Howard Sprague came to Mayberry the hard way

Jack Dodson went through a lot for the gig.

Mayberry needed a change. It was the show's sixth season, and it was missing a lot of what made it special. By 1965, The Andy Griffith Show hardly resembled itself. For starters, new episodes were being broadcast in full color. Gone was the quaint appeal of its earlier black-and-white episodes. With it went Don Knotts, who left the cast to pursue a film career. Sure, Barney showed up occasionally to guest star in a few stories, but he was no longer the reliable source of comedy the writers depended on. Jim Nabors was nowhere to be found, as Gomer had left for the Marines in his spin-off. Worse, Warren Ferguson, the new deputy in Mayberry, proved incredibly unpopular.

Remember Howard Sprague? He was the county clerk, as introduced in season six's "The County Clerk". Confusingly, Jack Dodson, the actor who played Howard Sprague, appeared just seven episodes earlier as a different character. In "Lost and Found", Dodson played insurance salesman Ed Jenkins. But rather than flesh out that character, Dodson was reintroduced as Sprague.

Howard Sprague was supposed to reintroduce neurosis to the Mayberry goings-on. Andy was always a straightforward voice of reason, and so the show needed someone unstable for him to play off of. But how did Dodson work his way into the mix?

According to Daniel de Visé's Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show, the details are even weirder than Howard was. 

One night in 1965, Andy and Barbara Griffith attended a Eugene O'Neill play called Hughie. According to the play's star, Jack Dodson, Griffith went backstage after curtains and "just raved about it." Encouraged, Dodson soon approached The Andy Griffith Show's casting director, Ruth Burch.

Burch quickly dismissed Dodson, deflating his confidence and bursting his newfound connection to the popular show. As he wasn't expecting that kind of treatment, Dodson had his agent contact Desilu Studios, hoping to capitalize on his earlier meeting with Andy Griffith. The message was passed on to Griffith, who replied, "I don't know who the hell you're talking about."

So, Dodson tried again. He had his agent contact another assistant at the studio. Again, when approached about his connection to Dodson, Griffith waved it away. "I've never heard of the son of a b****," Griffith reportedly said. 

That same night, Andy and Barbara Griffith went to the movies and saw a new Julie Christie film called Darling. The movie didn't suit their tastes, and the couple discussed their dislike for it on their way home. 

"You know, that picture stank," Andy grumbled. "The best acting we've seen in a long time was that play with those two guys in it." 

Luckily for the course of Jack Dodson's career, Griffith realized his mistake. 

"Oh jeez, that's who that was," said Griffith, before contacting Dodson. He quickly hired the actor to appear on his show.

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16 Comments

ETristanBooth 5 months ago
People always rave about the B&W episodes, and there are some great ones, but I'm always excited when I see that some station is running the color episodes. I love Howard Sprague. (Never cared much for Warren.)
Runeshaper 5 months ago
Wow! That really was a rough road Dodson walked to make it to the smooth path.
Lisa24 5 months ago
His voice always bugged me. He wasn't funny. I thought Warren was funny.
Coldnorth Lisa24 5 months ago
I’m with you, his voice sounded whiny and even his expressions were pouty. I know he’s just playing a character but doesn’t change how much he gated on my last good nerve
justjeff 5 months ago
Dodson was probably a very nice man in real life, but I never cared for him in either TAGS or Happy Days when he played Ralph Malph's father (after replacing Alan Oppenheimer in the role)... I found him dry, boring and quite unfunny - more 'smarmy' that 'weird'... but that's just my own, unsolicited opinion...
Coldnorth justjeff 5 months ago
Question for real, what does smarmy mean? The word shows up often in comments lately
justjeff Coldnorth 5 months ago
From Oxford languages: "...ingratiating and wheedling in a way that is perceived as insincere or excessive."
Jon Coldnorth 5 months ago
You can hear a few definitions of the word, as well as some questionable singing, here around 10:10: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neluWiB0cEA&t=605s
Coldnorth justjeff 5 months ago
Thank you
Pacificsun 5 months ago
The above is an interesting story, and I think I've read it before. In terms of it taking JD a couple of tries connecting with TAGS. But they were looking for didn't match JD's personality. And, there was no way, ever, of "replacing" Barney Fife (Don Knotts). Gomer and Goober couldn't do it. They had all kinds of wacky personalities in that town. So I don't think it was a matter of looking to play off somebody else. But to be as unique as Barney, in their own way. Ruth Burch ran a masterful casting agency. And if she couldn't find someone, they didn't exist. Or they didn't want to try and top Andy Griffith with some misstep. No, it needed his approval, (and more likely, his acceptance) and that's more of what the story should've stressed. Knowing DN wasn't coming back. And they had lost a lot of the physicality of comedy in a subtle manner. Desilu was also very precise in their casting decisions. Look how many memorable and unique Stars they turned out.

Neat angle though, on a classic TV favorite about which we already assumed hearing everything. Thanks MeTV Staff Writers!!
Jerryfan 5 months ago
The b&w era is the best. One of the problems was that the new people were OK but kind of sleepy and a bit on the bland side. Oddly enough Warren was one of the better ones especially when paired with Goober.
Pacificsun Jerryfan 5 months ago
True, they needed "country characters" who couldn't be portrayed as boobs.

Cross-reference with Paul Henning's challenge as well. Within their own fictional universe they needed to be believable (enough) to be functional in a humorous way. Sounds easy on paper, but can't be overly self-conscious!
McGillahooala 5 months ago
I like the entire series but the best episodes by far are the Black and Whites. It was a different show after that.
Pacificsun McGillahooala 5 months ago
Color suggested too much realism.. It's like ILL couldn't be what it was, in color.
Pacificsun 5 months ago
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