When it comes to classic TV, author Daniel de Vise admits that his knowledge is fairly limited — unless you’re talking about The Andy Griffith Show. Or, more specifically, Andy Griffith, Daniel’s late-brother-in-law, Don Knotts, and the bond that connected those two men for most of their lives. And it’s not because Daniel is someone whose life is completely wrapped up in a 60-year-old TV show (not that there would be anything wrong with that), it’s just that he’s been a little busy doing other things.
In a storied and multi-award-winning career that includes stints at The Washington Post and Miami Herald, as well as a team Pulitzer Prize, he counts among books he’s written the dual biography Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show. It was the writing of that book that required him to do a deep dive into all things Mayberry, forcing him to consider the show’s enduring nature.
“For many people in America, our families have been here for a few generations,” he offers, “and if you go back a hundred years or so, our ancestors were living in small-town Americana, if not on a farm. My father was born in Belgium and doesn’t have that heritage and people who are immigrants or children of immigrants might not have that heritage. But if you had kin in the United States in the ’30s or the ‘20s or the teens, more likely than not they were on a farm or in a little town. And that’s what the connection is with The Andy Griffith Show. These two guys, Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, built that show around their shared memories of small-town Americana.
“Andy,” Daniel continues, “is from North Caroline and Don’s from West Virginia, and there’s almost a literal one-to-one correspondence between Mayberry and Mount Airy, North Caroline, where Andy was born. But the show is also informed heavily by Don’s hilarious stories he would tell of his own childhood in Morgantown and, maybe even more so, these farms across the border in rural Pennsylvania. That’s the show. And that’s the connection for the audience. It’s why I think almost anybody in this country who has any of that in their background can connect to it.”
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