Long-lost video of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts performing classic skit surfaces
The Andy Griffith Show, perhaps television’s first dramedy, remains one of the most beloved, iconic programs of all time. One late night spent browsing YouTube, the smorgasbord of mindless entertainment, inadvertently led to an eight-minute segment of The Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, and Jim Nabors Show. Jim Nabors, who was a big star at the time with the Top Three Nielsen-rated Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., and recently succumbed to natural causes at age 87, is not seen in the clip. However, by good fortune the three minute cold open with Nabors present is also available below.
Written by longtime Andy Griffith producer Aaron Ruben and originally broadcast on CBS on October 7, 1965, the 60-minute variety special had been believed lost for many years.
In a brief interview with this writer, Jim Pierson, the producer of the Don Knotts: Tied Up with Laughter DVD exploring Knotts’s multiple appearances on late ’60s variety show The Hollywood Palace, was unaware of the clip’s existence. In fact, he stated that “old variety shows shot on videotape that never were rerun or syndicated later were often lost or tossed. Andy was upset to discover this, too.”
Regardless, the color footage comes from the extensive collection of dedicated Griffith aficionado Bart Boatwright, who has bootleg DVD copies of the complete special for sale. It is quite amazing to see it in such good quality without squiggly lines and audio glitches.
The occasion is a landmark of sorts, as Knotts and Griffith had not been seen together since the bumbling but well-intentioned sidekick departed the series in early spring 1965 at the end of the fifth and final black and white season. CBS understandably wished to placate suspicious fans and critics wondering how Mayberry could survive when its heart and soul had left for greener pastures — a five-film Universal contract guaranteeing Knotts’ name above the title.
Consequently, an irreplaceable void occurred in the show’s dynamic but that was certainly not the end of Knotts’s association with his best friend. After this special aired, Knotts would make his first returning guest appearance on Andy Griffith three months later in January 1966 for “The Return of Barney Fife” episode. Knotts filmed a total of five guest spots and won a further two Emmys.
The sketch begins with Griffith and Knotts in character as Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife. They perform a song entitled “Friendship”, originally written by Cole Porter in 1939 and recorded by Judy Garland, among many others.
It is a bit jarring at first, seeing the actors perform on a bare and too pristine replica stage of the Mayberry courtroom. Fortunately, Barney’s vocals do not sound nearly as off-key as they did when he tried to audition for the Mayberry choir.
Andy then builds up Barney’s morale, leading to a classic judo demonstration where Barney urges Andy to run him through with a ruler substituting for a knife. Always an “expert” on any subject such as the martial arts [e.g. “Andy the Marriage Counselor”, “The County Nurse”, “Barney’s Uniform”], the well-meaning but usually fallible deputy is in way over his head.
The scene precisely indicates the team’s comic precision. Griffith was never given proper credit for his role as Knotts’s consummate straight man. In reality, the pair performed together quite a bit in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe on the nightclub circuit in the ’60s and early ’70s, but sadly those performances were never recorded.
Next up, Barney boasts about his vast knowledge of his perpetual sidearm, nicknamed “the old Roscoe” and “the old persuader.” When Andy urges Barney not to take his gun out in the office, you can guess what the outcome is.
Barney soon apologizes for his reckless behavior, admitting that he wonders why Andy doesn’t get another deputy. With Barney feeling depressed and close to tears, Andy comes to the rescue with a short speech that is certain to tug at one’s heartstrings: “The main reason I keep you around is because you’re my friend. I mean it, Barn, you’re my closest friend. I don’t know what this old office would be if you weren’t in it. You’re like a brother to me, you know that.”
Never in Andy Griffith history did Andy admit that he considered Barney to be like a brother to him. Without a doubt, it is the emotional high point of the segment.
Ironically, when the sitcom returned for a sixth season, he hired a new deputy named Warren Ferguson, portrayed by comic Jack Burns. No one could replace Barney Fife, and the character was quickly dropped without warning after 11 episodes.
After Andy encourages Barney to sing a song so he will feel better, the clip concludes with a slower, harp-laden reprise of “Friendship.” Andy gets to sing in his natural lower baritone voice, and the song truly enhances Barney’s mood. Fittingly, they tap dance off the stage together, arm in arm. Let’s hope the entire special will eventually see the light of day in an officially sanctioned, CBS-Paramount remastered edition.
[Author’s Note: The Southerners later collaborated in a funny yet touching 1967 episode, “Barney Comes to Mayberry,” that landed Knotts his fifth and final Emmy]. And if you’ve ever been curious about Knotts’ musical variety appearances, an additional article distills Don Knotts: Tied Up with Laughter, a DVD collecting the rubber-faced comedian’s 1970 episode hosting The Hollywood Palace as well as bonus material including the hysterical nervous master of ceremonies routine].
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