Don Knotts' financial feud with Andy Griffith: The real reason Barney left Mayberry?

Why did Knotts leave for Hollywood?

Working with friends can be a tricky situation. How do you not let business matters affect those relationships? There's no way for us to simply turn off one side of our brains to separate how we feel about somebody's work from how we know them elsewhere. It's impossible. Your best friend in the whole world could make life miserable by doing a lousy job at work. Or worse, what if they do such a great job that they start questioning the hierarchy, and take a critical look at how much money you make?

Don Knotts played Barney Fife for five seasons of The Andy Griffith Show. The classic reason given for his departure always has to do with Knotts seeking a career in the movies. He'd have to leave Mayberry for Hollywood, and so his time on the show came to an end.

But, allegedly, this was only part of the story. 

The "Barney goes to Hollywood" piece of the puzzle is easy to corroborate because of Knotts' public success on the big screen in the following decades. Movies like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Reluctant Astronauts were effective vehicles, translating Knotts' small-screen persona for the big screen. The gambit paid off, and Knotts raised his profile further into the seventies and beyond, eventually creating a lucrative cinematic partnership with Tim Conway.

However, while Knotts undisputedly left Mayberry for Hollywood, there may have been more to the picture than simple ambition. A little bit of digging unveils that money could've been a driving factor in the decision. It wasn't just a matter of how much money Knotts could make in Hollywood. Apparently, he may have left because of how little he made on The Andy Griffith Show.

Shrewd business dealings gave Griffith the upper hand on his show from the get-go. Yes, it was his name in the title, but he was also a big financial player in the game as well. In Daniel de Visé's book Andy and Don, the author lays out the economic ins and outs of the show's early days. Knowing that his client didn't have very much Hollywood clout, Griffith's manager, Dick Linke secured the actor a majority ownership in the show. The money at stake allowed Griffith creative control, more than making up for his lacking résumé. The risk was all on the show's title star. Luckily for Griffith, the reward was his as well.

By contrast, Knotts did not have any financial stake in the program. Instead, he was given a salary, like any other actor in any other television show. In author Richard Kelly's The Andy Griffith Show Book, Knotts' financial arrangement is made clear by his manager, Sherwin Bash.

“I worked out this terrible deal for [Don Knotts], where he ended up making no money in five years," said Bash.

Knotts only made about $1,250 an episode. That's roughly $35,000 a year. While it was a decent enough salary for a TV actor at the time, it was a paltry sum when compared to the money Griffith made from the show. 

According to de Visé, Griffith and Knotts met after the conclusion of the show's fifth season. Knotts allegedly asked for a bigger slice of the pie, and Griffith misunderstood what he meant. While an agreement was never met, and Knotts left the show forever, the two actors remained friends and collaborators, with Knotts appearing later in Matlock. 

Watch The Andy Griffith Show on MeTV!

Weeknights at 8 & 8:30, Sundays at 6 & 6:30 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

9 Comments

trogg888 1 month ago
Let's face it down Knott's was the star of the show.he won well deserved Emmys and that show would not have been as successful without him.i think it was professional jealousy of Knott's popularity and he should have left his ego at the door and paid him more money,he was well worth it
BradBeall 1 month ago
$35K a year back in the early 1960's was great money! I remember a Twilight Zone episode where a man's materialistic wife is berating her husband for not yet making 20 grand a year. Then again, if Don hadn't gone his separate way, we wouldn't have movies like "The Incredible Mister Limpett" and "The Ghost & Mr. Chicken".
Tantoes BradBeall 1 month ago
Don Knott's income is here...but noticeably absent is Andy Griffith's. Which I'm betting was 10 times that. Glad they remained friends.
ncadams27 1 month ago
When Don Knotts said he wanted “a bigger slice of the pie”, the article says Andy Griffith misunderstood him. Did Andy think he was referring to Aunt Bea’s apple pie?
WGH 1 month ago
I love the show, and enjoyed watching Don Knotts in the movies.

But who really cares about this kind of thing 50 years later?
Bapa1 1 month ago
Well, he did make several appearances later, so it couldn't have been that bad.
Runeshaper 1 month ago
Well, that's a twist! Money can be quite the motivator, especially if someone is looking to secure a comfortable future.
ElwooodBlues 1 month ago
The other element to Don Knotts’ departure was that Andy Griffith was talking about the show coming to an end so that he could pursue other interests/projects. Knotts sought to protect himself from being without income and explored the movie avenue, obviously being successful. During that same time Griffith suddenly reversed course about ending the show but by then Knotts was committed contractually to the movies so he could not go back as a regular on TAGS. So the questions is, did Griffith manipulate the situation to avoid giving Knotts more money?
This is the story they always tell. Who knows.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?