Even the most popular television shows that people watch again and again have bits of behind-the-scenes secrets and details about the cast members that hide in the darkness. Here, we dig into the lesser known aspects of The Andy Griffith Show. What strange things did fans mail to Don Knotts? Which episode was Andy Griffith’s favorite? And who was that mysterious actor who played Mr. Schwamp? Keep reading through to find out.
Many viewers didn’t know that the loving relationship exhibited by Don and Andy on The Andy Griffith Show came from their real-life friendship. Both of them grew up in the South during the Great Depression, living in poverty.
Their friendship began when they met as co-stars in the 1958 film adaptation of the Broadway play No Time for Sergeants—and it lasted for the rest of their lives. Andy was with Don at his bedside when Don passed away in 2006. Andy died six years later, at the age of 86.
Andy was really into playing pranks on his co-stars of The Andy Griffith Show. He targeted Don Knotts most of all. Don’s real first name was actually Jesse (which he hated) and Andy loved to tease him about it by calling him “Jess.” This was opposite to the dynamic of the show, however, of which Griffith has said, “By the second episode, I knew that Don should be funny and I should play straight.”
The cast pranked Andy right back, once stealing his shoes. He had to wear his big Sheriff boots home from the studio that day. The good-natured humor from the cast carried over into the tv episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, like in the “Runaway Kid” episode where Opie and his friends pranked Sheriff Taylor by moving his car in front of a fire hydrant, so he would get a ticket.
One of the most memorable aspects of The Andy Griffith Show is its opening credits, with the whistled tune and image of Andy and little Opie on their way to fish. The famous scene was filmed at Franklin Canyon Park, which is located at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Actor Ronny Howard was only six years old at the time, and was simply not strong enough to throw the stone far enough to land in the lake. After several failed attempts, the assistant director decided to hide a prop man behind a bush. When Opie pretended to toss a rock, the prop man threw it instead. Watch the scene again — you might notice a very subtle lag between Opie’s throw and the resulting splash.
They played a couple on the show. But off set, Andy Griffith and actress Aneta Corsaut are rumored to have been real-life lovers—even though he was married at the time! Yikes! Griffith ended up getting a divorce later and went on to have three marriages total before he passed away.
During one of the cast’s many pranks, a crew member dressed as a waiter and delivered a dinner to Andy’s hotel room, but he caught Andy and Aneta in a compromising position. Ooops! I’d say that prank went over like a lead balloon. Looks like The Andy Griffith Show started yet another notable secret relationship in Hollywood.
Frances Bavier, the actress who portrayed Aunt Bee on the show, supposedly did not have much of a sense of humor. Born into a well-to-do family in New York City, Bavier led a sophisticated life and attended Columbia University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts before eventually ending up on The Andy Griffith Show.
Jim Nabors, who played the beloved Gomer Pyle, passed away on November 30, 2017. He was 87 years old. His husband Stan Cadwallader was with him at the time. A family friend released the sad news, saying that Nabors died “after battling health issues for some time.” Nabors had received a liver transplant 20 years before his passing and his health had declined after that. “Everybody knows he was a wonderful man. And that’s all we can say about him. He’s going to be dearly missed,” Cadwallader said in his statement.
Andy and Frances had a rather tense relationship for much of the show, as he was a real jokester and she didn’t care for his antics. Fortunately, the two made amends before her 1989 death. In fact, Frances Bavier phoned Griffith soon before her death and apologized for being “difficult” during filming.
Andy Griffith’s favorite episode was season 3’s “Barney’s First Car,” in which Barney spends his life savings on an old car that doesn’t end up working. Ronny Howard’s favorite episode was “The Ball Game,” which was penned by his father, Rance Howard, who had his hand in writing and acting in five of the episodes.
Don Knotts particularly loved “The Pickle Story,” which is one episode that many fans cite as their favorite. In it, Aunt Bee makes a huge batch of pickles so disgusting that Barney refers to them as “kerosene cucumbers.” Due to a hilarious turn of events, Andy and Barney must consume eight quarts of the nasty pickles. The episode is chock full of laugh-out-loud moments, and it’s quite clear that the men are honestly amused as they’re filming it.
The Andy Griffith Show ended while it was at the top of the Nielsen’s Ratings. There have only been three television shows in history to do this: The Andy Griffith Show, I Love Lucy, and Seinfeld. The show’s reruns played for 51 years!
Barney Fife’s character could have lasted just one episode, as Don Knotts was one of many actors who showed up on the first day of filming without a firm offer of employment. The character of Barney Fife was adored by fans and was ranked Ninth on TV Guide’s “50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time” list in 1999.
Opie’s mom is mentioned only one time during the series. In an episode titled “Wedding Bells for Aunt Bee,” Andy becomes nostalgic and tells Opie how much he had loved the boy’s mother. Viewers never hear any more about her or even see a photograph. However, in an episode of The Danny Thomas Show (which spawned The Andy Griffith Show), Andy relates that she died when Opie was just “the least little speck of a baby.”
Producers were so impressed by the chemistry between Andy and Don that they wrote up an employment contract on the spot: first for one year, then later for an additional five years. Griffith was quoted saying, “The second episode was called ‘Manhunt’ and I knew by that episode that Don should be the comic and I should play straight for him. That made all the difference.”
The iconic squad car used by Andy and Barney on the show was a Ford Galaxie. A local Ford dealership provided the show with a free replacement Galaxie each time a new model came out. The dealer then took the old car back, repainted and sold it. He could have made a lot more money selling the cars as is!
Overall, there were ten different Galaxies that were used throughout the series’ eight seasons. There are plenty of replicas out there today. The show was most likely sponsored by For Motor Company at the time, which is why the squad cars were always Ford Galazie 500 sedans.
While many of the show’s cast are no longer with us, let’s take a look at what the main actors did once The Andy Griffith Show ended its legendary run. Perhaps no other cast members post-series life will impress you as much as this next person…
Ron has received a slew of awards for his works, including the National Medal of Arts. He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 2013 and has not one, but two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I’d say Opie has done pretty well for himself!
After The Andy Griffith Show, Frances Bavier opted to stay in North Carolina, versus returning to her native New York City. Moving to Siler City, North Carolina in 1972, she explained, “I fell in love with North Carolina, all the pretty roads and the trees.”
In 1998, Andy Griffith said that Frances had called him shortly before her death and that she’d apologized for “being ‘difficult’ during the series’ run.” She died at age 86, just eight days shy of her 87th birthday due to congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, and other ailments.
Frances Bavier retired in 1972 and lived a reclusive life until her death in 1989. She lived alone in a spacious two-story home in Siler City, which she barely left. The private actress spent the majority of her time in a large back room that was barely furnished, containing only a bed, desk television, and end table stocked with black licorice and her glasses.
Mayberry’s lovable buffoon Gomer Pyle was played by actor Jim Nabors. After The Andy Griffith Show ended, Jim was given a spin-off show featuring the character. Nabors’s spin-off show was called Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., in which Gomer joins the Marines. Jim has a great singing voice and has recorded 28 albums.
In 2013, Jim publicly came out as gay and married his long-time partner of 38 years. He said, “I’m 82 and he’s in his 60s and so we’ve been together for 38 years and I’m not ashamed of people knowing, it’s just that it was such a personal thing, I didn’t tell anybody.”
Helen Crump, portrayed by actress Aneta Corsaut, was Sheriff Andy Taylor’s girlfriend on the show (and was also rumored to date Andy Griffith in real life). Corsaut was a student at Northwestern University, majoring in drama before she dropped out to pursue her acting career. While The Andy Griffith Show was filming, Corsaut continued her education at UCLA.
Aneta returned for two reunion shows, 1986’s Return to Mayberry and 1993’s The Andy Griffith Show Reunion. Aneta also made appearances on dozens of TV shows, such as Gunsmoke; Rich Man, Poor Man; and The Runaways. She died of cancer in 1995 and is buried in Hollywood.
Otis, played by Hal Smith, was Mayberry’s resident drunk. When Otis got intoxicated, he would meander into the jail and let himself into a cell. He’d then sleep off his drunkenness in the jail’s comfy bed and let himself out in the morning.
After The Andy Griffith Show, Hal Smith had many voice-over roles for animated films and television shows, including playing the Owl in Winnie the Pooh, Uncle Tex in The Flintstones, and John Avery Whittaker in Adventures in Odyssey. After his wife Louise passed away in 1992, Smith’s health quickly deteriorated. He died of a heart attack in 1994.
Floyd the Barber was a slow thinking, absent-minded character on The Andy Griffith Show. He was played by actor Howard McNear. Sadly, McNear died of a stroke in 1969, two years after leaving the show due to health problems.
Did you know? Iconic grunge musician Kurt Cobain wrote a song called “Floyd the Barber” for the band Nirvana’s album Bleach. The song has a gruesome plot line; many of the residents of Mayberry (including Floyd) murder Cobain in it.
George Lindsey played this bumbling cousin of Gomer Pyle, although he initially tried out for Gomer’s part. Goober was known on the show for the “Goober Dance” and his impressions of Cary Grant. He later acted in Gunsmoke, The Twilight Zone, and Hee Haw, among other shows.
George was a very generous man. Through the George Lindsey Celebrity Weekend and Golf Tournament, he raised over $1,000,000 over the span of 17 years for the Alabama Special Olympics. Sadly, he passed away in 2012, at the age of 83.
Although Don Knotts was best known as Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, he later landed another wildly popular role as the hapless (but totally lovable) landlord Ralph Furley on Three’s Company, alongside John Ritter. Don also appeared in many, many television and film cameos.
Andy Griffith visited Don in the hospital right before his death. Andy later recalled his final words to his dear friend: “I know that he could hear me, and we all believe that he could hear my voice,” said Andy. “I told him that I loved him, and I told him…I said ‘Jess [Don’s real first name], breathe. You’ve gotta make this, you’ve gotta pull through. Breathe.’ And you know, I saw his chest heave, and I said ‘That’s a boy. Keep breathing. Just keep breathing.’ And his shoulder moved, so I believe he heard my voice.”
After The Andy Griffith Show, Andy starred in several TV shows, but none of them took off. Then, in 1986, he took the role of lawyer Ben Matlock in a series, aptly titled Matlock, that ended up being a huge hit, especially among senior citizens.
Aneta Corsaut was best known for her role as Helen Crump on The Andy Griffith Show. But beyond her years spent on the show, Aneta had a prolific acting career. She appeared in seven episodes of Matlock as Judge Cynthia Justin, alongside her former co-star Andy Griffith
In his later years, Andy starred in a series of public service announcements promoting the benefits of the new health care reforms to seniors, his prime Matlock audience. Throughout his career, Griffith supported Democratic causes and candidates.
In 1983, Andy became ill with Guillain-Barre Syndrome but made a full recovery. Later in 2000, he underwent quadruple heart-bypass surgery. In 2012, he died after a heart attack and was buried on his beloved Roanoke Island, in North Carolina.
Andy Griffith received multiple awards over his lifetime, including an induction into the Television Hall of Fame in 1991 and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He remains one of the most beloved stars of his generation. There is even an Andy Griffith Museum in North Carolina that houses the world’s largest collection of Andy Griffith memorabilia.
When Andy Griffith originally agreed to the show, he told Don Knotts that he only wanted to keep the show on the air for five years. Both men signed five-year contracts and the show got underway. Knotts eventually signed a three-year deal with Universal Pictures. When Griffith decided to stay, Knotts wasn’t able to remain on the show.
Pay attention in the first few episodes of the show, and you will learn about Andy and Barney being cousins. The idea was to joke about the stereotypical southern relationships that helped people land small town jobs in local government. After a few references to that relationship in the first season, that backstory was dropped and they became “friends” since childhood.
You may have noticed a man named “Mister Schwamp” who would occasionally appear in random episodes. He was a middle-aged man with dark hair that appeared to be a toupee. He was usually found sitting on a park bench or in crowd scenes. Andy or Barney would acknowledge him with “Hello, Mister Schwamp” at which point he nodded and smiled. He also appeared in two episodes of the spin-off Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. To This very day, nobody knows who played Mr. Schwamp.
During production on the second season of the show, Andy Griffith punched a wall out of anger and broke his hand. His hand had to be heavily bandaged during filming. To explain the injury, the show’s producers said that Sheriff Taylor had been hurt while apprehending some criminals. That definitely sounds better than hearing that he punched a wall out of anger or frustration.
When Helen Crump appeared on the show she was given a horrible name because it was supposed to be a one-off appearance. Actress Aneta Corsaut ended up giving a great performance and developed a rapport with Andy Griffith. That was good enough to turn her into a regular character on the hit TV series. If they would have known she would become a regular, her name would have likely been more carefully selected.
Did you ever notice that Barney Fife regularly appeared in a white straw fedora with a salt-n-pepper pattern coat and a red bow tie? A little-known fact is that Don Knotts loved that suit so much that he wore it in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Reluctant Astronaut, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, and How to Frame a Figg. It’s nice to have a trademark and now we know what Knotts found fashionable for quite a long period of time.
Elinor Donahue decided to call it quits after a single season on the show because she didn’t feel any on-screen chemistry with Andy Griffith. The actor would later admit that he always had a hard time showing affection during filming. Their relationship, for that reason, didn’t feel real so they called it quits after a single season to avoid an unbelievable relationship that was not working for the show.
Ron Howard followed in his dad’s footsteps to become an actor and he apparently had a great relationship with his dad. Howard revealed that Andy and Opie’s relationship was built from the influence that his dad had on his real life. We know that Howard was a fan of bringing his family together and he would work with his father whenever given the chance. Based on what we saw on the show, he really had a strong relationship with his dad.
There were many African-Americans who appeared in the background scenes of The Andy Griffith Show but they were there as extras with non-speaking roles. However, Rockne Tarkington broke that streak when he appeared on the episode titled “Opie’s Piano Lesson.” He actually spoke lines on the show, becoming the only black actor to do so during its entire series run on TV. The Oscars committee would be proud.
Floyd the Barber was played by actor Howard McNear, who suffered a stroke. He was having trouble standing after his medical emergency and the show’s creators came up with a solution. When he wasn’t seen sitting in a barber chair, they used props to make it look like he was standing. In other scenes, he was leaning against something to keep his strength.
The Andy Griffith Show theme song is titled “The Fishin’ Hole.” The lyric version of the song was written by Everett Sloane. However, the show’s producers decided that whistling the tune was a better idea, so the theme song was performed by Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer. You can still find a version of Andy Griffith singing the lyrics on YouTube and you can even purchase the song with lyrics on iTunes. It’s hard to imagine the song with lyrics after all of these years. Who doesn’t still get the whistle stuck in their heads?
Have you ever noticed that Barney regularly uses the name “Ange” when talking to Andy on the show? That was actually the real life name that he gave to Andy Griffith. He created the nickname by shortening “Andy” and “Griffith” to “Ange.” The nickname stuck and he decided to use it regularly during filming. There’s no way actors would get away with that type of real-life crossover on TV shows these days.
Andy Griffith long denied that the fictional town of Mayberry was based on his hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina. In the episode titled “A Black Day for Mayberry,” Barney picks up a phone book from the Sheriff’s desk and starts flipping through its pages. You can plainly see that the words “Mount Airy” appear on the phone book’s front cover. It appears to be the real book for Mount Airy, North Carolina.
The Andy Griffith Show didn’t debut until October 1960, however, the characters of Andy and Opie first showed up on Make Room For Daddy in February 1960. Both shows were produced by Danny Thomas. The show was a spin-off that was quickly thrown together and turned into a full-blown iconic TV series loved by millions of fans. In the end, it was perfect timing for the show.
There’s a character on the show who didn’t have a last name and we have to assume she was a robot because she worked 24 hours a day. Her name was Sarah and she was the telephone operator on the show. Her last name was never revealed and she appeared to always be on duty. She was also never seen on camera, but her voice was distinctive enough to know it was her at all times.
We’re not sure if the show’s writers were messing with us or if this was a continuity error, but several addresses were given for the location of his home. While the Taylors never moved, in one episode, Aunt Bee tells someone that their address is 332 Maple Road while in a different episode Barney tells an investigator that Andy’s address is 24 Elm Street. Maybe Aunt Bee was just losing or her mind or perhaps Barney was just being a bumbling idiot once again. Either way, Andy’s address is still a mystery.
Here’s a fun history lesson: There’s an old southern phrase, “that’s the time,” which is used on various occasions by Andy on the show. It is an old phrase that has some general meanings, including “good!” and “okay” and “that’s the right thing to do.” If you watch the show now you will likely derive which of those meanings he was aiming for with the term. It was a subtle way for Griffith to interject his southern upbringing into the show.
Andy was focusing on film and not TV when the concept for his show was created by Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas. He had just finished A Face in the Crowd and No Time for Sergeants and decided he would give it a shot — but only if he was given rights to 50% of the show that would carry his name and reputation. They agreed, and he ended up owning half of the show’s rights. At the time of his death, Andy Griffith was estimated to have a personal fortune of $35 million.
In the 1950s, Coby Ruskin was charged with being a Communist sympathizer and he was banned from Hollywood. That accusation was made by the later-discredited “Red Channels” publication which fed on American fears caused by the Cold War. For a short time, Ruskin had to work in England to make a living. He soon returned to the US and restarted his once thriving career as a principal producer on the show. He also worked for the Dick Van Dyke Show and Gomer Pyle.
It was a sad day for fans in 2012 when the 86-year-old Andy Griffith passed away, but they didn’t have much time to grieve. His family made a request that his body be immediately buried on Roanoke Island, just off the coast of North Carolina. Within hours of his death, the famed TV and movie star was interred. Memorials were given but only after he had already been laid to rest very quickly.
Andy Griffith studied music, so it might not surprise many of his fans to learn that he was a southern gospel singer. He realized that he had a knack for gospel singing while testing his tonal abilities in several acting roles, most notably while starring in A Face in the Crowd. He continued with his love of southern gospel singing for many years. It’s really hard for us to picture him in long and flowing gospel robes.
The actor Andy Griffith sued another man named Andy Griffith in 2006. The man, originally named William Harold Fenrick, changed his name in an effort to win an election to become the sheriff of Grant County, Wisconsin. He was sued for using the name in what appeared to be a clear violation of the Andy Griffith trademark. Talk about a sad way to attempt political and economic gain. But we would totally vote for the real Andy Taylor — maybe even in death.
Re-filming is expensive and many TV shows at the time didn’t employ full-time continuity directors. Here’s a perfect example from Season 3, Episode 3: While Jess is up in a tree the new mayor is nearly attacked by a bear, so he starts climbing up the same tree. In the shot of the bear rushing toward the camera, its animal trainer can clearly be seen releasing the animal. The show must go on, as they say, and the scene was never re-filmed.
At the beginning of the show, as we watch Andy and Opie walking down the road together, we first see Opie throwing a rock and then Andy gives him a nod or shake of his head in acknowledgment. Andy’s own father was known to shake his head in the same manner. He used that gesture to tell his son,”nice work” or “good job.” He thought it was the perfect subtle tribute to his dad and it made for a touching moment with his fictional son.
The original concept for the show was for Andy to be the resident comic. He was going to be the Will Rogers-type and comment and make jokes at the expense of the show’s other characters. One episode into filming, Andy watched Don Knotts perform and he immediately knew Barney would be the show’s resident “funny man” to his straight man. It worked out perfectly.
If you pay close attention inside Floyd’s barber shop you’ll notice that the scene is stuck in time. The calendar on Floyd’s wall is stuck on February for the entire run of the show. We don’t know if this was an oversight by the show’s directors and producers, or if they chose that small detail for some reason. In any case, it’s always February in Floyd’s barber shop. It’s almost like they knew the show would become a timeless classic.
Barney was only allowed to carry a single bullet in his gun because Andy didn’t trust him with a full barrel. Fans of the show apparently felt bad for his character because they sent Don Knotts bullets from all over the country. On a positive note, if he wanted to hit the shooting range he never had to pay for his ammunition. On a less than positive note — Barney had a ton of bullets at his disposal.
The final episode was called “Mayberry R.F.D.” and it aired on September 23, 1968. The episode set up the premise for a spin-off show called Mayberry R.F.D. (R.F.D. stands for Rural Free Delivery) that aired from 1968-1971.
The name “Opie” has a historical reference rooted in music. Opie Cates was a prominent band leader in the 1930s and 1940s. Andy Griffith and the show’s producer, Sheldon Leonard, were big fans of Cates’ music so they decided to honor him. Ron Howard is now forever known as both Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham, which is from his Happy Days run.
Actor Howard McNear’s health was worsening as the show continued to march on. In the final episode of the seventh season, Floyd retired after earning enough money from his barber business. He was replaced by fix-it-man Emmett Clark, played by actor Paul Hartman, who turned the barber shop into his fix-it shop. Shortly after he exited the show, Howard McNear passed away.
When Star Trek first debuted, the show was so underfunded that the set of Mayberry was used to film several different scenes. You can see Mayberry in the episodes “Miri” and “City on the Edge of Forever.” You can actually see Floyd’s Barber Shop in the background of scenes where Captain Kirk is walking with Edith Keeler. Also visible are the Mayberry Courthouse, Walkers Drugstore, and several other major landmarks.
In one of the most memorable episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, Barney decides to buy his first car. He finds what he think he’s looking for in an ad in the paper and meets the little old lady who is selling it. He soon finds himself wrapped around her finger and even overpays for it, only to find out it really is a lemon.
Aunt Bee was a somewhat mysterious individual off screen. When she passed away, she had been living a very reclusive life alone with 14 cats. Although alone, Frances Bavier was married in her earlier life. She was married in 1928 to Russell Carpenter, a military man, but the two split was five years later because of conflicting career ambitions.
If there is one thing everyone can recall about The Andy Griffith Show it is the infectious theme song. The tune in the opening credits has been called the show’s most notable legacy. Although many thought Andy Griffith whistled the iconic song, it was actually Earle Hagen.