To classic TV fans, The Andy Griffith Show was a good old fashioned comedy that evoked nostalgia. In small towns like the fictional Mayberry, North Carolina, people generally know everything about each other. However, the friendship between the show’s two main stars, Andy Griffith and Don Knotts was not as it appeared on the show.
According to the book, Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show, these shy country bumpkins used their squeaky-clean act to fool America and mask their twisted real lives and shameful secrets.
If true, it’s another example for my series, New Year; New Types of Friends about why all men need GodBuddies; those deeper, more authentic male friendships who hold each other accountable to living according to higher standards.
About the TV Show
The Andy Griffith Show was an American sitcom in the 1960s that evoked nostalgia. Set in the fictional town of Mayberry (population 5,360, according to a sign posted at the railroad station in a Season 8 episode), the show starred Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor, and Don Knotts as deputy Barney Fife, Andy’s well-meaning but easily rattled cousin. Also featured were Francis Bavier as Andy’s aunt and housekeeper, Bee Taylor, plus Ron Howard as Andy’s young son, Opie.
The show aired on CBS from October 3, 1960, to April 1, 1968 for a total of 249 half-hour episodes over eight seasons with 159 shows in black and white and 90 in color. It show never placed lower than seventh in the Nielsen ratings, ending its final season at number one. It has been ranked by TV Guide as the ninth- and thirteenth-best series in American television history.
Though neither Andy Griffith nor the show won awards during its eight-season run, co-stars Don Knotts and Frances Bavier accumulated a combined total of six Emmy Awards. The show spawned its own spin-off—Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964–1969) and a reunion telemovie, Return to Mayberry (1986). After the eighth season, Andy Griffith left the series and it was retitled Mayberry, R.F.D., with Ken Berry and Buddy Foster replacing Griffith and Ron Howard in new roles. Reruns are often shown on TV Land, MeTV, The CW, Pluto TV, and SundanceTV.
Some Friendships Aren’t As They Appear
Daniel de Visé is a journalist who worked at the Washington Post, the Miami Herald, and other newspapers in a 25-year career. He wrote Andy and Don after interviews with people who knew Griffith and Knotts in childhood and as professionals. Mr. de Visé is also married to the sister of Knotts’ third wife, actor, Frances Yarborough, so he writes from his own experiences as Don’s brother-in-law. “He was serious and reserved but pleasant and would readily share stories about his career,” de Visé said abou Knotts in a phone interview between book signings as recorded in an article in the Virginian Pilot.
According to de Visé, Griffith and Knotts built an off-screen friendship that lasted most of their lives based on their similar upbringing. “Andy and Don were fellow Southerners, born into poverty and raised among ne’er-do-wells, bullies, and drunks,” the author wrote in a news release about his book. “They grew up during the Depression, Andy on the wrong side of the tracks in North Carolina, Don in a threadbare West Virginia boardinghouse.”
Their relationship began on Broadway after co-starring in the movie, No Time for Sergeants in 1955. The two seemed to fit together like a hand in a glove. But the author suggests the two had many flaws, which included extramarital affairs, anger, jealousy, and mental issues.
The book brands both men as sex-crazed womanizers who cheated on their first wives while going on secret double dates with their mistresses.
Aneta Corsaut, who played Griffith’s girlfriend, Helen Crump in the sitcom, became his real-life lover almost immediately after joining the cast in 1963. Andy hid their affair from then-wife Barbara, who he wed in 1949 and divorced in 1972. Barbara drank heavily as did Andy in those days, too.
The author says Andy bedded other women, too, including actress Joanna Moore—who appeared in four episodes of the show and later wed Ryan O’Neal. Andy was married to Solica Casuto from 1975 to 1981 and Cindi Knight from 1983 until his death. However, the book claims his deepest relationships were with Aneta and Don.
Knotts’s friend Al Checco said, “Don was somewhat of a ladies’ man. He fancied himself something of a Frank Sinatra. The ladies loved him and he dated quite a bit.”
Knotts was married three times. His marriage to Kathryn Metz lasted from 1947 until their divorce in 1964. Afterward, he raised his son, Thomas Knotts, and a daughter, actress Karen Knotts, as a single parent. Don married Loralee Czuchna in 1974 but divorced her in 1983. His third marriage to Frances Yarborough lasted from 2002 until his death in 2006.
Mr. de Visé also revealed Griffith had shocking dark rages, wrecking hotel rooms, and smashing car windshields during fits of fury that kept his cast and crew quaking in terror. “Most of us were deathly afraid of Andy,” confessed George Lindsey, who played Goober Pyle on the sitcom. Don helped keep Andy’s dark side in check.
But Andy’s rages got worse after Don left Mayberry over a money dispute. Don felt he was paid “chump change” compared to Andy, who owned part of the show and made over $1 million a year. Knotts asked to become a 50/50 partner but Andy refused. Knotts left to make movies — and the remaining cast and family members felt the Griffith wrath.
A friend says Andy’s white-hot rages were “unbearable.”He once trashed a Manhattan hotel room. During a furious fight with his wife Barbara, he even punched out a car windshield.
A source noted Andy later admitted to seeing a shrink for more than a dozen years to control his rages and the feeling of worthlessness that tormented him. “My life has been affected by an almost total feeling of inadequacy,” he explained. “It’s been with me my whole life.”
In his book, de Visé writes that Andy was especially bitter and jealous about Don’s critical claim and Emmy Awards for the show. But for all of his awards, Knotts dealt with some jealousy on his end too.
According to de Visé, Knotts’ third wife, Frances Yarborough, found Griffith hilarious. Knotts had to learn to cope with his own jealousy over how much she delighted in Griffith’s jokes. The story goes that the couples often went out for dinner, and Andy always told jokes that cracked her up. “That would make Don jealous,” de Visé writes, recounting how one night, Francey commented on Andy’s hilarious jokes at supper one time too much. “I’m the funny one!” Knotts insisted. Don’s jealousy over who was funnier mirrored the tension that arose over Knotts’ Emmys since Griffith never won an award for the show.
The jealousy between Knotts and Griffith lessened over the years. Griffith brought out the best in Knotts, and Don said he owed every Emmy to that dynamic.
Don Knotts was known to have a decades-long relationship with a noted Hollywood psychiatrist. But the author 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.
Friends for Life
Griffith and Knotts developed and solidified their friendship on The Andy Griffith Show. “There was a lot of playful, chaotic, rambunctious fun around the set, and Don was always willing to join in,” Ron Howard, who co-starred with the duo, recalled to Closer. “Andy was the world’s greatest audience for Don. He had Andy literally in tears once a week.”
Over the years, the two went their separate ways but they always kept in touch and were supportive of each other for the rest of their careers.
In 2004, Griffith felt the tug of nostalgia and decided to move back to Toluca Lake, the place he called home while he was filming The Andy Griffith Show. Buying a $2.4 million home, his relocation put him back in the orbit of his costar for the first time in the old friends’ lives.
Friends until the End
After enjoying immense success in TV and film, both were struck by illnesses. Andy Griffth suffered Guillen-Barre syndrome which left him paralyzed for three months.
When Knotts was diagnosed with lung cancer, Griffth rushed to his side. “As soon as the two of them were together, it was like they never skipped a beat,” their Matlock costar, Nancy Stafford told Closer. “They fell into this routine of singing, laughing, and telling jokes together — it was hysterical. They had this amazing communication.”
Knotts passed away in February 2006 at 86 due to respiratory and pulmonary complications from lung cancer. Mr. de Visé said of Andy, “He was Don’s last visitor aside from his family.”
Today, a statue of Don Knotts sits in his hometown of Morgantown, West Virginia. “Don was special. There’s nobody like him. I loved him very much. We had a long and wonderful life together I told him I loved him, and I held his hand. His chest heaved several times, and I believe he heard my voice.” Griffth recalled..
Andy Griffith died of a heart attack in July 2012 at age 81.
As I wrote in my post, The Masks We Hide Behind, many men hide behind masks to keep anyone from getting to know them well. It also impacts their friendships since men aren’t always as they appear. But the world needs more men to remove their mask and model proper use of our masculinity.
So whether you are a comic or are serious dude, the sheriff of a small town or its deputy, a religious man or a non-believer, you need to include a godly man among your inner circle of friends. He needs to see behind your mask. He needs to know your struggles and hold you accountable. Its how men help men become better men.
My next post will include a friendship that almost didn’t have many “happy days.”