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.
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Dick Linke died this week at his home in Hawaii. He had served Andy Griffith as faithful manager across five decades. He was, at 98, the oldest survivor of the creative team responsible for The Andy Griffith Show.
When I first telephoned Dick to request an interview for my book, back in 2012, he was defiant and gruff. “Hey -- I might write my own book,” he growled. By the time we had our final conversations, a few months ago, Dick was just about my favorite source. Over the intervening years, he had gradually loosened his vise-like grip over Andy’s legacy and had shared some wonderful details of their time together. He loved the fact that I wanted to recount the career of his greatest client. Dick was funny, cutting, and sharp as a tack. He was Old School.
Richard O. Linke was born in Summit, New Jersey, a New York suburb, the child of German immigrants. He studied journalism at Ohio University and got a job with the Associated Press at Rockefeller Center. He used the journalism job as a springboard to enter public relations, joining a firm run by a former newsman, where he soon represented Perry Como. He then moved into record promotion, working for the Capitol and Columbia labels and briefly running his own business; his clients included Doris Day.
In 1953, Dick was head of promotion at Capitol. Sitting in his New York apartment one day, he caught a radio segment that showcased regional stations around the country. A particular recording caught his ear. It was out of North Carolina: “. . . It was that both bunches full of them men wanted this funny-lookin’ little punkin to play with. . . .”
Dick was listening to “What It Was, Was Football,” a forty-five RPM comedy single pressed by one Orville Campbell for the tiny Colonial Records label in Chapel Hill. The record had become a regional hit.
Dick flew down to Chapel Hill with another Capitol man to meet with Orville and his recording artist, Andy Griffith. When Andy beheld Dick, he whispered to his record producer, “His teeth are too close together,” according to an ancient account in The Saturday Evening Post.
“And we went over every word of the contract,” Dick told me in a 2012 telephone interview. “They were always worried about Northerners: Were we going to take them?”
When the meeting was over, Dick owned “What It Was, Was Football,” and Andy was a Capitol recording artist, earning $300 a week. Dick became Andy’s manager.
Andy moved to New York with his wife, Barbara. He and Dick started work together in January 1954. Dick immediately noticed Andy had a charming habit of saying “I ’preciate it” at every opportunity. Eventually he told Andy to keep saying it, as often as he could.
Dick took quick and complete control of Andy’s life. “Dick told me where to live, where to buy food,” Andy later told The New York Times. “He didn’t suggest; he told me. He led me to agents; he personally took me to auditions.”
Dick Linke eventually quit his job in the record industry to manage Andy full-time. His friends were concerned. A music publisher approached him on a train and asked, “Dick, you have a good job at Capitol Records. Why would you leave that for a hillbilly?” Dick replied, “Lemme tell you something. He’s not a hillbilly. He’s a mountain-billy from North Carolina. And I have an intuition for talent. And this guy’s gonna be a big star, believe me.” Dick recounted that story to me in a 2014 interview.
Andy considered Don Knotts his best friend. But for decades of Andy’s life, Dick would be his closest confidant. Andy once told an interviewer, “If it hadn’t been for Dick Linke, there would be no Andy Griffith.” In 1961, the two men were walking along Seventh Avenue in New York when Dick apprised Andy that their seven-year management contract had lapsed. He asked if Andy would sign another. “Contract?” Andy replied, according to Dick’s account. “You don’t need a contract with me. You have a contract for life.”
Dick guided Andy through every stage of his career, from his breakout Broadway performance in No Time for Sergeants to his beloved television vehicle The Andy Griffith Show to his autumnal comeback on Matlock.
Andy and Dick borrowed several hundred thousand dollars as seed money to launch the Griffith Show, an investment that gave them a majority stake in the show and made Andy half owner. Their interest would give the two men a rare measure of artistic control over the show; in time, it would also make them very wealthy men.
By the close of the 1960s, Andy Griffith sat at the center of a Dick Linke empire. At his peak, Dick managed ten clients: Andy, the Big A, followed, in rough order of celebrity, by Jim Nabors, Ken Berry, Bobby Vinton, Jerry Van Dyke, and the rest. Three of the clients, including Andy, lived within a few miles of Dick’s North Hollywood home. Dick found them housing, helped with birthday presents and insurance policies and wills, procured cars and jewelry and furs, and oversaw various side businesses and tax shelters launched in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
As an overly caffeinated Hollywood manager, Dick seemed straight out of central casting. “I remember him crying at his father’s funeral,” recalled Ronnie Schell, one of Dick’s clients, when I interviewed him for the book. “And as he was crying, he was checking his watch to see how long the ceremony was going to last.”
TV Guide probed the workings of “The Wondrous Andy Griffith TV Machine” in a July 1968 cover story: “Day-by-day operations of a complex structure involving six separate corporations are conducted behind the poker face of Linke, a former publicity man whose thinning hair is trimmed each week by a shapely female barber. He hunches in a Naugahyde judge’s chair, responding to incessant jarring buzzes which signal incoming phone calls—the fuel that fires the machine. They are relayed by either of his two secretaries to any one of 11 extensions illuminating his desk-side console.”
When the reporter asked Dick his marketing strategy for his most famous client, Dick replied, “Right down the middle for the masses,” channeling Lonesome Rhodes, the hero of No Time for Sergeants. “Give me the rest of the country, the mashed potato belt. You can have New York and Los Angeles.”
The partnership endured until December 1991. The parting was bittersweet; Dick felt he was being usurped by Andy's third wife, Cindi, who had moved to the center of Andy's life. At their final meeting, Dick sat across the table from Andy wearing a gold ring on his right hand, a recent present from Andy, with the number 35 etched on its face, for thirty-five years together.