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 learn more about the beloved show and the surprising things that went on behind the scenes in Mayberry.
Andy Griffith Show Featured Real-Life Besties
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 Andy Griffith and Don Knotts grew up during the Great Depression and lived in poverty.
Griffith was raised in North Carolina where his family was too poor to afford a crib, so he slept in dresser drawers as a baby. Meanwhile, Knotts was raised in West Virginia as one of four boys.
A Real Jokester
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."
If The Shoe Fits
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.
One instance is 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.
Gone Fishin' On The Andy Griffith Show
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.
The lyrics of the theme music for the show, "The Fishin' Hole" were written by Everett Sloane and composed by Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer.
Trickery On The Andy Griffith Show
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.
Aunt Bee Couldn't Be Bothered
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.
She played the role for 10 years and in 1967 won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Comedy Actress.
A Prickly Relationship
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. It's nice to know that they were able to reconnect, and proves that even if they didn't always show it, the cast cared about one another.
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.
Over eight seasons, from 1960 until 1968, an incredible 249 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show were filmed.
The Pickle Switch
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.
They Quit While They Were Ahead
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 more than 50 years!
The show was also a top ten his through its entire run and never fell below seventh place in the yearly ratings of television shows during its time.
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. Although it's not mentioned often, only in a few early episodes, Barney is Andy's cousin.
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.
The Mysterious Man And The Unknown Actor
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 although it's a hotly debated topic among fans. 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.
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 duo went down as one of the best in TV history.
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. If he had thought about it a little more, the dear could have made a lot more money selling the cars as is!
That's A Lot Of Cars
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 sponsored by Ford Motor Company at the time, which is why the squad cars were always Ford Galaxie 500 sedans.
Ford Motor Company is thanked for its contribution in the credits of the show. The show's sole sponsor for all of its years, however, was actually General Foods.
Jim Nabors Got His Own Show
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 had a great singing voice and recorded 28 albums during his career.
Andy Taylor + Helen Crump = Love
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, to his first wife Barbara. Yikes!
Andy ended up getting a divorce in 1972. He went on to marry twice more, to Greek actress Solica Cassuto, and Cindi Knight. Aneta, on the other hand, never married or had any children.
Caught In The Act
During one of the cast’s many pranks, a crew member disguised as a waiter went to deliver a dinner to Andy’s hotel room, but he caught Andy and Aneta in a compromising position. Oops!
We’d say that prank went over like a lead balloon. It sounds like The Andy Griffith Show started yet another notable secret relationship in Hollywood in the '60s, which wasn't all that uncommon at the time, either.
One Of The Show's Biggest Mysteries: Opie's Mom
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.”
From Sheriff To Southern Gospel Singer
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.
What's In A Name?
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.
Director Ron Howard
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. We'd say Opie has done pretty well for himself!
He went on to marry writer Cheryl Alley in 1975. Together, they have four children, including twin girls and two daughters who became actresses themselves.
Frances Bavier Became A Resident Of North Carolina
After The Andy Griffith Show, actress Frances Bavier opted to stay in North Carolina, versus returning to her native New York City. Although it might have been a huge change of pace, she had just become enamored with North Carolina when she spent time there.
Moving to Siler City, North Carolina in 1972, she later 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's Reclusive Life
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.
Jim Nabors Passed Away In 2017
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.
Aneta Corsaut Went to School While Acting
Helen Crump, portrayed by actress Aneta Corsaut, was Sheriff Andy Taylor's girlfriend on the show who 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
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 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.
Smith Lends His Voice
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
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.
Gomer's Cousin Goober
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.
A Charitable Fellow
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.
Barney Fife Moves In
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.
Friends Until The End
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."
Sheriff Andy Taylor Becomes A Lawyer
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 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.
A Sad Time For Fans
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.
Don Knotts Left The Show By Accident
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.
Andy And Barney’s Relationship Secrets
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.
Andy's No Hulk
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.
Why Helen Crump Has An Ugly Name
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.
Don Knotts Wore The Same Suit Throughout His Acting Career
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.
There Was No On-Screen Chemistry
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's Real-Life Father, Actor Rance Howard
Ron Howard's father, Rance Howard, was also an actor, in both television and film. They had a great father-son relationship, and Ron 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.
The Only Speaking Role
There were several African-American actors 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.
A Stroke And A Solution
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 Whistling Theme Song
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?
A Real-Life Nickname Was Used On The Show
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.
From Mayberry To Mount Airy
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.
Andy And Opie’s Debut
The Andy Griffith Show didn’t debut until October 1960, however, the characters of Andy and Opie first showed up in the pilot episode of Make Room For Daddy. 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 the perfect timing for the show.
The Operator Never Slept On The Job
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.
An Old Southern Phrase
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's Got The Rights
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 $60 million.
Frozen In Time
If you pay close attention inside Floyd's barbershop 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 barbershop. It’s almost like they knew the show would become a timeless classic.
Lots Of Single Bullets
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.