Coming June 5 from
Atlantic Monthly Press
The Comeback chronicles the life of one of America’s greatest athletes, from his roots in the windswept hills of Nevada's Washoe Valley to the heights of his global fame at the Tour de France. With a swift narrative drive and a fierce attention to detail, Daniel de Visé reveals the dramatic, ultra-competitive inner world of a sport rarely glimpsed up close, and builds a compelling case for LeMond as its great American hero.
Preorder the book
Woody Allen once said 80 percent of success is showing up. Had Art Spelman followed that advice half a century ago, it’s just possible we might be honoring him today as a celebrated alumnus of Mayberry.
Edward Arthur Spelman appeared one day in early 1965 on the Desilu set of The Andy Griffith Show in the midst of its celebrated run. Don Knotts was leaving the program after five marvelous years as Andy Griffith’s deputy and comedy partner, and producers were searching high and low for someone to replace him. Art was a young flamenco guitarist. He was dating a woman who knew someone who knew someone, and he wound up visiting the Andy Griffith studio as an invited guest. It wasn’t long before he met Andy.
Click on this link for my account of the months Art spent as friend, confidant and protégé to Andy Griffith. Many thanks to Classic Movie Hub for hosting the piece!
Pat Harrington Jr., an actor best known for the hilarious Hugh Hefner-meets-Sha Na Na caricature he played on the sitcom One Day at a Time, died yesterday at 86.
Everyone will remember him as Schneider, the superintendent Lothario from the groundbreaking late-70s comedy. But Pat didn't sound anything like Schneider when I interviewed him for Andy and Don. He had dozens and dozens of other film and television credits. In fact, I never asked him about One Day at a Time. Our conversations concerned his work in the late 1950s and early 1960s on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, alongside Don Knotts.
My main interview with Pat took place in March 2013, before Alzheimer’s disease weakened his powers of recall. More than anything, I wanted to know about the night he hosted Don and Kay Knotts for a bridge party, because that was the night Don watched the pilot for The Andy Griffith Show on Pat's television and resolved to place a telephone call to its star, Andy Griffith. This has been termed the most important telephone call in the history of television.
By the time I reached him, Pat could remember little of that night, an episode I recount in the prologue to my book. Most of the detail that went into Andy and Don came from Pat's ex-wife, Marjorie Harrington, who had crystal-clear recall of that evening.
Instead, Pat and I spoke at length about what it was like to work with Steve Allen, one of the great talents of classic television and the creator of many of the conventions of the modern talk show.
"Steve Allen cultivated laughter mainly by laughing," Pat recalled. "He had a wonderful, lyrical, explosive laugh. And [fellow performer] Louis Nye and Don Knotts and the rest of us made him laugh."
Pat met Don in 1958. Pat said the two did 55 episodes of Steve Allen together, with Pat joining Don, Louis and the others in the beloved "Man in the Street" bits and other memorable sketches.
"I did an Italian called Guido Panzini," Pat recalled, whereupon he lapsed into character as a heavily accented immigrant: I a-get up in da morning and I a-go out and I a-look for a line and I a-go to work... "Steve adored it," he said.
Pat laughed as he recalled one Steve Allen sketch that showed the fretful side of Don's personality. The bit cast Don’s Nervous Man as a lion tamer and put him in a cage with an actual lion. That was a bit too wild for Don; after several years in the business, he had come to mistrust the judgment of television producers and was starting to draw a line on any performance that might threaten his well-being.
As the story goes, Don questioned the wisdom of entering the cage containing the lion, and he told the trainer so, according to Pat's account and several others. The trainer scoffed, telling Don, "That lion wouldn't hurt a flea." As Don opened the door to enter the cage, he saw the trainer draw a gun. “Hey,” he protested. “If he’s so safe, why are you aiming a gun at him?”
Don exited the cage and walked off the set. Another actor - - not Pat - - stepped in to replace him.
My favorite of Pat's stories about Don was the one he told at Don's memorial, shortly after his death in 2006. Don had a fiercely competitive side, and Pat's anecdote brings it to life.
"We played bridge," Pat recalled, to the audience of friends and fellow comics. "One night we were paired against our wives. The bidding was over and I led a spade. and Don’s upper lip began to curl back and up over his canines, which I had never seen. And then he fixed me with that fearsome glare, that fearsome look that only Don has: 'You bet a spade. He bet a spade! Would anyone mind if I asked to review the bidding with the original inflections?’"
Some stories have legs. When newsroom folk use that term, they mean that an article has a life of its own. Stories "with legs" refuse to die; they endure for days, or weeks, or months, defying the fickle 24-hour news cycle.
On November 28, the Raleigh News & Observer published a review of Andy and Don penned by Eric Frederick.
"Well, I'll be," Eric began. "They really did love each other."
The review delved deep into the manuscript and pulled out a wonderful analogy, first posited by a TV Guide reporter in the early 1960s, that neatly sums up the friendship at the heart of the book. The writer compared Andy and Don to Damon and Pythias, the characters from Greek legend who personified the Pythagorean ideal of male friendship. Damon offers his life as collateral for Pythias, who wishes to see his family before his execution. In tribute to the friendship, both men are set free.
"Neither Andy nor Don ever had to offer his life for the other," Eric writes. "But de Visé points out that Andy did sacrifice a good part of his ego, and his role as top banana on his own show, to play the straight man while his pal got the laughs. The result was a partnership that made them both legends, and a friendship that will be outlasted only by their fame."
Eric's review went out on the wire, an electronic marketplace for editors looking for good stories from other papers. Since then, the News & Observer review has run in more than 20 other newspapers, including The Kansas City Star, The Charlotte Observer, the Miami Herald, The Sacramento Bee, The Modesto Bee, The Lexington Herald-Leader, the Idaho Statesman, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Merced Sun-Star, the Belleville News-Democrat, the Bradenton Herald, the Hanford Sentinel, The State of Columbia, South Carolina; The Tribune of San Luis Obispo, California; The Sun Herald of Biloxi, Mississippi; The Herald of Rock Hill, South Carolina; the Ledger-Enquirer of Columbus, Georgia; The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, Florida; LNP of Lancaster, Pennsylvania; the Missoulian of Missoula, Montana; The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana; and the Herald & Review of Decatur, Illinois.
So, thank you - - to Eric for writing the review, to the News & Observer for printing it, and to all the other newspapers for picking it up.
Everyone knows the basic facts of Mayberry: Andy was a widower with an adorable son. Barney was his childlike deputy. Andy didn’t wear a gun, and Barney was allowed only a single bullet for his. Aunt Bee was quite a cook — except for those pickles.
Yet, most fans of The Andy Griffith Show know considerably less about what went on behind the scenes of that classic ‘60s sitcom.
Here is an exclusive article I wrote for Biography.com exploring five little-known backstage truths about the legendary CBS sitcom.
The first leg of my Andy and Don book tour is complete, and I am thrilled to report that the book drew newspaper coverage in nearly every city I visited! Reviews, feature articles, Q&A's - - there's been a little bit of everything, and every writer has come up with a new and inventive way to explore the historic friendship between Andy Griffith and Don Knotts.
On November 11th, I visited West Virginia University and the main public library in Morgantown, Don's birthplace. Ivy Smith Guiler marked the occasion with a pair of articles in the Morgantown Dominion-Post, one of which is preserved here. Sample: "In the newly released dual biography “Andy and Don,” author Daniel De Vise offers an intimate view into this friendship, which was as strong behind the scenes as it was on-screen. . . . In the book, De Vise’ chronicles of the lives of the men as they built their careers, giving readers insight into parts of their stories not often written about." Ivy also wrote a lovely profile of Don for the magazine NCWV Life, which appeared several days before my visit.
On November 13th, I visited CBS6 in Richmond to appear on Virginia This Morning, followed by a stop at the Fountain Bookstore. That visit drew a great column by Bill Lohmann in the Times-Dispatch. Bill termed the book "highly enjoyable" and added, "de Visé carries readers through the difficult childhoods that shaped each man, the emergence of their talents, the rocky starts to their careers and, of course, their remarkable success with “The Andy Griffith Show.”"
The next day, November 14th, I spoke at Norfolk's fabulous Slover Library. A few hours later, I gathered with some dear old friends at the downtown tavern FM for a one-off reunion of the Dropheads, our beloved South Florida rock 'n roll band of the 1990s and 2000s. The Virginian-Pilot, Virginia's largest newspaper, followed up with a lovely piece (on the book, not the band) a few days later from Jeff Hampton. Sample: "De Vise draws from interviews with people who knew them both in childhood and as professionals, and from his own experiences as Knotts’ brother-in-law."
November 15th took me to Durham, epicenter of the fabled Chapel Hill-Durham music scene and my home base for the next few days. I spoke at the main library there, a talk anticipated in a great piece by Cliff Bellamy in the Durham Herald-Sun.
Bright and early the next morning, November 16th, I visited Fox 46 News in Charlotte for a super-fun appearance on Good Day. The Charlotte Observer responded with not one but three articles (here, here and here), timed both to the book's release and to my upcoming appearance at the University City branch of the Charlotte library (see APPEARANCES page for details). From the official review: "Some non-fiction writers have a magic touch. They can lay out the dirt on a celebrity, but they do it in such an evenhanded, graceful way, they don’t track mud in the house. That’s former journalist Daniel de Vise writing about Andy Griffith and Don Knotts in Andy and Don..."
On November 17th, I visited the Bull's Head Bookshop on the storied campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Cate Asplaugh chronicled the event in the campus newspaper Daily Tarheel. Later that day, I appeared on WXII-12 television in Greensboro. From there, I headed to the Walkertown branch of the Winston-Salem library, an appearance marked by Tim Clodfelter in the Winston-Salem Journal.
On November 18th, I stopped by the gorgeous Pratt central library in Baltimore for a book talk there. On the 19th, I traveled to Frederick for a talk at the main library there, sponsored by the Curious Iguana Bookstore. The Frederick News-Post marked the occasion with an in-depth Q&A.
On the 21st, I spoke at my own local bookstore, the Barnes & Noble on Rockville Pike. For that stop, I handled the press myself - - with an Evite to neighbors and friends.
Next weekend, I return to Charlotte, followed by another five-day swing through lovely North Carolina! I'll see you on the road.
With Andy and Don about to enter its second week of publication, I want to stop and recap all that's happened in week one:
First, radio. I have now been a guest on nearly a dozen live and taped programs, and I was amazed and impressed at how many hosts turned out to be big fans of The Andy Griffith Show. On Wednesday, I spoke with Steve Kraske on KCUR, the NPR affiliate in Kansas City, a locale that was like a second home for Don Knotts in the latter years of his career. On Friday, I joined the morning gang on WOCM Ocean 98 in Ocean City, John Carney on KTRS 550 AM in St. Louis, "Mancow" Muller on 97.9-FM The Loop in Chicago, my home town, Len Erickson and Chris Rhoden of "Mayhem in the AM" on Talk Radio WLKF in Tampa Bay, Jim Engster of Talk 107.3-FM in Louisiana, and Randy Welker on WSGE 91.7-FM, the NPR affiliate closest to Andy's birthplace of Mount Airy, North Carolina. Later that day, I spoke to Tom Barnard for his popular podcast based in Minnesota. Early Sunday morning, I spoke with Peter Solomon on WIP 94-FM CBS Radio in Philadelphia. Later that day, I talked to Tron Simpson on AM-740 in Colorado Springs. This morning I spoke to Steve Fast of WJBC AM-1230 in Bloomington, Illinois.
Second, reviews. Several have published; several more are coming. On Tuesday, SitcomsOnline gave Andy and Don four stars and called it "a well-written book with details that may be new or even surprising to some fans." Good Grit Magazine urged readers to "be sure to purchase a copy and continue the story of these amazing men." On Thursday, the Missoulian tagged the book as a "November read." On Saturday, The Herald-Sun of Durham, North Carolina published a lovely feature on the book pegged to my upcoming talk in that city. And this morning, the Greensboro News and Record praised Andy and Don as "engaging and revealing." An accompanying feature article goes deeper on the Andy-Don relationship. Finally, over the weekend, the Globe magazine featured Andy and Don on its cover for the second time.
Most of my public appearances for Andy and Don still lie ahead. But I gave my first book talk on Saturday at Politics & Prose, the storied Northwest Washington book store, to a warm reception. Next stop: Morgantown, West Virginia, birthplace of Don Knotts!
Meantime, don't forget that I'm going to give away a signed book to whoever comes up with the best Top 5 list of Andy Griffith Show episodes. ("Best" is a subjective term in this case, because I'm just looking for the list closest to my own!) Leave your list in the comment section.
Andy and Don went on sale yesterday, Nov. 3, exactly 55 years and one month after the debut of The Andy Griffith Show on CBS. The response so far has been great. Here's a recap of the week to date:
On Monday, I traveled up to New York to tape a segment for Inside Edition, the decorated entertainment news-magazine, for broadcast this week or next. I met a great team in a fun newsroom with a terrific view of the Hudson River.
Returning home Tuesday, I caught up on some enthusiastic press coinciding with Publication Day for both the book and the audiobook:
• Parade Magazine listed Andy and Don in its weekly column, What to Watch, Rent or Buy. (Excerpt: "Daniel de Visé, Don Knotts’ brother-in-law, gasses up the car for a biographical road trip back to Mayberry...")
• The popular website SitcomsOnline ("All sitcoms, all the time.") weighed with another very favorable review, concluding thus: "This isn't one of those books that just repackages information readily available online and adds more to it as filler, it is a well-written and heavily sourced book with details that may be new or even surprising to some fans."
• Good Grit Magazine, chronicler of Southern culture, presented its own very flattering review.
• And Mark Washburn, a real Andy Griffith scholar from the Charlotte Observer, stepped up with that paper's second feature about the book, provocatively headlined "Secret strife behind the scenes in Mayberry."
Earlier today, I chatted with Kansas City broadcaster Steve Kraske on his popular KCUR-89.3-FM daytime show, Up to Date. Steve knows the show well, and Kansas City is full of Andy & Don fans; Don returned there many times for theatrical performances. Listen to the full interview here.
In Orlando, veteran critic Gary Roen broadcast an on-air review of Andy and Don on radio station WBZW 1520-AM. Excerpt: "Fans of both actors will not want to miss this one."
Finally: In honor of publication day, I want to send someone a free book! Post a comment listing your five favorite episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. The winner is whoever comes closest to my own list!
Would you like to know more about Andy and Don than this website can tell you? Good news: Over the next two months, I'll be doing quite a few on-air interviews and in-person appearances to promote the book and spread the word.
Here are the events I have planned from Tuesday, Nov. 3 - - release day! - - through Sunday, Nov. 8. More bookings will pop up on the appearances page as they are confirmed. There's lots more coming after Nov. 8; click on the appearances page to see the full schedule.
• At noon on Wednesday, Nov. 4, I'll be calling into "Up to Date," Steve Kraske's show on the NPR affiliate KCUR-FM in Kansas City. Listen live here.
• At 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6, I'll be live on "The Jim Engster Show" on TALK 107.3-FM in Baton Rouge. Listen live here.
• I'll be appearing in person at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7, at Politics & Prose, the famed Northwest Washington book store, at 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW.
• Sunday, Nov. 8, brings a triple shot of live and taped shows: "Conversations with Peter Solomon" at 6 a.m. on SportsRadio WIP 94-FM in Philadelphia (listen live here); "Sunday Edition" at noon on WSGE-FM 97.1-FM in North Carolina (listen live here); and "Weekend Talk with Tron Simpson" at 2:30 p.m. on KVOR 740-AM in Colorado Springs (listen live here).
Andy Griffith and Don Knotts loved to sit down together and write. They spent many hours in the script room at Desilu Studios, crafting little scenes that recalled memories from their Southern childhoods. Many of the bits wound up in episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, often tucked at the beginning or end of the show. It was a way to pad out a script that ran a couple minutes short. But it would be an injustice to call these skits "filler." They rank among the finest moments in the Griffith Show, classic routines that display the unique and powerful chemistry that linked Andy and Don.
Click on the link for my pick of five ageless Andy-Barney skits from the Griffith Show. I wrote the article for Classic Movie Hub, a popular web site that celebrates great cinema and television. You can find most of the skits cited - - or at least the episodes that contained them - - with a quick YouTube search.
The Nov. 3 publication date for Andy and Don draws near, and I'm happy to say that the book is already drawing enthusiastic press coverage, both in print and online. Here's a brief timeline:
July 16: Andy and Don receives its first press - - a cover story in The Globe tabloid. The Globe has devoted a lot of space to Andy Griffith, both before and since his death in summer 2012. I have seen him on its cover at least once a year since I started work on the book.
July 28: The book earns its first review, in the industry publication Publishers Weekly. You always hold your breath when you read your first review. Happily, this one was very positive. Excerpt: "De Visé offers an intimate look at the lives of these two stars, and his access is invaluable to understanding their lifelong friendship. He captures the complexity of both men and the intimacy of their friendship with extreme detail and sensitivity."
August 21: The book jacket is done! The final cover gives us space to promote the wonderful blurbs collected from celebrities and esteemed authors, including Billy Bob Thornton (a huge Andy-Don fan), James Carville (ditto), Pulitzer-winning TV critic Tom Shales, John Wayne biographer Scott Eyman, Seinfeld sage Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, and Bob Hope biographer Richard Zoglin. Many thanks to all!
September 2: Andy and Don gets a starred review from Booklist. Excerpt: "Delicious comfort food for boomers and, really, anyone with cable."
September 10: Library Journal weighs in with another good review. Excerpt: "This book by a Knotts in-law shows how the magic was created. . . . The author chronicles their parting of ways, career and marital ups and downs, cast reunions of the old show, and later their reteaming in Griffith's popular series Matlock. De Visé examines the childhood, early careers, and outsize ambitions of both men, explaining why their chemistry made them click. VERDICT: By turns humorous, informative, and poignant, this book is recommended for public library readers."
September 18: The popular book-lovers site Booktrib posts a terrific capsule review in an article devoted to "Classic TV Shows Worth a Second and Third Look." Excerpt: "This new biography chronicles years of their close friendship, but also the dirt behind-the scenes: affairs, jealousies, and all that good stuff. The perfect read for any lover of both gossip and old-school television."
October 1: Television's MeTV Network publishes the first online excerpt of Andy and Don to coincide with the 55th anniversary of the broadcast debut of The Andy Griffith Show. Look for more content to come from the MeTV gang!
And that brings us up to date. Check my Facebook and Twitter pages (and, of course, this site) for regular updates on Andy and Don as the date draws nearer!