The Andy Griffith Show: Facts About The Cast And Their Later Years
Take a trip down memory lane to a simpler time where the streets were safe and life moved at a leisurely pace. That’s the world depicted in The Andy Griffith Show, but as it turns out, things weren’t always as rosy as they appeared on screen. From behind-the-scenes drama to surprising secrets, this classic TV show had a few skeletons in its closet. Get ready to uncover the truth about what went on both on and off set, as we reveal the biggest secrets that producers of “The Andy Griffith Show” didn’t want you to know!
How Opie Got His Name
The name “Opie” has a historical reference rooted in music. Opie Cates was a prominent bandleader and clarinet player in the 1930s and 1940s, during America’s swing era. 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 was his role on the classic show Happy Days.
Andy The Prankster
Andy was really into playing pranks on his co-stars. 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.
They Mystery Of Opie’s Mother
During the entire Andy Griffith series, Opie’s mom is mentioned only one time during the series. Andy grows nostalgic in the episode “Wedding Bells for Aunt Bee” and tells Opie that he had loved the boy’s mother in a similar way that Aunt Bee and her beau loved each other. She’s not spoken of again, and no photos of her appear anywhere in the Taylor home.
When Andy appeared in the backdoor pilot episode from The Danny Thomas Show, viewers learn that Opie’s mother passed away when the child was just “the least little speck of a baby.”
Andy’s Knack For Gospel Music
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 might be kind of difficult for some of his fans to picture Andy Griffith in long and flowing gospel robes.
A Running Joke About Andy And Barney’s Backstory
In the first few episodes of The Andy Griffith Show the characters of Andy and Barney were said to be cousins. This was meant to be a societal joke on how southern families hire family members for jobs in small towns, like in local government.
This “joke” was only referenced a few times before producers and writers decided to drop that backstory and change it to Andy and Barney being childhood friends who stayed friends all through growing up. This would account for their witty banter and playfulness on camera.
The Lovable Gomer Pyle
The town of Mayberry’s lovable goofball character Gomer Pyle was played by actor Jim Nabors. The funny thing is that for all the popularity of this character, Gomer Pyle was only in 23 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show! The character made appearances on the show from 1962 to 1964.
After his character stopped appearing on The Andy Griffith Show ended, Jim Nabors was given a spin-off show by producers and television executives that was all about the character of Gomer Pyle. It was called Gomer Pyle: USMC, it lasted for five seasons, and did well in the ratings!
The Mysterious Frances Bavier
The actress who portrayed Aunt Bee was a somewhat mysterious individual off-screen. 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.
When she passed away, she had been living a very reclusive life alone with 14 cats. Although alone at the time of her passing, 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.
A Life-Long Friendship
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 during the Great Depression and lived in poverty, Griffith in North Carolina and Knotts in West Virginia.
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.
Love Both On-Screen And Off
Andy Griffith and actress Aneta Corsaut played loved interests on The Andy Griffith Show, but not many people knew at the time that the two also played off screen!
Apparently, Andy Griffith was a big ladies man during his day. Although he had multiple marriages, Griffith was always known to be a gentleman and his past lovers usually only said good things about him.
Don Knotts Was Only Supposed To Be In One Episode
The character of Barney Fife, played by the iconic actor Don Knotts, was actually supposed to be in only one episode. That’s what producers and writers had originally thought. This is because on the first day of filming The Andy Griffith Show, Don Knotts showed up on set without having a firm offer of employment from the studio.
The character of Barney Fife quickly became an audience favorite and Don Knotts became a household name. In fact, Knotts’ Barney Fife character is ranked number 9 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time list in 1999! Don Knotts went on to play other iconic characters like Mr. Furley on Three’s Company.
Bavier Did Not Approve Of Andy’s Pranks
Andy Griffith and Frances Bavier, who played Aunt Bee Tayler on The Andy Griffith Show, were not the best of friends in real life and especially while filming the show. Andy Griffith was a big jokester and prankster on the set and Frances Bavier did not approve of it.
In the end, the two actors made peace. This happened right before Frances Bavier’s death in 1989. Knowing the end was near, Bavier called Griffith on the phone and apologized to him for being difficult to work with and also apologizing for not making amends sooner.
Jim Nabors Came Out Years Later
In 2013, Jim Nabors 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.”
This was not too shocking to Hollywood insiders and his close friends and family. However, many people who only knew Jim Nabors from his appearances on television and film were shocked that he was gay and that he had a partner for 38 years and managed to keep it a secret!
Elinor Donahue, who played the character of Ellie Walker on The Andy Griffith Show, decided that she would end her stint as Andy Griffith’s love interest on the show after only one season. Donahue played the role of the lover for 12 episodes from 1960 to 1961.
The reason Elinor Donahue gave for exiting what would be a huge television in the following years was that she did not feel any on screen chemistry with Andy Griffith. Donahue further stated that she even found it difficult and uncomfortable showing any affection while filming scenes.
Actor Ron Howard played the lovable young Opie on the show and there is a secret about Howard in the opening credits that few people knew. At the time of filming the opening credits, Howard was only six years old and was not strong enough to throw the stone far into the lake.
Producers decided to hide a prop man behind a bush and have Howard pretend to throw a rock. The prop man would then throw a rock into the lake, making it look like Howard had done it. If you watch closely, you can notice a lag between Opie’s throw and the splash in the lake.
Dinner For Three?
The cast and crew of The Andy Griffith Show were known to play tricks on each other both on and off screen. One of the little known pranks was when one of the cast had a crew member dress up as a waiter and go to Griffith’s hotel room to deliver the famous star a surprise meal!
The person that was really surprised was the crew member, because when he busted into the room, he found Andy Griffith and Aneta Corsaut doing more than just reading lines! The two actors tried to keep this secret from the rest of the cast and crew, but by then, the cat was out of the bag!
The Andy Griffith Show was one of the most popular television shows during its time period and also of all time! In fact, cast, creators, and producers decided to end television show while it was still at the top of the Nielsen’s Ratings, and not wait until after audience demand and dwindling popularity forced a show end.
There have only been three television shows in the history of American television to exit at the top of their games. The shows are all American favorites and all time classics that have stood the test of time: The Andy Griffith Show, I Love Lucy, and Seinfeld. Also, The Andy Griffith Show’s reruns have played on television now for over 50 years!
More Than Just Opie
Ron Howard, who played the young and adorable son Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, did not fizzle out like many young stars once the show ended. In fact, he went on to starring roles in television shows like Happy Days and movies like American Graffiti.
Ron Howard has also received a plethora of awards for his work in television and film. This includes the National Medal of Arts, an induction into the Television Hall of Fame in 2013, and he also has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Even his daughter Bryce Dallas Howard is a famous actress in her own right.
Floyd Leaves Forever
The Andy Griffith Show brought America a crew of famous characters that people still remember to this day. Floyd the barber was one of these characters and was played by Howard McNear for 80 episodes from 1961 to 1967.
Howard McNear had to eventually leave the show when his health problems began to affect him while filming. Two years later, in 1969, he passed away. The role of Floyd the barber was never recast with another actor filling the role as producers thought no one could fill McNear’s shoes.
Andy Does It Again!
Andy Griffith starred in many television shows and films after the series finale of The Andy Griffith Show in 1968, however, none of them made the huge cultural impact that The Andy Griffith Show did. Then came the television show Matlock! This television series centered around a high price defense lawyer became a hit!
Matlock lasted from 1986 to 1985 and was a top hit among the older generations. The television show was even nominated Emmy Awards and Golden Globe Awards during its run.
When Andy Griffith originally agreed to make and star in The Andy Griffith Show, Griffith told fellow actor Don Knotts that he would only keep the show on the air for five years at the most. Because of this, both the actors decided to sign an original five-year contract.
Don Knotts eventually decided to sign a three-year contract with Universal Pictures after his five-year contract was over. However, Andy Griffith decided to keep The Andy Griffith Show on for a few more years, so Don Knotts was unable to continue his role on the show due to his new contract.
The Mysterious Case Of Mr. Schwamp
The at-home audience and big fans of The Andy Griffith Show are often presented with the character of Mr. Schwamp. This character appears in random episodes throughout the television series. Mr. Schwamp is characterized as a middle-aged man with dark hair that is an obvious toupee.
When Mr. Schwamp appears in an episode, he is usually sitting on a park bench or is a crowd member in bigger scenes that have many extras. The characters of Andy and Barney would spot him and say, “Hello, Mister Schwamp” and he would nod back and smile. The mystery is that nobody knows who actually played the character of Mr. Schwamp, even to this day! The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club even staged an April Fools’ Day prank in 2012 claiming that the actor was a man named Patch S. Wimmers.
Andy Griffith was known to be a prankster and jokester on the set of The Andy Griffith Show. However, what most people don’t know is that Griffith had a fiery temper. During the second season of the series while filming a scene, Andy Griffith got so upset that he punched a wall.
Andy Griffith not only broke the set wall, but also his hand! Griffith’s hand had to be heavily bandaged in order to complete filming. To explain the injury and fit it into the show’s plot, the producers and writers of the show decided to create a small episode back story where Andy injured his hand while capturing a criminal.
Actress Aneta Corsaut, who played Helen Crump on The Andy Griffith Show, was actually only supposed to appear in one episode. Because of this, writers decided to give her a horrible last name for fun. However, little did they know that Aneta Corsaut would give a great performance and a favorite of the producers!
Aneta Corsaut also became a quick favorite of star Andy Griffith, who soon became smitten with the young actress. The married Griffith would soon start an affair with Corsaut and also demanded her character become a series regular for the rest of the series!
The character of Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, played by Don Knotts, regularly appears on the show wearing a white straw fedora with a salt-and-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 other appearances on screen.
Don Knotts wore the outfit in the hit 1966 film The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, the 1967 film The Reluctant Astronaut, the 1964 film The Incredible Mr. Limpet, and the 1971 film How to Frame a Figg. This outfit became Don Knotts’ trademark piece of clothing both on and off screen.
Gomer’s Cousin Goober
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.
Aneta Corsaut In Matlock
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.
The Cast Had Favorite Episodes
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.
Galaxie: The Car That Kept Changing
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 Ford Motor Company at the time, which is why the squad cars were always Ford Galaxie 500 sedans.
Aneta Corsaut Went to School While Acting
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 continued acting. She 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.
Jim Nabors Passes Away
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.
Otis Knew What Was Good for Him
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 in 1994.