing
You may have heard of the old southern phrase, “that’s the time,” which was used numerous times by Andy Griffith throughout the series. The phrase has several meanings, including “good!” and “okay” and “that’s the right thing to do.”
By bringing this phrase into the show, it was a delicate way for Andy to interject his southern upbringing into the show. Andy also included other southern phrases, such as “Nary a thing” (“I’m not doing anything”) and “Tick a lock” (“keep your mouth shut”).
Next, see which names Barney had…
Barney Had Different Middle Names
The show had several writers, which means continuity slip-ups are to be expected. One example of this is the various middle names that were given for both Barney and Andy. In the episode “Class Reunion,” Barney’s middle name was Milton, but at other times he was called “Bernard P. Fife.”
In another episode when he thought he was the descendant of Nathan Tibbs, a Mayberry Revolutionary hero, he said his name was “Barney ‘Tibbs’ Fife.” Andy jokingly said, “I thought your middle name was Oliver.”
Griffith Paid Homage to His Real Father
If you watch the theme-song reel at the beginning, Andy and his son, Opie, walk to the edge of the lake. The part where Andy gives a nod of approval for his boy to throw a rock into the water has real meaning.
This seemingly simple gesture meant so much more. As it turns out, Griffith’s father would shake his head in the same way when he showed approval towards Andy. It’s sweet that he brought it into the show as a way of paying homage to his father.
Next, what Andy revealed after Don’s death…
Knotts Asked For Part Ownership
When Griffith came back for the 6th season, Knotts did the same. But there was more to the story. Andy revealed to Don’s manager decades after the show ended and after Don’s death, that he kept something secret.
In a private meeting during season five, Don told Andy that he would only return to the sitcom if he could have a stake in the production. Andy and his manager had owned more than half of the show, while Don owned none of it, being just a salaried employee. As much as he loved working with Don, Andy denied his friend’s request and Don didn’t end up returning to the show.
Griffith and Knotts Were Nothing Like Their Characters
Griffith and Knotts were, in fact, real-life country boys who made their way to fame as comics in the 1950s, doing stand-up and eventually working together on Broadway in “No Time for Sergeants.” It was on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ that they became a comedy duo who played off each other with perfect timing.
In real life, though, Andy was known to be more reserved. And Knotts was actually a very serious guy. It may be hard to imagine, but it’s the truth!
Next, one of the show’s biggest mysteries…
One of the Biggest Mysteries of the Show
Opie was 6 years old when the show started, and his character lived with his widowed father, Andy Taylor, and his aunt, Beatrice “Aunt Bee” Taylor. But what happened to Opie’s mother?
Opie’s mother was only mentioned once during the entire series. In an episode called “Wedding Bells for Aunt Bee,” Andy went down memory lane as he told Opie how much he loved his mother. Viewers never heard about her after that. But in an episode of ‘The Danny Thomas Show,’ Andy says that she died when Opie was only “the least little speck of a baby.”
Griffith Wasn’t Short of Work
Andy Griffith wasn’t just an actor; he was also a comedian, television producer, gospel singer, and writer, and his career spanned over seven decades. While he’s mostly remembered for ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ he had a successful career on Broadway, where he even won a Tony Award.
Griffith played the main character on another television show called ‘Matlock.’ He made appearances throughout the years on ‘Playhouse 90,’ ‘Gomer Pyle,’ ‘U.S.M.C.,’ ‘The Mod Squad,’ ‘Hawaii Five-O,’ ‘The Doris Day Show,’ ‘Here’s Lucy,’ ‘The Bionic Woman and Fantasy Island,’ as well as many others. He also reenacted his role as Ben Matlock on ‘Diagnosis: Murder’ in 1997. His last guest-starring role was in 2001 in an episode of ‘Dawson’s Creek.’
Andy Griffith passed away at the age of 86 in 2012…
Where Are They Now?
Most of the cast members from ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ are no longer with us, but we can take a look at what the main actors did after the show ended. Let’s start with Director Ron Howard. During his run on ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ Ron also appeared in the film ‘The Music Man’ (1962) and the comedy ‘The Courtship of Eddie’s Father’ (1963).
In 1973, he played in the film ‘American Graffiti’ (1973) as Steve Bolander. Then in 1974, Howard became a household since he started playing Richie Cunningham in the sitcom ‘Happy Days,’ which ran for seven years. Ron received many awards over the years, including the National Medal of Arts. In 2013, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Frances Bavier Stayed in North Carolina
Frances Bavier stayed in North Carolina rather than returning to her native New York City. She retired from acting in 1972. Bavier said, “I fell in love with North Carolina, all the pretty roads and the trees.” Bavier never married or had any children.
In a 1981 article by Chip Womick in The Courier Tribune, Bavier passionately promoted Christmas and Easter Seal Societies from her home, and she would write inspirational letters to fans who wanted her autographs.
See which character finally came out as gay many years later…
Nabors Came Out
Nabors was given his own spin-off show called ‘Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.’ Nabors was also a popular guest on various TV shows where he showcased his baritone singing voice in the 1960s and 1970s and had two specials of his own.
In 2013, Jim decided to publicly come out as gay, and he finally married his long-time partner of 38 years. He said, “I’m 82, and he’s in his 60s, and so we’ve been together for 38 years, and I’m not ashamed of people knowing, it’s just that it was such a personal thing, I didn’t tell anybody.”
Aneta Kept Acting
Aneta Corsaut played the role of policeman Bumper Morgan’s pawn-shop-owner friend on the show ‘The Blue Knight.’ She also played Irma Howell in the short-lived series ‘Mrs. G. Goes to College.’ In the TV series ‘Adam-12,’ she played Officer Pete Malloy’s girlfriend, Judy. She then got a supporting role as Head Nurse Bradley in the sitcom ‘House Calls,’ and even appeared in some episodes of ‘Matlock’ with Andy Griffith.
Aneta came back for two reunion shows: 1986’s ‘Return to Mayberry’ and 1993’s ‘The Andy Griffith Show Reunion.’ She was also featured in dozens of TV shows, such as ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Rich Man, Poor Man,’ and ‘The Runaways.’ Unfortunately, Aneta died of cancer in 1995.
Smith Did Voice Work
Hal Smith was known for his role as Otis Campbell, the town drunk on ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ But Smith had many voice-over roles, having played characters in animated shorts, including the character ‘Owl’ in the first four original ‘Winnie the Pooh’ shorts. And later he did voice work in ‘The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh,’ Uncle Tex on ‘The Flintstones,’ Goliath in ‘Davey and Goliath,’ and Flintheart Glomgold and Gyro Gearloose on ‘DuckTales.’
Radio listeners might recognize his voice as he was the original voice of John Avery Whittaker in ‘Adventures in Odyssey.’ Sadly, after his wife Louise passed away in 1992, his health deteriorated. He passed away from a heart attack in 1994.
A Charitable Man
George Lindsey was Gomer Pyle’s bumbling cousin. In real life, George was a generous man, having raised over $1,000,000 for the Alabama Special Olympics over 17 years of the George Lindsey Celebrity Weekend and Golf Tournament in Montgomery, Alabama. He also participated as Head Coach for the Winter Games in the Minneapolis, Minnesota Special Olympics National Competition.
George received the 1995 Governor’s Achievement Award — Alabama Music Hall of Fame. The State of Alabama named a highway after him – the “George Lindsey Highway” in Jasper. In 1998, he founded the George Lindsey/UNA Film Festival at the University of North Alabama. He also received the 1997 Minnie Pearl Lifetime Achievement Award and was the 2007 recipient of the first ICON Award. He passed away in 2012, at the age of 83.