‘The Andy Griffith Show’: Why ‘Opie’s Hobo Friend’ Storyline Hit Close to Home for Don Knotts

by Matthew Wilson

Don Knotts got into all kinds of hijinks as Barney Fife while on “The Andy Griffith Show.” But one episode hit close to home for the actor.

The second season episode “Opie’s Hobo Friend” saw Opie become friends with a traveling vagrant. Likewise, Knotts befriended several homeless people as a kid. During the episode, Opie’s father Andy Taylor believes the man is having a negative influence on the boy. The two men trade different philosophies on life and what it means to be happy.

“You can’t let a young ‘un decide for himself,” Andy told the vagrant, Dave. “He’ll grab at the first flashy thing with shiny ribbons on it, then when he finds out there’s a hook in it, it’s too late.”

It’s not a particularly funny or light episode. Most of the humor comes from Knott’s character and his wild imagination getting the better of him. He quickly comes up with an outlandish backstory for the man, insisting that he was part of Al Capone’s criminal empire.

Don Knotts Befriended Various Homeless People

It’s an episode similar to Knotts’ own youth in Virginia. His mother turned their home into a boarding house when Knotts was a kid. It was during the Great Depression so many down on their luck strangers would come and stay the night.

Knotts often interacted with the various guests at the boarding house and quickly befriended them. For instance, a guitarist showed Knotts how to play the ukulele, beginning a lifelong love of music. Likewise, a conman showed a young Knotts how he would win over and steal from his marks. The future actor spent his childhood surrounded by a cast of colorful characters. He would later find a love for comedy himself.

While Knotts may have been suspicious as Fife on the show of the vagrant, in real life he was much more like Opie. He was willing to talk with people from all stations of life. While Knotts’ background may have played a role in production, the crew actually first developed the idea independently.

Sheldon Leonard had assembled his team of writers into a room. And all the writers started throwing out their wildest ideas for episodes. Soon after, the episode quickly took hold.

“We’d just bounce ideas off each other,” said writer Aaron Ruben according to MeTV. “How about one where Aunt Bee enters homemade pickles in the county fair? How about one where Opie meets a hobo who has a great influence on him?”