Veteran journalist de Visé (co-author, with Su Meck: I Forgot to Remember, 2014) returns with a plethora of memories about actors Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, who propelled The Andy Griffith Show to enormous popularity in the 1960s.
As the author reminds us, the show about rural Mayberry remains in the popular culture: it’s never been off the air, he writes, and Mount Airy, North Carolina, continues to profit from fans’ visits and its annual “Mayberry Days.” De Visé follows a traditional dual biography format, alternating chapters about his principals at first and then blending their stories later on: birth to death to interment to afterglow. He does little to conceal his own affection for the performers, writing about “the magic that could unfold” between the two and how Griffith, despite “whatever drama might be playing out at home…remained an impeccable professional on the set.” For many readers, this will become grating. The author doesn’t neglect the dark side of the story, though he hardly emphasizes it. Both Griffith and Knotts married three times, and both had what de Visé winkingly calls a wandering eye. Griffith drank heavily and battled physically with his first wife, and Knotts partied hard. Griffith also had an envious streak: Knotts won five consecutive Emmys on the show; Griffith won zero. We follow the rise of their careers—early on, Knotts was a ventriloquist—their meeting on the set of No Time for Sergeants, and their fast friendship, which waxed and waned and waxed again. De Visé often tells us a bit about specific episodes and about the other players in the productions (with some emphasis on Jim Nabors), and he chronicles the tougher post-Mayberry years that, for Griffith, terminated with his success on his show Matlock, which ran from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. Knotts had later success in low-budget films and with touring theatrical productions.
The author’s affection for his principals permeates all, brightening the dark corners and dulling the jagged edges.