University City

Author will tell person side of Barney Fife

Andy Griffith and Don Knotts clown at a Hollywood party in 1981. Though they mostly worked apart after “The Andy Griffith Show,” the two remained friends.
Andy Griffith and Don Knotts clown at a Hollywood party in 1981. Though they mostly worked apart after “The Andy Griffith Show,” the two remained friends. WireImage/Getty Images

Imagine sitting across the Thanksgiving table from Barney Fife, asking him to pass the gravy. In the 1990s, that’s what author and journalist Daniel de Visé experienced during holiday dinners with his brother-in-law, television star Don Knotts.

But they were doing more than just sharing of holiday meals. The time also gave de Visé a starting place into what made Knotts and Andy Griffith such a comedic duo on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

De Visé will pepper in a few of those family anecdotes when he gives a talk about his new book, “Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show,” during University City Regional Library’s Meet the Author program on Nov. 28. The program is free, but you must register.

De Visé wrote “Andy and Don” because most of the past books he’d read focused on the characters Griffith and Knotts played on “The Andy Griffith Show,” but few delved into the men behind those characters.

“I feel that Andy Griffith and Don Knotts were brilliant men, supremely talented performers, really immortal talents,” said de Visé.

The book pulls back the curtain on Mayberry, revealing the struggles actors such as Knotts experienced in their work.

“I myself was surprised with how much Don struggled with anxiety,” said de Visé. “He would shut himself in his room, or be afraid he was going to get sick or thinking he was getting sick, and he would go over his lines a hundred times.”

De Visé is an award-winning author and journalist who shared a Pulitzer Prize for deadline reporting in 2001. He has worked at both The Washington Post and the Miami Herald. He wrote his first book, “I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia,” in 2014.

He was related to Knotts through the marriage of his wife’s older sister. On occasion, he’d accompany the actor on trips in the 1990s to Walt Disney World and Las Vegas.

Most of the time, Knotts was swarmed with fans. “He was just mobbed everywhere we went,” said de Visé.

But at home, in family settings, he was reserved, quiet and polite, and de Visé would often engage him in conversation to draw him out. “By no means would he be the center of attention or dominating the room at all,” said de Visé. “He was almost invisible.”

Regardless of the differences between his off-screen and onscreen personas, Knotts makes up an important element in the ensemble that created a show that never seems to collect dust.

“I think it endures so well because it never really presented itself as a contemporary show. When it went on the air, it was purposefully framed as a sort of exercise in nostalgia,” said de Visé. “That legacy, a quintessential program about small-town Americana, I think just may have made it immortal.”

Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer: lisathornton@followmylede.com

Want to go?

Meet the Author: Daniel de Visé will speak 2 p.m. Nov. 28 at University City Regional Library, 301 E. W.T. Harris Blvd., Charlotte. It is free and open to the public. Books by the author will be available for sale. To register, visit www.cmlibrary.org/branch/university-city-regional. For information, go to www.danieldevise.com

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