When I got the opportunity to receive an advanced reader’s copy (ARC) of Daniel de Visé’s book Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show, I jumped at the chance. Although The Andy Griffith Show aired in the 1960s, I grew up watching the re-runs with my parents. You know why? Because TAGS has staying power. The peace and quiet Mayberry brought to people’s lives didn’t stop when the show went off the air. After its cancellation, TAGS immediately went into syndication and there hasn’t been a day in over five decades when it wasn’t on television. Besides that, I remember falling in love with Don Knotts’s The Incredible Mr. Limpet, and being terrified when he had to stay the night in a haunted house in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. Don Knotts and Andy Griffith were a cherished part of my childhood, so learning more about their lives and friendship seemed like a gift.
Andy Griffith and Don Knotts met on Broadway in the 1950s, and became fast friends. When Don saw the pilot episode of The Andy Griffith Show played on The Danny Thomas Show he gave his old pal a called and asked if Sheriff Andy Taylor needed a deputy. For the next five years, Andy and Don would rule Mayberry with their undeniable chemistry and comedic genius, elevating this rural sitcom into a timeless classic. However, the show also created a lifelong friendship for the two men, who would both describe the five years they worked together on the show as the best and most fulfilling of their lives. They would remain best friends until their last days, with Andy visiting Don, or Jess as he preferred to call him, on his death bed. de Visé’s book follows the two men from their similar beginnings in the south—impoverished and beaten down by the people and society around them—all the way to their deaths in 2006 (Don) and 2012 (Andy).
Like most things these two men did, their friendship sustained this book. When portions of the text began to creep into encyclopedia territory, it was the story of their friendship that pulled me through. Hearing anecdotes of their comedic collaborations behind the scenes on TAGS and their weekend hangouts together on the island Andy called home make the reader feel remarkably close to the two men. And de Visé’s insight into the private, and occasionally dark, portions of their lives is riveting, as well. Admittedly, though, I did have to wonder on several occasions how fair the text was to Andy Griffith. The author stated in the afterword that Griffith’s widow politely refused interviews, so the private information can’t exactly be verified by those closest to Andy; whereas, the author is related to Don Knotts, giving him nearly unlimited access to Don’s secrets and verification of rumors.
Overall, the biography was honest and touching. In the last pages, as Andy says goodbye to Don for the last time, and de Visé describes Don’s funeral and the highly visible mourning Andy endured, I shed more than a few tears. I’d recommend this to any fans of The Andy Griffith Show, to anyone who longs for the easy going days of the past, and to anyone who has ever had a friend the way Andy and Don had one in each other.
I was given Andy and Don as an ARC from netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review. Andy and Don will be available for purchase on November 3rd.