November 9th, 2015
Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Digital Projects and Outreach Archivist, WVRHC.
This Wednesday, November 11, Pulitzer Prize winning author and Don Knotts biographer Daniel de Visé will discuss the research for his new book, Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show. Please join us for the discussion and book signing at 2:00 p.m. in the Robinson Room of the WVU Downtown Campus Library.
To learn a little more about Mr. de Visé before his visit, we asked five questions about his career, interests and Don Knotts!
1) Can you sum up your life’s work so far in one sentence?
Sure! I worked for more than two decades as a newspaper reporter (including 15 years at the Washington Post and Miami Herald) before segueing into book writing, which I will continue to do for as long as I can keep coming up with good ideas for books.
2) What inspired you to write about Don Knotts and Andy Griffith?
Don is my brother-in-law. I had always wanted to write something about him, and the conclusion of my first book (I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia) left me with some free time. I first thought of writing something biographical about Don, but then I switched the focus to Andy and Don and their friendship. A visit to the 2012 Mayberry Days [festival in Mount Airy, NC] provided further inspiration; it was right after Andy had died, and the whole event was like a big, loving memorial service.
3) What is your favorite anecdote from the book?
I think the most powerful anecdote in the book is the one that opens it: Don is sitting in a friend’s house, watching the Danny Thomas Show and that night’s episode is the pilot for the Andy Griffith Show. Don calls Andy the next day and asks if his sheriff could use a deputy. It’s been termed the most important telephone call in television history. Another one I really love is Don, late in life, revisiting his beloved New York. Late one night, he walks out onto the sidewalk and starts singing an old show tune, as if he were in a musical, and all of these homeless people who are gathered near the hotel recognize him and rise up and start following him down the street, and they become the audience for his big Broadway number. It really does sound sort of like a scene from a musical.
4) What was the biggest challenge you encountered in researching Andy and Don?
Surely the biggest challenge was the fact that my principal characters were dead. Some people couldn’t quite wrap their minds around the idea that I was writing a book about two men who had recently died. But in the book world, I don’t think it’s that unusual to see biographers writing about subjects who are deceased. Fortunately, I found many living souls who could tell me all about Andy and Don and their lives and their work on the Griffith Show. I have lost count of how many dozens of people I interviewed for the book, some of whom were in their 80s or 90s. And I also found a trove of information about both men and their lives in the archives of the Library of Congress and among the hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles I clipped for my project. I also relied on a number of terrific books about my subjects and the Griffith Show. One invaluable resource was the collection of audiotapes recorded by Don himself, in his own voice, that I transcribed during a visit to your library! [Check out A&M 3568 for these recordings!]
5) What is your favorite modern television program?
My wife and I are huge fans of Arrested Development, and let’s not forget the enormous role Ron Howard played in that program. It’s just about the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, and not a single line of comedic dialog is wasted. I am also very big on Mystery Science Theater 3000, the 1990s program that replayed bad old movies with an accompaniment of ironic commentary. That show was, among other things, a loving tribute to all the goofy local television shows I watched as a kid in Chicago.
Copies of Andy & Don will be available for sale at the event – cash or check only. For more information about the discussion and book signing at WVU Libraries, contact Lori Hostuttler. See photos of Don Knotts in the WV History OnView photographs database.
Mr. de Visé will also speak at the Morgantown Public Library at 6:30 p.m. on November 11.