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THE UNTOLD TRUTH OF THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW

Most people know The Andy Griffith Show well; it’s one of the most famous classic shows in television history. We all know the story of the small, quaint North Carolina town overrun by several colorful characters. And at the center of Mayberry is solid and steady Sheriff Andy Taylor, played by the one and only Andy Griffith. With his wacky deputy, Barney Fife, at his side, Andy Taylor is the voice of sanity and stabilizing force in Mayberry, keeping its zany residents from causing mayhem in their small town.

The show gave us fantastic actors like Don Knotts, Frances Bavier, George Lindsey, Jim Nabors, and Howard McNear, who played memorable characters that are still well known today. And of course, the renowned director Ron Howard got his big break in show business at the age of six, playing Andy Taylor’s son, Opie. These are just the essential details that everyone knows about the celebrated Andy Griffith Show. As it would turn out, there was a lot more going on behind the scenes that audiences would never have known. This is the untold truth of The Andy Griffith Show.

THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW WAS ACTUALLY A SPINOFF

Actor and Comedian Danny Thomas

Not many people realize this, but The Andy Griffith Show was technically a spinoff of sorts. The first time Sheriff Andy Taylor made his appearance on television, he was a guest star on The Danny Thomas Show (formerly known as Make Room for Daddy). In the episode, Danny Thomas drives through the town of Mayberry and gets pulled over by Sheriff Taylor for running an unnoticed stop sign. However, this version of Andy Taylor is far less jovial than his later incarnation that we know today. 

One of the series’s running jokes is that Andy wields far more power in the small town than a sheriff might typically have, but he’s at least fair. This version of Andy Taylor has no such scruples. When he fines Danny Thomas for his stop sign violation, he soon realizes that Thomas (being in show business) has access to plenty of money and doesn’t hesitate to significantly increase the typical fine. Danny Thomas threatens to report Andy to the Justice of the Peace — only to discover that Andy also serves that role as well. Next, Danny tries to report Andy’s corruption to the media, but Andy is also the editor of The Mayberry Gazette, making his small-town power complete. The episode ends with Andy and Danny coming to an agreeable resolution, and audiences were later given the beloved The Andy Griffith Show.

THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW THEME HAD A NAME

The Andy Griffith Show dedication statue (of Andy and Opie going fishing)in Mount Airy, NC

We all know the whistling tune that opened that show, which is commonly recognized as simply “The Andy Griffith Show Theme.” But the song did have a real name: “The Fishin’ Hole.” And it does have actual lyrics. The song was composed by Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer with the lyrics written by Everett Sloane. Andy Griffith was quite a skilled singer and guitar player, so the original plan was to have him sing the opening theme song. Griffith did go as far as recording the song, which can now be found YouTube.

Ultimately, the lyrics were nixed for the opening and replaced with whistling only. According to Wide Open Country, the whistling that’s heard is not Andy Griffith, but Earle Hagen, who was already an accomplished Hollywood composer and songwriter and created the theme songs for other famous TV shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy, and The Mod Squad.

OPIE DOESN’T ACTUALLY THROW A ROCK IN THE OPENING

Ron Howard circa 1970

During the iconic opening, Andy and his son, Opie, are heading to the lake to go fishing, and little Opie throws a rock into the water. It turns out that this scene was more challenging to execute than you might expect. When the show began, Ron Howard (or, Ronny Howard, as he’s billed in the show) was only six-years-old at the time and wasn’t quite strong enough to throw the rock far into to hit the water. According to Biography, this scene would take more finessing on production’s end to get it right.

Assistant director Bruce Bilson had to plant a prop man behind a bush lying in wait for his signal. When Bison gave the cue, Ron Howard hurled the rock, but then the prop man threw his own rock that was guaranteed to land in the water. If you look more closely at the opening, you’ll see there is a bit of a lag in time between when Ron Howard throws the rock and when it actually hits the water.

ANDY GRIFFITH WAS A PRANKSTER

Actor and singer Andy Griffith

You wouldn’t expect it as much from the mature Sheriff Andy Taylor, but Andy Griffith was quite the jokester on the set. According to Biography, Griffith delighted in pulling practical jokes on his fellow castmates. While his friend, Don Knotts, was napping, Griffith would often deliberately drop a metal film canister right near Knotts, letting it smash to the floor for maximum noise impact. Another time, Griffith sneaked into castmate George Lindsey’s (“Goober”) dressing room while he was sleeping and strung up duck guts around the room. Although they were good friends, Griffith also liked to needle Don Knotts about his real first name — Knott’s actual legal name was Jesse Donald Knotts. According to Film Oracle, Knotts had a particular loathing for his original first name, and whenever Griffith sought to rile him up, he’d refer to Knotts as “Jess.”

But his fellow castmates could give it right back to Griffith. Seeking revenge, some of his co-stars stole one of his shoes (his street shoe), and Griffith had to borrow a pair from the wardrobe crew to get himself home. At the end of the season, the cast ultimately did return the stolen shoe to Griffith — completely bronzed. Griffith might have been a prankster, but he could take it just as well as he could dish it out.

AUNT BEE WAS A SERIOUS ACTRESS

Frances Bavier

Frances Bavier might be best known for her role as the kindly Aunt Bee, but she was actually a veteran stage actress — and a serious one at that. Bavier was a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, worked in vaudeville, and later moved on to Broadway. Bavier was always the perfect professional no matter what she was working on, be it drama or comedy, television or film, or stage or screen. However, she always retained a serious demeanor whenever she was working, regardless of whether the camera was on her or not.

Per Biography, while Andy Griffith was a jokester and prankster along with the rest of the cast, Bavier despised practical jokes. She severely disapproved of Griffith’s shenanigans and caterwauling around the set. While the rest of the cast liked to dance and sing when they weren’t filming, Bavier rarely joined them. At one point, she had an altercation with George Lindsey, who played Goober Pyle. Bavier loathed coarse language, and one day Lindsey happened to be cursing up a storm on the set of the sequel series Mayberry RFD, angering Bavier to the point where she clocked him with her umbrella. She thought Griffith and most of the cast weren’t taking their jobs seriously, which caused some friction between her and Griffith. According to Wide Open Country, Bavier didn’t apologize for her part in the feud until shortly before her death.

DON KNOTTS CHANGED THE DYNAMIC OF THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW

Don Knotts

Don Knotts didn’t have a contract on-hand when he filmed his first episode of The Andy Griffith Show. According to Biography, if things didn’t work out, he might have only guest-starred for a single episode. However, the chemistry between Knotts and Andy Griffith (who were already good friends) couldn’t be ignored, and Knotts was offered a one-year contract to start, followed by a five-year one. And with Don Knotts’s arrival, the show took a drastically different turn than originally planned. Since the show was named after him, Andy Griffith was intended to be the leading funny man. 

However, Knotts was proven to be the audience’s favored comedic actor. Ultimately, Knotts became the zany Barney Fife we all know and love, while Andy became the mild-mannered and level headed member of the duo. As noted by Wide Open Country, with Don Knotts’s arrival, Griffith’s character became the straight man reacting to and solving the problems of Mayberry’s madcap citizens. Knotts became a long-time fan favorite of the show with his delightful comedic acting and effortless interactivity with Andy Griffith. After Knotts departed the show after season five, many fans felt the show wasn’t quite the same without him.

FLOYD THE BARBER HAD A STROKE

Howard McNear in "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea"

The gossipy Floyd Lawson, or “Floyd the Barber,” as the character was better known, was played by Howard McNear and was another great favorite of the show. Floyd’s barbershop — and Floyd himself — served as the spot where Mayberry’s men could get a haircut and get the lowdown on the latest happenings in the small town. McNear was considered a great actor and comedian, having had a long career in radio and later in television before he accepted the role of Floyd Lawson. However, according to Closer Weekly, in the middle of the show’s run, McNear suffered a severe stroke that caused his body’s left side to become paralyzed.

McNear did manage to recover after taking some time away from the show, but he was unable to stand for long periods of time. But McNear was so beloved by fans and an excellent friend to the cast; no one could bear to write Floyd out of the show. Instead, according to Film Oracle, Floyd’s scenes in the later scenes were written to allow McNear to be seated or give him the appearance of standing using a bespoke stool. McNear was able to continue playing Floyd until 1967. To this day, Floyd the Barber remains one of the most memorable characters of The Andy Griffith Show.

ANDY AND HELEN WERE INVOLVED IN REAL LIFE

Aneta Corsaut and Andy Griffith on an episode of "Mayberry R.F.D."

Aneta Corsaut played Andy’s primary love interest, Helen Crump, on the show, but she wasn’t intended to stick around for the long-term. Sheriff Taylor enjoyed brief relationships with other women on the show, but few ever stuck around for more than a few episodes. According to MeTV, the writers tried to give Andy a serious longterm girlfriend in the form of pharmacist Ellie Walker, played by Elinor Donahue, but the chemistry between the two actors just wasn’t there. Although Donahue had signed a three-year contract, she asked to be released after one year, citing that she and Griffith really didn’t click onscreen. Griffith himself admitted that he struggled to show real affection to Donahue’s character, thus ending future appearances of Ellie Walker.

But everything changed when Aneta Corsaut was cast to play young Opie’s new schoolteacher, Helen Crump. Again, she wasn’t expected to last long, but Corsaut and Griffith’s chemistry was electric. Arguably, maybe a little too electric. As described by Film Oracle, Andy Griffith was already married to Barbara Edwards at that time, but he and Corsaut became romantically involved on the set. Their relationship was apparently inadvertently discovered by a crew member delivering food to Andy Griffith’s hotel room while he happened to be with Corsaut. Griffith and Edwards eventually divorced, but Corsaut never married Griffith.

DON KNOTTS TRIED TO RETURN TO THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW

Andy Griffith and Don Knotts at the TV Land Awards

After season five, Don Knotts left The Andy Griffith Show, and Barney’s departure left a noted and significant gap in the show. There was a reason for Knotts’s exit, and it all came down to communication issues. According to Biography, Andy Griffith initially told Don Knotts that the show would only last five seasons. So, Knotts prepared for the coming end of the show and started to line up more work in time for the season five conclusion. He ultimately signed a five-film contract with Universal Studios. However, the network managed to persuade Andy Griffith to do a sixth season of the show (there would later be a seventh and eighth season). Except that meant Don Knotts had to decline due to his film contract.

However, Andy Griffith revealed that at one point, Knotts offered to return to the show if he could have an ownership stake in the production. Griffith misunderstood Knotts’s request, assuming that Knotts wanted half of Griffith’s own share (Griffith owned 50 percent of the series’ rights) when Knotts was actually only looking for a much smaller stake. Knotts and Griffith were good friends and ultimately didn’t feel comfortable negotiating at this level with each other. The talks ended, and Knotts didn’t return to the show. But that didn’t stop the two from remaining friends for the rest of their lives.

THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW GAVE US GOMER PYLE

Promo photo for "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C"

Before Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Gomer was Mayberry’s dimwitted, but kind-hearted gas station attendant. According to Biography, Jim Nabors was introduced in season three (while Howard McNear was on medical leave after his stroke). Nabors was on The Andy Griffith Show for two seasons, and audiences loved Gomer for his wacky hijinks and amiable personality.

After his two seasons, according to Reuters, CBS proposed an entire spinoff show starring Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle. Thus, Gomer left Mayberry to join the Marines (leaving Mayberry’s gas station in the hands of his equally goofy cousin, Goober Pyle), and gave audiences, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. in 1964. Those who loved Gomer on Andy Griffith were more than happy to watch him in a new environment where Nabors would really have a chance to shine in a starring role, rather than just an ensemble. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., was a major fan favorite and did reach number one in the Nielsen ratings on quite a few occasions.

THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW WENT OUT ON A HIGH NOTE

Don Knotts and Frances Bavier with their Emmy Awards

After eight seasons, The Andy Griffith Show came to an end in 1968. It held the number one spot in Nielsen ratings. According to Britannica, throughout the show’s entire eight-year run, The Andy Griffith Show never sank below number seven in their Nielsen rating. Both Don Knotts and Frances Bavier had won Emmys for their performances and the show itself was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series. The show didn’t even completely come to an end at the time. Where The Andy Griffith Show ended, so began the spinoff show, Mayberry R.F.D. Viewers just weren’t ready to say goodbye to Mayberry and its peak entertainment just yet.

However, the focus of Mayberry R.F.D. was no longer on Andy Taylor. As noted by Wide Open Country, a new father-son duo: a widowed farmer named Sam Jones and his son, Mike, became the leads. Andy Taylor kicked off the first season of the new show with his wedding to his longtime girlfriend, Helen Crump, but after that, he would only very occasionally pop up as a side character, keeping the story focused on Sam and Mike. Other characters from The Andy Griffith Show did carry on to Mayberry R.F.D. in more prominent roles: Frances Bavier as Aunt Bee, George Lindsey as Goober Pyle, and Jack Dodson as Howard Sprague.

THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW CAST REUNITED ONE MORE TIME

Cast of "The Andy Griffith Show" at the 2004 TV Land Awards

The cast of The Andy Griffith Show did get back together one more time in 1986 for a TV movie special called Return to Mayberry. Most of the surviving original cast made an appearance in the special (Howard McNear who played the notable Floyd the Barber passed away in 1969). The main exception was Francis Bavier (Aunt Bee), who turned down the offer to appear in the special. This may have been due to health reasons or that Bavier felt she was finished playing the character — her reasons were never confirmed.

But audiences were delighted to see Andy Griffith and Don Knotts together again in their iconic roles along with the rest of the beloved characters like Gomer and Goober Pyle, Howard Sprague, and Ernest T. Bass. Fans were also happy to see the adult Ron Howard appear as a grown-up Opie, married with a journalism career, and embarking on fatherhood. The movie wrapped up most loose ends and brought a happy conclusion bringing our time in Mayberry to a permanent end. Barney married his old girlfriend Thelma Lou after years apart, and Andy is reelected as sheriff of Mayberry with Barney at his side as deputy once again. A satisfying finish to one of the most revered shows in television history.

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