The Andy Griffith Show
The Andy Griffith Show
The Andy Griffith Show is my favorite television program of all time. 249 episodes were aired over eight seasons (1960-1968). The first five years were the best, as they featured Don Knotts in the role of Deputy Barney Fife.
The Andy Griffith Show was created by Sheldon Leonard—with a big assist from Andy Griffith, who starred as Sheriff Andy Taylor. Sheriff Taylor is a widower with a little boy named Opie, played by Ron Howard. In the first episode, Taylor's Aunt Bee moves in to help raise the boy.
The Andy Griffith Show never ranked lower than 7th among all television programs during its run. It was # 1 the final season—one of only three shows to ever go out on top, along with I love Lucy and Seinfeld. 40 years later, with hundreds of channels to choose from, the reruns were still watched by five million people each day.
The Andy Griffith Show is set in the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina, which appears to be based on a combination of Mount Airy, NC—where Andy Griffith grew up—and Mayberry, Virginia, a town 22 miles away that Griffith visited many times with his father as a boy.
Mayberry is a wonderful place full of eccentric characters. The only crime among the natives seems to be making moonshine (alcohol is illegal in the county). Most of the law enforcement involves criminals on the lam or passing through, along with the occasional con man.
Among the many memorable characters are the fine ladies Thelma Lou (the girlfriend of Deputy Fife) and schoolteacher Helen Crump (eventual wife of Sheriff Taylor); local mechanics Gomer and Goober; Floyd the Barber; town drunk Otis; and crazy mountain man Ernest T. Bass.
We will focus on the first five seasons, after which—besides Don Knotts leaving—the producer and writers were replaced and the show changed from Black & White to Color.
Sheldon Leonard & Earle Hagen
Sheldon Leonard (1907-1997) was an actor, writer, director, and producer from New York City. As an actor he played the bad guy, including a role in the classic 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life. Leonard also starred on the radio with The Jack Benny Program.
Sheldon Leonard produced the popular television shows Make Room for Daddy (The Danny Thomas Show); The Dick Van Dyke Show; and I Spy. He hired Aaron Reuben to produce the first five seasons of The Andy Griffith Show.
Sheldon Leonard hired Earle Hagen (1919-2008) to score the music for The Andy Griffith Show. Hagen wrote the memorable (whistled) theme song "The Fishin' Hole." The song appears at the beginning of the program in a half-step higher key than at the end.
Earle Hagen played the trombone for the big bands of Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman before he moved on to write music for many television shows. Hagen wrote the theme song for The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Sheriff Andy Taylor
I knew many a boy who wished Sheriff Andy Taylor had been their daddy. He had marvelous parenting skills. Andy Taylor took his son fishing quite often and spent quality time with him every day. He admitted when he was wrong, and he taught his boy solid values.
Andy Taylor was loved by the whole town. People could depend on him to help solve their problems, mediate their disputes, and provide sound counsel when they were troubled.
Andy Taylor was polite and charming with a loving heart. He was a master of reverse psychology, who worked to help his friends see the error of their ways—and maneuvered to help them save face.
Sheriff Andy Taylor, in his 30s, was also the Justice of the Peace. But he carried no gun and wore no tie. Andy looked past the foibles of people straight into their hearts. He went to church every Sunday, and most evenings would find him singing and strumming his guitar on the porch with his family.
Andy Taylor was originally conceived as a country bumpkin who would make us laugh. As the show went on, he became more sophisticated. Griffith said, "By the second episode, I knew that Don [Knotts] should be funny and I should play straight. I just realized that I'm the straight man to all those kooks around me."
Andy Taylor had many phrases that stick in the mind. Among them are "Well, I'll be dogged!" and—always said to Barney—"You beat everything. Did you know that?"
Andy Griffith—actor, writer, director, producer, and Grammy winning Gospel singer—was born in 1926. He grew up so poor that he slept in a drawer. Before The Andy Griffith Show, he was already a star in radio, films, and on Broadway.
Andy Griffith set out to be a preacher, but changed his college major to music. He fell in love with acting in high school and even more so in college. Upon graduation, he taught high school English at first.
Andy Griffith got his big break with a record he made in 1955 of a monologue he wrote called "What it was, was Football." It is still one of the most successful comedy records of all time, selling nearly a million copies.
Andy Griffith became a movie star after his film debut in A Face in the Crowd (1958) with Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau. This was also Lee Remick's first film.
Andy Griffith had already starred in a 1956 television play of No Time for Sergeants, and a play of the same name in which he performed for 796 shows on Broadway. Griffith played a country rube in the Air Force. In 1958, it was made into a major motion picture. In the picture and the Broadway play the co-star was Don Knotts—thus began a lifelong friendship.
Andy Griffith was next in a 1958 film that flopped entitled Onionhead (again with Walter Matthau). In it he would play a similar character but this time in the Coast Guard. If not for that flop Griffith might not have gone into television.
After The Andy Griffith Show he starred in the TV series Matlock for nine years, and continued to make some motion pictures—notably the western spoof Rustler's Rhapsody (1985).
Deputy Barney Fife
Deputy Barney Fife often called his boss "Ange." Sheriff Taylor often called him "Barn." Deputy Fife said many memorable things on the show, among them: "You've got to nip it! Nip it in the bud!" and "Guess! Come on, guess!" and "This is big, big, big, big; really big!" and "It beats all, Andy. It just beats all!" and "You're really funny. Do you know that?" But my favorite was: "All the women here are dogs! If you flew a quail through this room, every woman in it would point."
Barney once hooked Andy up on a blind date with a woman that Andy said looked like Benjamin Franklin.
Barney Fife was the best man at Andy Taylor's weddings. He was also his cousin, but it must have been on Andy's deceased first wife's side because Barney was not related to Aunt Bee. Andy was also his best friend and mentor. They had been Boy Scouts together, and both had served in the army during World War II—though Andy served in Africa and in France, while Barney co-ran the PX Library on Staten Island.
Barney Fife may have been the funniest television character ever—and one of the most complex. He was the skinny, wiry guy with a Napoleon Complex we have all known, who suffered from delusions of grandeur and an inappropriate self-image.
Barney Fife was hyperkinetic and comically inept. He presented himself as an expert on everything as a smokescreen for his deep-seated insecurities. He fancied himself a great singer but was always off-key—as his girlfriend Thelma Lou said, "He can't sing a lick."
Barney Fife was a goofball who was easily alarmed, quick to gossip, naïve, a blabbermouth—and as a deputy, overzealous over the most minor infractions. In other words—Barney is endearing.
Barney Fife saw Mayberry as too small to exercise his overarching talents. He was always learning Judo or Karate, but was utterly inept at both. We had to wonder where else he could have survived.
Barney Fife was not a complete rube. He read good books and magazines, including the Wall Street Journal; quoted Shakespeare; and smoked cigars. After he left the show, it was explained he had become a detective for the police force in the capital of North Carolina, Raleigh.
Don Knotts (1924-2006) grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia. His farmer father died when Don was 13 from alcoholism; his mother ran a boardinghouse.
Don Knotts broke into show business as a ventriloquist. He landed his first acting role in 1953 on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. Knotts was then featured on The Steve Allen Show as an extremely nervous man who was alternately either a brain surgeon or an explosives expert.
Don Knotts heard Andy Griffith was putting together a new TV show, with him as a sheriff, and called him to suggest he needed a deputy. Knotts was signed to a five year contract and would go on to win five Emmy Awards as Barney Fife.
Andy Griffith had early on told Don Knotts that the show would not run past five years. Therefore, Knotts signed a long-term deal to star in motion pictures before Andy decided to extend the run of The Andy Griffith Show. The program would not be the same without him. It was still above average; but nowhere near the high bar the show had set the first five years.
Don Knotts was successful in films, especially in The Incredible Mr. Limpet and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. He also had a fine three-year stint in the TV show Three's Company.
Don Knotts went blind a few years before he died of lung cancer.
Opie Taylor was a good-hearted, generous, self-sacrificing boy who was respectful to his elders. He was six-years-old when the series started in 1960. Barney Fife was his Godfather. Opie appeared in 209 of the 249 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.
Opie Taylor had lost his momma to death when he was just "the least wee speck of a boy." So, he never knew her.
Opie Taylor was played by Ron Howard—the most successful child star of all time. His little brother, Clint Howard, is on the show a few times as a boy who keeps trying to share his already-bitten-into peanut butter sandwich with Barney Fife. Clint would later star in the television program Gentle Ben. His father, Rance Howard, also appears in The Andy Griffith Show here and there as various characters.
Ron Howard was born in 1954 in Oklahoma to parents who are both actors. Ron would surpass his fame as a child star on The Andy Griffith Show as an actor, director, and producer.
Ron Howard starred in the seminal film American Graffiti in 1973. He also had a nice role before The Andy Griffith Show in the fine film The Music Man (1962).
In 1974, Ron Howard began a six year run as Richie Cunningham in the popular TV series Happy Days. He would then broaden his horizons by becoming a major film director. Among his movies are Night Shift; Splash; Cocoon; Willow; Backdraft; Apollo 13; and A Beautiful Mind (for which he won an Oscar as Best Director).
Ron Howard married his high school sweetheart in 1975. They have four children and reside in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Aunt Bee Taylor is a teetotaler who sings in the church choir; plays the piano; recites poetry; and dotes on her nephew Andy and his son Opie. In an earlier time, Aunt Bee had also raised Andy as a boy.
Aunt Bee is a terrific cook who is always baking something. She is in her 50s; active in church and town social functions; a prominent figure in Mayberry, where everyone call her Aunt Bee.
Aunt Bee is a good-natured woman who becomes a surrogate mother to Opie. She brings a picnic basket of food to the county jail every day for Sheriff Andy, Deputy Barney, and the prisoners—if there are any. In later color episodes, she establishes her own restaurant and a cooking show on television.
Frances Bavier (1902-1989) was from New York City. Before she won an Emmy Award as Aunt Bee, she had a long career in Vaudeville, Broadway, and in films. She also made many guest appearances on various television programs.
Frances Bavier long thought her dramatic talents were wasted on The Andy Griffith Show. She was known on the show as quite thin-skinned and it was said the staff "walked on eggshells" around her. Four months before she died, she called Andy Griffith to apologize for "being so difficult" while making the show.
Frances Bavier said her favorite episode of The Andy Griffith Show was "Wedding Bells for Aunt Bee." She died in the area of North Carolina where the show was set, saying "I fell in love with North Carolina; and the pretty roads and trees."
Best Episodes of the Andy Griffith Show
I reviewed all the episodes of The Andy Griffith Show before I decided on 29 episodes that are my favorites. Eight of these are agreed upon by the cast and producers of the show, based on a 17 episode DVD that was released as the Greatest Hits of The Andy Griffith Show.
The top eight episodes are:
"The Pickle Story" ( season two) where Aunt Bee produces "kerosene cucumbers" that Andy and Barney brag about to make her feel good even though they are awful, which backfires horribly.
"Barney and the Choir" (season two) where Barney is invited to join the choir; ruins it by singing off-key; Andy doesn't want to hurt Barney's feelings and so tells him he is ill and has to bow out because of a "growth" in the back of his throat; but Barney foils Andy's deception when he comes back just before the concert with the discovery that the flap is "just a uvula; I got a uvula, you got a uvula, everybody's got a uvula!"
"Convicts at Large" (season three) where three female convicts hold Barney and Floyd the Barber hostage in a cabin until rescued by Andy.
"The Darlings are Coming" (season three) where a clan of mountain musicians descends upon Mayberry.
"Dogs, dogs, dogs" (season three) where Opie rescues a dog, and then, encouraged by Andy and Barney, brings in a whole gang of stray dogs to the jailhouse.
"Opie the Birdman" (season four) where Opie kills a mother bird with his slingshot and learns from Andy about life, death, and nurturing the young.
"Citizen's Arrest" (season four) where Barney and Gomer Pyle go at each other about strict adherence to rules (Jim Nabors' [Gomer] favorite episode).
"Barney's Sidecar" (season four) where Barney adds a vintage motorcycle to the Sheriff Department.
Gomer Pyle Can Dance!
The Darlings Play "salty Dog"
My Favorite Episodes of the Andy Griffith Show
Besides the eight above, I have 21 more favorite episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. These are:
SEASON ONE: "Mayberry goes Hollywood" in which Mayberry is chosen for the location of a motion picture but the townspeople get so excited for fame that they transform the town into anything but what the producer wanted when he scouted the location.
"Andy and the Gentleman Crook" in which world class con man "Gentleman Dan" hoodwinks everybody in Mayberry except Andy Taylor.
"Andy Forecloses" in which Sheriff Taylor is obliged to evict people from their home and the great lengths he goes to avoid it.
SEASON TWO: "The Clubmen" in which Andy is invited to join a prestigious private club but Barney is rejected.
"Bailey's Bad Boy" in which a spoiled rich kid from New York (Bill Bixby) learns the virtues of small town America.
"The Manicurist" in which every man in Mayberry suddenly wants a manicure due to the incredible beauty of a newcomer to town (Barbara Eden).
"The Merchant of Mayberry" in which Andy helps a struggling peddler to survive.
"Andy on Trial" is one of the most dramatic episodes in which Andy is accused of malfeasance.
SEASON THREE: "The Cow Thief" in which Sheriff Andy Taylor outwits city detectives through good old country horse sense.
"The Bed Jacket" in which Andy self-sacrifices to make Aunt Bee happy on her birthday.
"Andy Discovers America" is the favorite episode of former President Eisenhower in which Barney brags about his self aggrandized knowledge of history.
SEASON FOUR: "The Haunted House" in which Andy, Barney and Gomer venture into the local haunted house.
"Barney and the Cave Rescue" in which Andy pretends to let Barney rescue him so that he might be a hero.
"Bargain Day" in which Aunt Bee goes to great lengths to buy in bulk to "save" money (reminds me of my grandma).
"Back to Nature" in which Barney brags to kids about his non-existent wilderness survival skills.
SEASON FIVE: "Barney's Uniform" in which Barney wears his uniform every waking hour because of a threat by a bully.
"Three Wishes for Opie" in which Barney believes in fortune telling apparati.
"TV or not TV" in which the denizens of Mayberry forego their wisdom to accommodate people who claim they want to make a TV show about their lives.
"Guest in the House" in which Helen Crump becomes rightfully jealous of Andy's new house guest, his pseudo-cousin.
"Opie's Newspaper" in which Opie takes the advice of his elders and makes a school newspaper full of gossip about the townsfolk.
"Opie and the Carnival" in which a carnival is operating a scam of a shooting gallery.
The Andy Griffith Show
The Andy Griffith Show featured many guest stars during its run. Among them were Jack Nicholson; Bill Bixby; Barbara Eden; Bob Denver; Alan Hale Jr.; Rob Reiner; Buddy Ebsen; Don Rickles; and Jerry Van Dyke. Appalachian Music featured prominently in the show. It launched the careers of the Kentucky Colonels and the Dillards.
Andy Taylor eventually marries Helen Crump in the series, but my favorite ladies ever on the show—matchless beauties inside and out—are his early girlfriend in four episodes, Peggy McMillan (Joanna Moore), and his pseudo-cousin in one episode, Gloria (Jan Shutan).
The Andy Griffith Show was built around making us laugh. But the show, if you pay attention, is really about love. The characters on the show all love each other unconditionally—and show it by their actions.
Andy Taylor accepts everybody as they are. The characters have manners and morals. The show is as funny as any television show ever produced. But it is the Love—not the funny stuff—that makes The Andy Griffith Show abide in our hearts through the ages.