To many, The Andy Griffith Show is “a sanctuary in a nervous world.” For me, I know little more than the show’s basics – the whistling theme song, Ron Howard, Barney Fife. So upon first learning about Daniel de Vise’s biography on Andy Griffith stars Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, I wasn’t eagerly anticipating picking it up, but it’s why this column remains so vital to my site – I learn about people I wouldn’t ordinary seek out. “Neither man’s story can be told alone” and de Vise’s book expertly blends Knotts and Griffith’s tale, creating a unified biography that shows how both men benefited from the other’s work, and how once they walked away from the show that made their names, they never found the same sense of comedic joy they had from working with each other.
Neither Knotts nor Griffith had the road to Hollywood paved in gold. Knotts’ father suffered from mental illness, threatening to kill his young son as a child. Knotts also suffered with the loss of his older brother, a grief that endured for decades and manifested as severe hypochondria in the man. For his part, Griffith knew he was destined to stardom, but suffered the aches of severe poverty, always feeling like a second class citizen. For his part, Griffith was incredibly selective about his childhood in comparison to Knott’s openness; Griffith constantly revised his history when he saw fit.
Their meeting was so fortuitous as to be fated. “It was a miracle Andy and Don met at all.” Both rejected the same Broadway show before being teamed up on-stage in No Time for Sergeants. After that, Griffith invited Knotts to star as his deputy on The Andy Griffith Show, creating a comedic partnership that lasted for decades.
de Vise doesn’t hide the fact that both men were severely flawed. Knotts was a serial philanderer while Griffith was a notorious grudge-holder who got into abusive fights with his wife. These moments aren’t presented to turn you against the men whose images were built on family values, but show the huge expectations they were forced to live up to. The Andy Griffith Show with its all-white, Americana values smack-dab in the middle of the roiling 1960s signified an idealized depiction of people and the world in which we all wished to live.
So when both Griffith and Knotts tried to make their name outside of Mayberry, suffice it to say they met severe resistance. Neither actor ever truly shed their Mayberry image, and it led to its fair share of resentment. Knotts, who ended up making a semi-successful transition to film in comparison to Griffith, disappointed some costars who realized he wasn’t Barney Fife. Griffith found himself starring in one failed television pilot after another. Both men, whether intentional or not, competed with each other; Knotts may had had the better career and Emmy recognition, but Griffith got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame 22 years before his costar.
Their relationship as actors and friends is beautifully presented. Despite their human flaws both remained fiercely loyal to each other, even as Knotts was dying of cancer. Knowing nothing about these two as a team, Andy & Don presents a comedic pairing on par with Abbott and Costello. They two worked best with each other, and it’s only a miracle that we have their magic captured for eternity. Daniel de Vise’s book is perfect for fans of the two, either individually or as a team, but also for anyone wanting their heartstrings plucked by reading of a lifetime love and admiration between two best friends.
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Categories: Book Reviews