Surprising Facts About ‘The Andy Griffith Show’
Few shows capture a sense of optimism like ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ From the moment the show’s catchy theme song starts, audiences knew what they were in for. But were things really as happy and carefree behind the scenes as they seemed onscreen? Let’s see what things were really like in Mayberry…
Aunt Bee never liked Andy
Hmm, so it seems everything wasn’t always pleasant in Mayberry.
Frances Bavier had the longest tenure of any character in The Andy Griffith Show. But, during this long tenure, she had a reputation for being a bit prickly on set. Apparently, she was easily offended, and the cast and crew felt they had to walk on eggshells when speaking to her.
She later admitted that this was because she thought of herself as a serious actress whose talents were being underused. This led to frequent clashes between her and Andy Griffith. But the pair were able to overcome their differences in the end — Bavier phoned Griffith months before she died to apologize for being difficult.
Opie never threw the rock
Besides the infectious theme song, Opie throwing a rock into the lake might be the most memorable part of the show’s opening credits. Surprisingly, this didn’t actually happen — at least, not in the way it was made to appear.
“Ronny” Howard was only 6 years old when he starred on The Andy Griffith Show. Howard wasn’t able to muster the strength to throw the rock far enough for the cameramen to get a good shot. The real rock thrower hid behind some bushes and threw the stone while Opie merely mimicked the throw. Were you fooled?
Don Knotts got some creepy fan mail
Receiving a single bullet in the mail seems like an ominous gift but, in this context, it makes perfect sense. A joke that was often repeated on the show was that Deputy Barney Fife couldn’t be trusted with a loaded gun.
Because of this, he was only allowed to carry one bullet. Often times, Andy would have to take it away as punishment.
As a joke, fans would often send Don Knotts single bullets in the mail. At least he could depend on his fans! Although, it’s admittedly a bit creepy.
Andy Griffith loved to play practical jokes
Behind the scenes on The Andy Griffith Show, actors and crew members had to learn to keep their heads on a swivel. Griffith’s pal, Don Knotts, reportedly got the worst of it. For one, Griffith constantly called Don “Jess” (his real name is Jesse), because he knew it irked him.
God forbid Knotts try and get some shut-eye, as he’d wake to the sound of a metal can clanging on the floor by his head. The cast paid Andy back, though, once stealing one of his shoes and painting it bronze before returning it at the end of a season. But one person was notably absent from all the hijinks…
Andy and Ellie’s stale romance
Diehard fans will remember Elinor Donahue, who played Miss Ellie in the first season of The Andy Griffith Show. Equally memorable was how she mysteriously disappeared before the second season, with no explanation as to where she went. What happened?
A lack of onscreen chemistry led to Ellie’s departure — not that they didn’t get along, just that the cast didn’t think their romance seemed believable. Andy Griffith later accepted fault for this, saying that he wasn’t used to playing the romantic lead at that point in his career. Even TV stars can be bashful on camera!
Andy Griffith’s favorite snack sounds disgusting
It’s hard to imagine anything less appetizing than peanut butter and mayonnaise on a cracker, but Andy Griffith apparently loved the strange pairing. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but we’ll just take his word for it.
The town of Mount Airy, North Carolina, which is rumored to have been the inspiration for Mayberry, has its own Andy Griffith museum. Close by is The Snappy Lunch, which is the only surviving restaurant mentioned on the show. Andy Griffith frequented the establishment and — truth be told — their sandwiches sound much better than his homemade snack.
There are words to the theme song
Few theme songs are as easily recognizable as the whistled tune of “The Fishin’ Hole” during the opening credits of The Andy Griffith Show. Much less recognizable are the lyrics that were written to the tune — that’s because the vocal version was never played on the show.
“Well, now, take down your fishin’ pole and meet me at The Fishin’ Hole / We may not get a bite all day, but don’t you rush away,” Griffith croons in a familiar tune in the vocal version. You can listen to this version on YouTube.
Ask and you shall receive
Andy Griffith would frequently tap his friends to play parts on the show. One such relationship was probably responsible for the show’s success. In 1960, Don Knotts was wrapping up filming on The Steve Allen Show when he called up his good friend and asked if Sheriff Andy Taylor needed a deputy.
Griffith loved the idea — he’d quickly realized his character didn’t work as the foolish, bumbling police officer, and bringing on Knotts gave him the opportunity to play “straight.” Needless to say, Knotts’ portrayal of the goodhearted, yet inept deputy became a staple of the show.
Andy had a temper
By almost all accounts, Andy Griffith was a joy to work with (though maybe not according to Aunt Bee), but one incident proved that he had a bit of a temper, too. Fans of the show will recall several episodes where Andy wore a cast over his right hand.
The show explained the cast by saying Griffith had gotten into a scuffle off camera but, in reality, Griffith had become enraged and punched a hole in a wall, breaking his hand. There’s no word on what had made the star so mad that he’d put a fist through a wall.
Both Andy Griffith and Ron Howard drew inspiration from a likely, but touching place. Andy styled his performance after that of his own father. Even the approving way he shakes his head at Opie during the opening credits is based on a movement his father used to do at him.
Opie’s mother had died when the boy was still “the least little speck of a baby.” It can be inferred from this quote from the show that she had passed away when he was still a young baby. Young “Ronny” Howard also looked to his father for inspiration. He based the reverence and love his character had for Andy Taylor on the relationship he had with his father in real life. It’s impressive that a 6-year-old was talented enough to draw upon real experiences to inform his performances. Speaking of fathers…
Ron Howard’s real dad made a few appearances
Andy Griffith may have played Opie’s dad on television, but he also made room for Ron Howard’s real dad on several occasions. Though perhaps not as well known as Ron, Rance Howard is a fairly accomplished actor in his own right, appearing in multiple critically acclaimed and popular films like Chinatown, A Beautiful Mind, and Independence Day.
He also appeared in bit parts multiple times on The Andy Griffith Show. Most notably, he appeared as the bus driver on “Cousin Virgil,” and as the mayor’s personal driver on “Barney and the Governor.” Ron’s younger brother, Clint, was also cast in a few parts as well.
Why’d Barney leave the force?
Technically, Barney Fife never left the force — he just got a new job as a detective in the nearby city of Raleigh, North Carolina. Nevertheless, Don Knotts left the show after five seasons (when his contract ended). Apparently, Don thought the show was ending since the original plan was to go for five years. Around that time, he started to land more roles in feature films, which conflicted with the show’s schedule.
Even after he stopped being a regular on the show, Knotts was still made occasional appearances. He even appeared on the first episode of Mayberry R.F.D. Warren Ferguson (Jack Burns) had the difficult job of replacing Barney as Deputy Sheriff. Predictably, he wasn’t too well-liked. Ferguson only lasted 11 episodes before leaving Mayberry for unexplained reasons.
Opie’s attitude changed
On the first season of The Andy Griffith Show, you’ll notice that there’s something a little off in the way Andy and Opie interact. At the beginning, Opie’s constantly wisecracking and back-talking, more like a stereotypical TV son. Of course, that’s not the way we tend to think of Opie now. According to Ron Howard, we have his dad, Rance, to thank for Opie’s change in behavior.
Rance would often suggest subtle alterations in the dialogue between Andy and Opie, which gradually led to a character change, fostering the idyllic father-son relationship portrayed onscreen. Ron thinks his dad may have had ulterior motives for the change in character. Namely, that he didn’t want Ron behaving badly at home. In any case, the reverence between father and son is one of the many reasons the show maintains such lasting power.
Andy and Barney were first written as cousins
You may have wondered how Barney Fife got his job as a police officer, being as inept as he was. According to early iterations of the character, he may have owed his job to nepotism. The first few episodes feature Andy referring to him as “cousin Barney.”
For whatever reason, this idea was scrapped after only a few episodes. We can’t say it had much effect on the show in the grand scheme of things, but it goes to show how during the first season of The Andy Griffith Show.
One of Andy Griffith’s first TV appearances did not go as planned
A few years before The Andy Griffith Show first aired, Andy was invited onto Sullivan to perform a stand-up routine following the release of his comedy album, What It Was, Was Football. Despite the popularity of his recorded comedy, Griffith’s performance was not well received.
Andy bombed in front of the studio audience and millions of viewers at home. It may have had to do with the audience — Griffith’s small-town country humor must have been too foreign to the New York City crowd. In any case, he didn’t let it get to him — about four years later he’d have one of the most popular shows in television history.
A nice ride
You may have noticed the Mayberry squad car looks brand new every time you see it. That’s because it was! Every time a new model of the Ford Galaxie 500 came out, the local dealership sent one off to Mayberry. The Andy Griffith Show was sponsored by Ford Motors, so they needed to keep that car looking pristine. As for Andy…
The comedian didn’t live far from set (only a 5-minute drive), but he always got there in style. Ford may have sponsored the show, but Andy Griffith preferred British construction. The star’s personal vehicle of choice was a 1969 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.
Watch your mouth around Aunt Bee
This seems pretty consistent with the show’s wholesome moral themes, but apparently Frances Bavier took it especially seriously. While the show clearly played to the moral nostalgia of the 1950s, behind the scenes, many crew members swore like sailors (they were comedians, after all).
George Lindsey (Goober Pyle) was one of the worst offenders. In his memoir, Goober in a Nutshell, he recounts a time when his foul mouth offended Bavier so badly that she knocked him over the head with an umbrella. We didn’t think Aunt Bee had it in her!
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ was a spin-off
Andy Griffith’s character was first introduced on The Danny Thomas Show, on an episode called “Danny Meets Andy Griffith.” In the episode, Sheriff Andy Taylor arrests Danny Williams for refusing to pay a fine after running a stop sign while passing through Mayberry.
The episode featured many of the defining characteristics of The Andy Griffith Show — the small town of Mayberry, Ron Howard as Opie, and a local drunk who’d been made a deputy to arrest and jail himself (though the drunk was Will Hoople and not Otis Campbell). “Danny Meets Andy Griffith” was well received and, within a year, Griffith had his own show on CBS. The rest is history.
A winning outfit
Whenever he wasn’t in his police uniform, Barney Fife was wearing his signature grey suit and white hat. Don Knotts must have liked that outfit quite a bit — he wore it in most of his hit films. It’s not like he’d be hard to recognize without it…
If you watch The Reluctant Astronaut, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, and How to Frame a Figg you’ll notice they all feature the actor dressed up in the familiar garb. When you’ve got a winning formula, why mess with it?
Andy Griffith made a lot of money on the side
Between seasons of The Andy Griffith Show, Andy Griffith made a pretty good chunk of change doing stand-up comedy shows. Reportedly, Griffith performed in Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas for quite a bit of money on the side…
The rate to hire Andy Griffith to perform was around $25,000 per show. Not too bad for a guy from a small town in North Carolina! It just goes to show you how popular Andy and the show was in its prime.
Not much diversity in Mayberry
Sadly, this was all too common in TV shows at the time. While The Andy Griffith Show strove to have a moral message, it certainly lacked in one glaring aspect — Mayberry hardly had any people of color. There were several black extras but, as far as speaking parts, there were shockingly few.
Reportedly, this was because the show wanted to avoid controversial issues altogether — a concept that’s a bit cringeworthy in retrospect. In fact, throughout The Andy Griffith Show’s 8-year run, only one black person had a speaking role. The sole part went to Rockne Tarkington, who plays Flip Conroy, a retired NFL player turned new football coach at Opie’s school.
A man of many talents
Andy Griffith is often shown on the program playing guitar. But in addition to being a talented comedian, actor and guitarist, Griffith also played brass instruments. In one episode, Griffith joins the Mayberry band as a tuba player.
However, Griffith’s first instrument was the trombone. Griffith also had a successful career as a singer, recording and releasing several music albums. Several of these were Southern Gospel albums, he released the last one, “I Love To Tell The Story – 25 Favorite Hymns” when he was 69 years old.
Mayberry isn’t a real town
The town of Mayberry, North Carolina may be fictional, but — if you believe the rumors — it was inspired by the small town where Andy Griffith grew up. Of course, Andy himself has always denied that Mayberry is based on Mount Airy, North Carolina.
When you take a look at the town, it’s hard to take his denial seriously. For one, the residents of the sleepy North Carolina town seem willing to accept the comparison. The town is full of Andy Griffith-related memorabilia and tourist attractions, including an Andy Griffith museum.
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ marked the start of a long career for Opie
So many child actors can’t escape being typecast as their breakout role — their careers flounder when they try to step outside what people knew them for — but not Ron Howard. Howard went on to star in the wildly popular television series, Happy Days.
Nowadays, he might even be better known for his work behind the camera than in front of it. Ron Howard has directed many movies in many different genres, including Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Da Vinci Code, and A Beautiful Mind, which earned him an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director.
Don Knotts was no dummy
Most know Don Knotts from his role as Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, others may know him from his movies, and others still from his role as Ralph Furley on Three’s Company. TV Guide ranked Don Knotts #27 on its list of the 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.
But early in his career, Knotts’ comedy act involved a very different angle. When Don served in the army, he would mostly entertain troops as a ventriloquist. Knotts quickly tired of playing straight man to a dummy and — when he’d finally had enough — tossed the hunk of wood in the ocean somewhere in the South Pacific. Good riddance!
What’s Barney’s middle name?
You’d have to be paying really close attention to catch this one. Only a fan with a sharp memory would notice Barney Fife had an ever-changing middle name. Some episodes he’d say it was Milton, other times he’d say it was Oliver, and once he gives the initial “P.”
It’s unclear whether this was an intentional gag, that the writers couldn’t agree, or that they simply didn’t remember! In case you were curious, Andy Taylor’s middle name never changes — it remains as “Jackson” throughout the entire series.
If you’ve ever wondered where the creators of the show came up with Opie’s unconventional name, you’re not alone. Apparently, it has to do with Andy Griffith and producer Sheldon Leonard’s love of music. Opie Taylor was named after Opie Cates, a famous swing-era bandleader and clarinet player.
Opie Cates was also the musical director of a popular radio show called the Judy Canova Show in the 1940s. Cates even had his own radio sitcom for a short period of time, called — you guessed it — The Opie Cates Show.
Griffith and Knotts were as close in real life as on the show
It’s always disappointing when you hear about actors who play close friends being mortal enemies off screen. Fortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth for Andy and Don. They’d formed a friendship years prior to appearing on the The Andy Griffith Show.
Their friendship also extended long beyond the show, staying close friends until Knotts’ death in 2006. The pair worked together several times after Knotts left The Andy Griffith Show. Knotts even had a recurring role on Matlock as Les Calhoun, Matlock’s neighbor.
Quit while you’re ahead
Many shows limp to the finish line. By the time the series finale arrives, the show is a shell of its former self and even the most diehard fans are relieved to see it go. That wasn’t the case with The Andy Griffith Show.
In fact, The Andy Griffith Show is one of the few shows to end when it was on top — literally. The show ended while it was No. 1 on the Nielsen Ratings chart in 1968, a decision Andy Griffith would later say he regretted.
The spin-off was short lived
The end of The Andy Griffith Show wasn’t the last America would see of Mayberry. In fact, the ground was laid for a spin-off in the last season. The final season introduced Sam Jones and his son, Mike, who took the place of Andy and Opie as the widower and son at the heart of the show.
Mayberry R.F.D (the acronym stands for Rural Free Delivery) brought back many of the beloved classic characters like Aunt Bee and Goober Pyle. Though it was immensely popular during its mere three-season run, it was canceled as part of the “rural purge” of the early ‘70s, where many rural-themed shows got the axe.