Sometimes in the Hollywood bubble, where actors often float from series to series, some funny coincidences occur with old characters. The actress Linda Purl knows all about this world. She starred in Happy Days for four episodes as Richie Cunningham’s girlfriend before appearing for a time as Ben Matlock’s daughter years later.
Of course, the actor who played Richie Cunningham, Ron Howard, began his storied entertainment career as little Opie Taylor. Opie was son of Andy Griffith’s character Andy Taylor. Of course, Andy Griffith enjoyed a strong final act to his own career as Ben Matlock on the show Matlock. Therefore, Linda Purl got to play both a love interest to one of Griffith’s fictional “children,” as well as a fictional child to Griffith, himself.
These interesting little facts do not amount to much more than trivia for a party conversation. But they do illustrate how small this big, bad world can actually feel sometimes, especially in a career like entertainment.
Andy Griffith Was the Common Thread
Even though Ron Howard eventually became a superstar writer, producer, and director, the common thread in this story is Andy Griffith. His warmth and gentleness fostered environments where people wanted to work, and as such, all sorts of interesting commonalities were borne of his professional network.
Howard, himself, echoed this exact sentiment to the Associated Press in a 2012 interview: “Andy’s impact on my life and my approach to my work really can’t be measured. The balance that he sustained between focused, creative effort and this overt, playful enjoyment that he got out of working hard with people that he liked, doing a show he loved, was something that I hope I’ll always remember and emulate.”
Purl’s Thoughts on Matlock
Purl also spoke fondly of Griffith, even though her time as Matlock’s daughter, Charlene, was short-lived due to creative differences. She elaborated back in a 1987 interview.
“There wasn’t any unpleasantness, and neither money nor ‘creative differences’ had anything to do with it,” Purl said. “It was simply that my role as Matlock’s daughter changed in almost every way after the pilot. The pilot had attracted me to the series. And I wasn’t happy with that. The audience seemed to want to see more of Matlock in court and solving mysteries. And less of him as a family man, and that left me with less to do. I asked for my release, and the producers agreed, with no hard feelings.”
Interestingly enough, the reason Purl even got the Matlock job was because her time on Happy Days had made her a household name of the era. It may be a stretch, but one could argue that Happy Days only became a sensation because its teen actors like Howard had come in as polished, professional actors from a young age — thanks in part to his time on The Andy Griffith Show.
One thing’s for sure: the characters of classic television mean a lot to us. The actors who played them wouldn’t have been as good at their jobs without influences like Andy Griffith leading them.