What I learned from Andy and Bar­ney

The Catoosa County News - - COMMENTARY - David Car­roll

Ever since I was a child, “The Andy Grif­fith Show” has been on TV some­where ev­ery day of my life. Nowa­days I can usu­ally find en­tire episodes on YouTube. If I want to find the one with Opie and the birds, or the one where Bar­ney tries to join the church choir, or the one with Aunt Bee’s aw­ful pick­les, I can do it within a few sec­onds. On top of that, I have a few episodes on DVD around here some­where.

Why are we still watch­ing a show from the 1960s, that many of us know by heart? I mean, how many times can we laugh watch­ing Gomer Pyle make a “cit­i­zen’s ar­ray-est” on Bar­ney Fife? I guess some things never get old.

Maybe that’s why I was so fas­ci­nated by Daniel De Vise’s re­cent book “Andy and Don,” which doc­u­ments the long part­ner­ship, on and off cam­era, of Andy Grif­fith and Don Knotts. I thought I knew a lot about the ac­tors, but I had only scratched the sur­face. Both were born in the 1920s, with Andy grow­ing up in North Carolina, and Don in West Vir­ginia.

I never got to meet Andy, although I in­ter­viewed him via satel­lite dur­ing his “Mat­lock” days in 1990. That show, in which he played a crafty At­lanta-based lawyer, res­cued his ca­reer, which had suf­fered since he stepped down from the May­berry show in 1968. I had heard from a co-worker who had in­ter­viewed him in per­son that the real Andy Grif­fith was not like the kindly Sher­iff Andy Tay­lor. He had warned me that Andy could be sullen and moody.

If that was true, I caught him on a good day. I asked him if it was hard to main­tain the sunny image he had pro­jected on his old sit­com, be­cause every­one ex­pected him to dis­pense wise ad­vice with a toothy grin. He ad­mit­ted it wasn’t al­ways easy, say­ing, “Some­times I just keep my head down.” He ex­pressed re­grets he had never been to Chat­tanooga, re­call­ing vis­its only to Nashville and Mem­phis. “I’ll come down there one of these days,” he said. Un­for­tu­nately, I don’t think he ever did. (You can watch the in­ter­view on my YouTube chan­nel).

I never got to meet Don Knotts ei­ther, although I did see him in a play called “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” in Chat­tanooga in the early 1990s. He ap­peared with an­other of my TV fa­vorites, Bar­bara Eden. Both were a lit­tle old for the parts they played, but no one seemed to mind. It isn’t ev­ery day you can see “Bar­ney” and “Jean­nie” on the same stage, live and in per­son.

Most “Andy Grif­fith Show” fans con­sider the first five years of the show to be clas­sic TV. In 1965, Knotts left the show, black-and-white turned to color, and the shows just weren’t as funny as be­fore. Knotts would re­turn from time to time, but he was busy mak­ing movies. With­out Bar­ney, Sher­iff Andy wasn’t the same, on screen or off, a fact he would ad­mit after the show left the air. He and Don were truly friends, and each knew their part­ner­ship would never be equaled.

Those early Grif­fith shows have been stud­ied in col­lege classes, and have even been the sub­ject of Sun­day School lessons and ser­mons. Ac­cord­ing to au­thor De Vise, the writ­ers who were crank­ing out 39 episodes each year had no way of know­ing the shows would be an­a­lyzed five decades later, with no end in sight. They were just try­ing to project their ver­sion of small­town Amer­ica, make folks laugh, and sprin­kle in a lit­tle kind­ness.

On many oc­ca­sions, when I found it nec­es­sary to dis­ci­pline my sons, I would sit back and ask my­self, “What would Andy do?” He wasn’t per­fect, but it seemed like he usu­ally had just the right mes­sage to share with Opie. Those of us who didn’t have the ben­e­fit of Hollywood writ­ers gladly bor­rowed from the May­berry book of child rear­ing.

With­out giv­ing away too much of the book, which I highly rec­om­mend, let me just say this. I was com­forted by the fact that these two coun­try boys who met early in their ca­reers, stayed close un­til the end. Both lived into their 80s, and both were in ill health in their later years.

Don Knotts passed away in 2006, and his friend Andy was both a eu­lo­gist and a pall­bearer at his fu­neral. Six years later, Andy Grif­fith passed away, shortly after mak­ing a farewell phone call to Jim Nabors, who he had dis­cov­ered at a night club a half-cen­tury ear­lier.

I’d like to think that some­where up in Heaven, ol’ Barn has got­ten him­self in a jam, and Andy is get­ting him out of it. Be­cause that’s what friends do.

David Car­roll, a Chat­tanooga news an­chor, is the au­thor of the new book “Vol­un­teer Bama Dawg,” a col­lec­tion of his best sto­ries, avail­able at Chat­tanoogaRa­dioTV.com, or by send­ing $23 to David Car­roll Book, PO Box 15185, Chat­tanooga, TN 37415. You may con­tact David at 3dc@epbfi.com.

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