‘The Andy Griffith Show’: Don Knotts Landed His Role Thanks to a Card Game

by Joe Rutland
(Photo Courtesy Getty Images)

Who in the world would think that a card game would play a pivotal role in Don Knotts joining the classic TV show The Andy Griffith Show? It would be really big, to borrow an Ed Sulivan phrase from the old days. But the card game Knotts was playing happened to be with Pat Harrington Jr. You might remember his name from another sitcom. We’ll mention that in a minute. But here’s Knotts talking about that very important game of cards.

“We were playing bridge with them one night and he (Harrington) said, ‘I want to stop and watch The Danny Thomas Show‘ because they were thinking about using Pat on the show,” Knotts would say in an Archive of American Television interview from 1999. “It turned out they were doing a pilot of The Andy Griffith Show that night. I didn’t even know it, Andy was still back in New York, so I hadn’t seen him in a long time. So when I saw this sheriff in a small town I said, ‘He could use a deputy.'” 

Don Knotts Scored Big Role On ‘The Andy Griffith Show’

According to MeTV, Knotts and Griffith had worked together in the movie version of Griffith’s play No Time for Sergeants. Apparently, neither one of the great actors had talked for a little bit of time. Still, it didn’t mean that Knotts could not take a shot at getting a part. He had previous TV experience as part of a cast of characters on The Steve Allen Show.

“So I called him in New York and he said ‘that’s a hell of an idea,'” Knotts added. So, Griffith would put Knotts in touch with the legendary creator and executive producer Sheldon Leonard. Talk about a name in the world of TV. He had one and people also remember him from his role in the Christmas movie favorite It’s A Wonderful Life.

“I went in and talked to Sheldon [and] we kicked it around for a while,” Knotts said. “I waited several weeks and finally got the call to come in and do the show.” Then, and only then, was Barney Fife, the venerable deputy of Mayberry, brought to life. While Knotts had no idea what the character would be like from the get-go, he would get an idea from the scripts.

“I didn’t create the character in the beginning,” Knotts said. “The writers wrote him in, but like all running parts in TV, each week you’d add something then they’d add something and the character just built as we went.” Oh, that sitcom for Harrington? He played Dwayne Schneider in the Norman Lear-created One Day at a Time.