Fans of the classic comedy series The Andy Griffith Show love the show for a reason. There’s a connectedness viewers experience “visiting” Mayberry in each episode, a familiarity with each character and what they bring to the fictional town.
Two characters that never got to see the light of day were Sarah, the town’s phone operator and Juanita, deputy Barney Fife’s sometime girlfriend.
Some members of the cast offered their theory on why the two imaginary, yet very real, characters remained off stage.
Mayberry’s minor characters
The main characters on The Andy Griffith Show were the Mayberry regulars: Andy Taylor, of course, his deputy Barney Fife, Andy’s Aunt Bee, and of course, his son Opie.
There were quite a few other minor characters that appeared from time to time and gave the show its unique small-town feel.
As Richard Kelly in his The Andy Griffith Show book noted, “A host of minor characters populated the town: Mayors Stoner and Pike, Floyd the barber, Clara Edwards, a druggist, old men sitting outside the courthouse, Otis the town drunk, Gomer and Goober, Helen Crump (Andy’s girlfriend), Thelma Lou (Barney’s girlfriend), a crude mountain family, and the town band.”
Don Knotts’ theory on why viewers never meet Sarah or Juanita
The audience never saw or heard Sarah the telephone operator (who apparently worked 24 hours a day) or Juanita the server at the Bluebird Diner. As Kelly put it, they “acquired a credibility comparable to that of all the other characters – perhaps they were even more colorful because one’s imagination could play with them.”
Griffith told the author his view on the pretend characters, “If you ever saw them, it would be a disappointment; they’re too colorful in your mind.”
Barney Fife actor Don Knotts offered his own surprisingly rakish theory on his character’s secret girlfriend, Juanita: “I saw [Juanita] as a conglomeration of every diner waitress I’ve ever seen that you try to make when you’re in there at one o’clock in the morning for a little coffee. I think every guy has thought of that one time or another. She was easy and Barney got a little on the side.”
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Ron Howard looked back on the show in a conversation with the Archive of American Television and revealed that his character, Opie Taylor, was originally a much different boy.
“Early on, they wrote Opie a little differently,” Howard explained. “More like the typical sitcom kids who were always kind of the wise-ass comebacks. Later I heard that my dad actually was talking to Andy about it.”
Howard and his father, Rance Howard, were very close. Rance stayed by his son’s side when he was filming for the series, helping him stay in character as Opie and offering support.
Ron continued, “My dad apparently said [to Andy Griffith], ‘What would happen if Opie knew that Andy was smarter than him? How about if Opie actually respected his dad? As opposed to sitcom kids who are always kind of making the dad look bad.’ Andy really took to that and that’s how they began to write that.”