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American TV Show

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A lively and revealing biography of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, this “humorous, informative, and poignant book” celebrates the powerful real-life friendship behind one of America’s most iconic television programs and “shows how the magic was created” (Library Journal).Andy Griffith and Don Knotts first met on Broadway in the 1950s. When Andy moved to Hollywood to film a TV pilot for a comedy about a small-town sheriff, Don called to ask if Andy’s sheriff could use a deputy. The friendship and comedy partnership between Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife ignited The Andy Griffith Show, elevating the folksy television sitcom into a timeless study of human friendship. Together, they created a program with a uniquely small-town dynamic that captured the hearts of Americans across the country who watched these two men rocking on the front porch, meditating about the pleasure of a bottle of pop. But behind this sleepy charm, de Visé’s exclusive reporting “captures the complexity of both men and the intimacy of their friendship with extreme detail and sensitivity” (Publishers Weekly), from unspoken rivalries, passionate affairs, unrequited loves, struggles with the temptations of fame, and friendships lost and regained. Although Andy and Don ended their Mayberry partnership in 1965, they remained best friends for the next half-century. Written by Don Knotts’s brother-in-law, Andy and Don is “a rewarding dual biography that is also a lively look inside the entertainment industry in the latter half of the twentieth century” (News & Observer). Entertaining and provocative, it “captures a golden moment in modern Americana. You’ll not only return again to Mayberry, you’ll feel as though you’ve never left” (Tom Shales, Pulitzer Prize–winning television critic). Product DetailsISBN-13: 9781476747743 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Publication Date: 06-07-2016 Pages: 320 Product Dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)About the Author Daniel de Visé is an author and journalist who has worked at The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, and three other newspapers in a twenty-four-year career. His investigative reporting has twice led to the release of wrongly convicted men from life imprisonment; he shared a 2001 Pulitzer Prize. A graduate of Wesleyan and Northwestern universities, de Visé lives with his wife and children in Maryland. He is the author of I Forgot to Remember (with Su Meck) and Andy and Don.Read an Excerpt Andy and Don DON’S JOURNEY to Hollywood began on a broken-down farm outside Morgantown, West Virginia. William Jesse Knotts, Don’s father, a man of average build and sky-blue eyes, made a living buying derelict farms, fixing them up, and selling them again. By the close of the 1910s, Jesse and his wife, Elsie, had settled on one farm long enough for Elsie to bear three children, all boys. Jesse raised crops and mined some coal he had found on the land. Theirs was not a prosperous life, but at least it was stable. One day, probably in 1919, Jesse collapsed in the fields. He was borne home by other men. “I can’t see,” he cried, although it seemed to others that he could. They called it hysterical blindness. Jesse lay in bed, sightless, for two weeks. His vision returned in time, but his mind did not. Jesse Knotts was said to have suffered a nervous breakdown, though more likely he was an undiagnosed schizophrenic. His physical health, too, fell into rapid decline, and soon he could no longer mind the family farm. Elsie, his wife, was left to tend the family fortunes. When Elsie lost the farm, she moved the family into town to occupy a succession of rental homes, sometimes sharing the space with various Knotts kin; Jesse’s incapacity had brought the Depression to the Knotts household a decade early. Into this arrangement Jesse Donald Knotts was born on July 21, 1924. His first home seems to have been a boxy American Foursquare on Jefferson Street in Westover, just across the Monongahela River from central Morgantown. By 1929, the family had crossed the river and settled into a permanent dwelling: a large house on University Avenue, which Elsie rented from the Galusha family, owners of a corner grocery store. Elsie confined her family to the main floor; the upper rooms she rented to students, itinerants, and anyone else who could put a dollar down. Don was fourteen years younger than his next youngest sibling, William Earl, a boy so slender he was called Shadow. Don was an accident. Elsie, thirty-nine and married to a forty-two-year-old invalid, had not planned to bring another child into the world. Don’s childhood was bleak, even by the sepia-toned standards of the Depression. The house on University Avenue sat in a crowded row of unkempt wooden colonials set against a steep hill. He slept on a cot in the kitchen, next to the stove. Two of his older brothers, Shadow and Sid, shared a bedroom with a boarder. Willis Vincent “Bill” Knotts, the most ambitious sibling, had already decamped to seek his fortune as a manager at Montgomery Ward. Don’s mother and father slept in the living room, and Jesse Sr. spent most of his waking hours on the sofa, staring into space. Don’s brothers liked to drink and fight; there was little to distinguish them from the vagabonds who paraded in and out of the University Avenue home. Don emerged from infancy with a ghostly pallor, a skeletal frame, and a predisposition to illness, traits he shared with his older brother Shadow. “I did not come into the world with a great deal of promise,” Don recalled. “By the time I started grammar school, I was already stoop-shouldered, painfully thin, and forever throwing up due to a nervous stomach.” Three decades later, Elsie Knotts would ask Don, “Do you remember when you were in nappies, and your father used to hold a knife to your throat?” Don did not. Only in therapy did the memories come flooding back. Don spent his first years living in fear of the monster on the couch. Jesse Knotts harbored a primal jealousy toward Don, the unexpected baby who drew Elsie’s attention away from her bedridden husband. From the day Don arrived, he competed with his father for his mother’s care. The only path out of Don’s kitchen bedroom led through the living room, where his father lay. Don would try to tiptoe by. Sometimes he would pass unnoticed. Other times, the father would emerge from his fever dreams and train his bloodshot eyes on his youngest son. Don would freeze as he heard the ragged growl of an unpracticed voice: “Come here, you little son of a bitch.” Don would slowly retreat from the room. Usually, the summons was an empty threat. But on occasion, Jesse would rise from the couch like a shambling ghoul and stagger into the kitchen to find a blade. Then he would stumble through the house in search of his son; the hunt wouldn’t take long, as there was nowhere for Don to go. Jesse would pin Don against the wall, raise the knife to his throat, and terrorize the child with dark oaths: “I’ll kill you, you son of a bitch.” Jesse terrorized the rest of his family, as well. He was twice confined in the state mental hospital in Weston after threatening Elsie with a butcher knife. Those stays bought Don moments of relative peace in the family home. Over years of shrewd observation, Don learned to divine his father’s moods, to read his face and voice. In this effort, Don developed a preternatural power to interpret body language and vocal tics. Perhaps Don’s hypervigilance was a source of his comedic gifts: What was the Nervous Man, after all, if not an ensemble of twitches and quirks? Repulsed by his father, Don was drawn to his mother. Elsie Knotts was the angel to Jesse’s foul-breathed demon, the sunlight to his darkness. Elsie was “one of the truly good people of the world,” Don recalled, “more comfortable with the downtrodden than the high and mighty. Elsie found time to help any soul who needed her.” Elsie was raised a born-again Christian. But as an adult, she hewed to her own code of right and wrong. She was, in a sense, the real-life Aunt Bee. Ever mindful of people’s feelings, Elsie couldn’t bear the thought of walking home from the A&P past the window of the Galushas’ grocery store, lest the Galusha brothers should see her carrying groceries from another market. Instead, she and Don would detour around the block to the back of their house. Elsie also thought it improper for a Knotts boy to walk through the front door of the city jail. When Don’s older brother Shadow was locked up on a drunk-and-disorderly charge, she packed a box of sandwiches and tobacco and instructed an Opie-aged Don, “I don’t want you going into that jail. I want you to go around to the back and yell up to the window there and get him to come to the window and throw this up to him.” Though she embraced fundamentalist Christianity, Elsie also loved to play cards, and she collected autographs from the stars of screen and stage. “My mother took me to movies from the very beginning,” Don recalled. He and his mother probably saw Steamboat Willie, the first Disney film with synchronized sound, and Broadway Melody, the first talking musical, at Morgantown’s Metropolitan Theatre. But nothing impressed Don quite like Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, the nation’s premier comedy duo. Don was transfixed by their choreographed slapstick, just as he was mesmerized by Jack Benny’s uncanny comic timing on the radio. Don loved the way those men could make his mother laugh. He dreamed that Elsie might ask for his own autograph one day. Elsie Knotts had a lovely, infectious, musical laugh, and everyone in the Knotts home wanted to hear it. Laughter brought escape from the pall that threatened to envelop them all. From an early age, Don set about finding the skills to summon that beautiful laugh. His principal instructor was his sickly brother. Shadow Knotts, born in 1910, had been the baby of the family for more than a decade when Don arrived; thereafter, it seemed as if Elsie Knotts

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