‘Matlock’s Andy Griffith Cut This Former ‘Griffith Show’ Actor From the Legal Drama for Wanting More Lines: ‘He Wouldn’t Listen’
When Andy Griffith debuted as attorney Ben Matlock on NBC in 1986, he eventually brought on a few friends from his Andy Griffith Show days.
Another former actor from the 1960s sitcom was brought on by Griffith, only to be dismissed when they made the mistake of asking if more lines in the scripts would be possible.
Griffith invested himself in ‘Matlock’
After many years of trying to find another project that would match the Griffith Show in quality and depth of characters, the legendary actor happened upon Matlock.
In the role of curmudgeonly, frankfurter-loving Georgia attorney Ben Matlock, Griffith found what he’d been looking for, and he truly made the role his own, according to his former show co-star Nancy Stafford.
“He loved to invent bits,” Stafford told Daniel de Visé for his 2015 biography of Griffith and Don Knotts, Andy and Don. “The shoe-shining bit was his, and the hot-dog-eating bit was his,” she said. “And after he’d invented these bits and they’d show up in the script, he’d do this very fake but quite dramatic act of complaining, right as we were shooting a scene: ‘Why did I invent this? Why do I have to eat another hot dog?'”
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ friends who followed him to ‘Matlock’
Griffith did his best to make room for his co-stars from the world of Mayberry to join him in his 1980s drama.
“As the Matlock franchise prospered, Andy began to import bits of Mayberry into Matlock,” de Visé noted. “Betty “Thelma Lou” Lynn turned up as Matlock’s secretary. Aneta “Helen Crump” Corsaut, Andy’s former paramour, played a judge, as did Griffith writer Everett Greenbaum.”
The Griffith Show‘s director, Bob Sweeney, was also brought on to take “the helm on two 1987 episodes. Andy even asked the producers to hire Aaron Ruben, the brilliant writer-producer from Griffith, to pen some jokes,” according to de Visé.
The most nostalgic visitor to Matlock from Mayberry, however, had to be Don Knotts, who made 17 appearances on the series as Ben’s best friend and neighbor, Les Calhoun. Unfortunately, the arrangement didn’t continue, Griffith said, because Knotts’ role was wholly comedic.
“It was an action and dramatic show, and you couldn’t stop for these little comedy scenes that didn’t go anywhere,” he said. “So that character [Les Calhoun] didn’t work on our show. Don knew it didn’t, too. So, we let that go.”
This ‘Matlock’ guest star was never invited back
Another Griffith Show former co-star that Griffith had to cut loose was the actor formerly known as Thelma Lou. It was a thrill for Betty Lynn to return to work with her old friend Griffith on Matlock. Until it wasn’t.
Lynn had a good thing going in her role as Matlock’s secretary during the show’s first season. Unfortunately, she stepped over an invisible boundary.
Unhappy with the number of lines she was getting, Lynn appealed to Griffith to see if she could have more.
“They let me go as soon as they could,” MeTV quoted Lynn as saying. “I was upset with him because he wouldn’t listen.”
The actors didn’t speak for 20 years after that. In what seems to have been Griffith’s attempt to mend fences, he called Lynn to ask her opinion on a role he was considering.
After that, the two remained friends until his 2012 death.