Media Scene

Secret strife behind the scenes in Mayberry

Editor's note: This story originally ran on Nov. 3, 2015

Those of you wanting to preserve the warm Mayberry mythos of “The Andy Griffith Show” can stop reading right now.

“Andy & Don” (Simon & Schuster, $26) is a well-researched warts-and-all chronicle of the lives and work of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, the brilliant comic team behind “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Author Daniel de Vise, a former reporter at The Washington Post and Miami Herald and related to Knotts by marriage, pens an illuminating chronology of the braided careers of Griffith and Knotts from Broadway to “Matlock.”

Revelations that may surprise casual fans:

▪ Knotts grew up in poverty in Morgantown, W.Va., the son of an alcoholic disabled by mental illness who sometimes held a knife to Knotts’ throat.

▪ Griffith was an awkward youth often teased by others. He harbored a grudge against those in Mount Airy who looked down on him for his wrong-side-of-the-tracks roots.

▪ Knotts was a hypochondriac beset with feelings of inferiority. He could spend days hiding in bed before a big performance.

▪ Doctors prescribed anti-anxiety pills for Knotts in the ’50s, to which he became addicted for a time.

▪ Little Ronny Howard never could get the rock to go into the lake when shooting the opening for “The Andy Griffith Show.” Finally a props-master was enlisted to fling a rock into the water when Howard pitched his, creating an odd lag between the toss and the splash.

▪ Elinor Donahue was introduced in Season 1 as Griffith’s love interest, but there was no chemistry, onstage or off. It was quite the opposite with Aneta Corsaut, introduced in Season 3, as teacher Helen Crump. She and Griffith became passionate lovers.

▪ Griffith’s 23-year marriage to Barbara Edwards unraveled in a storm of alcohol and domestic violence. She once described Griffith as a man “surrounded by himself.”

▪ Jim Nabors got along with the prickly Frances Bavier, who played Aunt Bea, but she was unpopular with the rest. After her death in Siler City, no cast members attended her funeral.

▪ “Mayberry Days,” the Mount Airy festival at the heart of a multimillion-dollar tourist industry built on “The Andy Griffith Show,” sprang from the imagination of Tanya Jones of the Surry Arts Council when she was told there would be a reunion of cast members in Charlotte in 1990. Mount Airy’s return on investment is immense, since Jones’ budget for the first weekend was zero.

▪ Griffith was buried only hours after his death by heart attack because he didn’t want paparazzi to photograph his funeral.