andy and don book coverReviewed by Kelly Ferjutz

Was there ever anywhere on earth more congenial than Mayberry? The made-for-television version, that is, which was home to Sheriff Andy Taylor and his deputy Barney Fife. Otherwise known as Andy Griffith and Don Knotts.

This enjoyable book is a long and loving, detailed look at the two men; their similarities and their differences. It is very even-handed, displaying with great sensitivity the sunny upsides along with the dark and melancholy undersides.

Although Andy and Don doesn’t spare the unhappy parts, it is not ever mean-spirited, presenting the facts just as they happened. Andy and Don were, after all, one of the most famous comedy duos in America, and every comedy act has its sad counterpart.

Jesse Donald Knotts was born on July 21, 1924 in Westover, W. Va. Andy Samuel Grffith was born on June 7, (later amended to June 1) 1926, in Mount Airy, NC.

They met in New York in the summer of 1955, at auditions for the Broadway play No Time for Sergeants, although they’d each been on the fringes of show business for a couple of years. Don was on a radio show playing the role of an old codger named Windy Wales. Andy was making comedy records, such as the single hit, What it was, was Football. At the first read-through for Sergeants, Andy listened to Don and suddenly asked, ‘Are you Windy Wales?’ And a life-long friendship was born.

From that innocent first question, Andy Griffith and Don Knotts went on to become of the most famous comedy duo in America. Individually, they each had their moments of glory, but together, they were unsurpassable. Long after Mayberry was a thing of the past, they paired up again in Andy’s Matlock series, Don, as usual providing comic relief to Andy’s drama.

Don passed away on Feb 24, 2006, Andy on July 3, 2012. From 1955 until Don’s death, they were never far from each other, frequently finding other ways to work together. They were truly a matched set, each serving as the foil for the other’s spoofs and riffs–Andy as straight man and Don as comic. At times, they might have been separated by geography, but they always came back together again. Through marriages (three for each of them) and divorces, watching their kids grow up, and saying painful goodbyes to aging parents, they remained Andy and Don to themselves as well as the rest of the world.

The sub-title of the book is “The making of a friendship and a classic American TV Show” which is exactly what it is. Reading this book told me everything I’d ever wondered about or wanted to know about the long careers of both men. I remember Don with great fondness from the Steve Allen late-night show, and Andy for his comedy records. Together, they exemplified that old saying: “The sum was greater than the parts.” Together they made magic.

There is an index (hooray!) plus capsules of the twenty ‘best’ episodes of the Andy Griffith Show; a Selective Filmography for both; credit list for the photos included, and a comprehensive Notes section – by chapters. But then, you’d hardly expect less from a previous Pulitzer writer. The author had an even greater advantage, however: he was the brother-in-law of Don Knotts. The value of that sort of family access cannot be overestimated.

First and foremost, Kelly is a reader, then a writer and editor. She adores Regency-set novels, and cozy mysteries. Every now and then, however, she finds something else to enjoy if it has a great premise with characters who belong in there, and fabulous writing! She writes under her own name, as well as her pen-name, Hetty St. James.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Simon & Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.