Category Archives: Books

“It’s Not the Years, It’s the Mileage”: An Indiana Jones Chronology (Introduction)

Working with the James Bond novels last year got me thinking about compiling another 91XTKfFZ3kL._SL1500_chronology for a great period adventurer of the last century — Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Jr., better known by the name he swiped from the family dog, “Indiana.” If you piece together his entire life story, as the Holy Bee has just done, you know that he’s not just Indiana Jones, professor of archaeology, expert on the occult, and obtainer of rare antiquities. He’s also Indiana Jones, Titanic survivor, World War I veteran, boy-toy of the notorious spy Mata Hari, romantic rival of Hemingway, roommate of Eliot Ness, amateur jazz musician (adept at piano and soprano sax), widower at 26, highly-decorated Army Reserve Colonel, and much, much more.

As we know, the movies, and most other Indy media, generally start off with a year written right on the opening scene, or first page. That has pretty much taken all of the detective work out of assembling a base-level chronology…unlike the James Bond stories, which may only hint at a year once every few books.

There’s also the “Indycron.” The Indycron is a private database maintained and curated by Lucasfilm to ensure story and character continuity across media platforms. Every novel author, every game designer, every comic book writer has to check with the Indycron to prevent contradictions and repetition.

The Indycron is a relatively recent development, however, which makes creating a logical timeline incorporating the massive amount earlier material a bit tricky — and at times, impossible. (Sorry, Marvel Comics.) Sloppy mistakes by the actual creators don’t help, either, particularly the novel authors. (All of them are guilty of facepalm-worthy screw-ups, but I’m especially looking at you, Martin Caidin. Your description of Indy as a “professor of Medieval Literature and Studies at Princeton” — when that was his father’s position — is unforgivable. Did you forget Indy is an archaeologist? I know you’re interested in technical details about vintage aircraft far more than characters or story, but at least give the background packet provided for you by Lucasfilm more than a cursory glance, you weirdo.) These errors, inconsequential as they may be within an individual story, collectively made my task very difficult.

Plus, I’m sorry to say, the Indycron actually does a pretty lousy job even with recent material. Indy meets Belloq under at least three different circumstances, and the Lost Journal of Indiana Jones and Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide, both Lucasfilm-approved books released in 2008, contradict each other all over the place.

Also unlike the James Bond novels, you may have noticed that we’re working with more than one medium, which makes for a lot more material to absorb. All of the original Ian Fleming and Fleming continuation novels, along with the “Young Bond” series, numbered around 27 books, all of them pretty slim. It was the work of 4 or 5 months to get through them, and that was at a pretty lackadaisical pace. Yes, watching a movie takes less time than reading a novel, but still — the sheer bulk of the Indiana Jones universe is daunting: four feature films, 22 ninety-minute installments of Young Indiana Jones on DVD, 13 novels, 17 young adult novels, 36 comic books (according to the Holy Bee canon), and various other bits and pieces floating around out there. Even though we’re given a year for almost every story, it can still be a challenge to make it all fit together coherently across all media. It’s enough to make armchair chronologists tear out their hair…but also gives them their rush. I know I’m not alone in this particular pastime. Other websites have attempted it as well.

IMG_20170807_184018

So…if the years are already given for pretty much every story at the suggestion of Lucasfilm, and James Luceno’s richly-illustrated coffee table book Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide and multiple websites have already assembled chronologies, then what’s the point of doing this? Continue reading

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Film & TV

The Holy Bee Recommends, #18: Thomas Berger’s “Neighbors”

To a lot of people, the title Neighbors conjures up fairly recent memories of the raucous Seth Rogen/Zac Efron frat boy comedy. To an older generation, it may trigger a dim recollection of the identically-titled flop starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. To colossal shut-in nerd like the Holy Bee, the go-to is the Thomas Berger novel on which the Belushi/Aykroyd film is based.

Berger (1924-2014) wrote about two dozen novels, but he’s probably best known for SUB-BERGER-obit-master180the picaresque quasi-Western Little Big Man. He also wrote one of my favorite Arthurian novels, Arthur Rex. But it’s this seemingly low-stakes, dark comedy tale published in 1980, set in sleepy suburbia, that I keep coming back to. I’ve re-read it many times since I was about fifteen, and it doesn’t seem to get old.

Earl Keese, 49, and his wife Enid live at the end of a cul-de-sac in a semi-rural area near an unnamed “village” where everything closes by six, and within commuting distance of a large unnamed city. (The setting is Staten Island in my imagination, but it could be somewhere in New Jersey. Definitely East Coast.) Keese works at an office in the city, but beyond that, we never learn anything about his occupation. Enid is a housewife. They have a single child, daughter Elaine, who is away at college. He arrives home one Friday evening to the news from his wife that there’s only leftover succotash for dinner — and that the vacant house that they share the end of the cul-de-sac with is now occupied by a younger couple.

220px-NeighborsWithin minutes, Keese is dealing with the female half of the couple, Ramona, who shows up on his doorstep, seeming to want nothing but to make him uncomfortable. She helps herself to Keese’s wineglass he had left on the coffee table, stares fixedly at his crotch for long enough that he believes his fly must be down, and remarks — after knowing him all of three minutes — that “you’re not so old, but you are too fat.” With old-fashioned politeness, Keese invites the couple to dinner, then goes into the kitchen to discuss non-succotash dinner options with his wife. He raises the possibility of going out to a nice restaurant. Enid is totally passive and doesn’t want to do anything (a recurring theme for her.)  When Keese returns, he finds Ramona has vanished, and her partner, Harry, has let himself in without knocking, and — after knowing him all of two minutes — slaps Keese affectionately on the ass.

From that awkward but sort of harmless beginning, things degenerate. At first it’s just that everything Harry and Ramona do is completely foreign to anything in Keese’s experience, and that they do not observe the social cues and forced inane niceties of late-middle aged suburban life. This culture clash spirals downward quickly. Over the course of the next 24 hours, there is psychological warfare, sexual tension, property damage, physical violence, and not a wink of sleep. What’s worse is that the more Keese tries to expose Harry and Ramona as sociopaths, the more these efforts backfire. When he attempts to verify some of Harry’s seemingly bold-faced lies, they almost — almost — check out. Sometimes Keese actually gets the better of them, but usually he is the one humiliated. The ultimate humiliation is that Enid and Elaine (who has arrived home unexpectedly) repeatedly come to their defense, implying that Keese is close-minded and paranoid. The more harried he becomes, the more calm and dismissive they become.

If it were merely a back-and-forth of retaliatory hijinks, it would be more of a kind with the shallow-but-entertaining Seth Rogen movie. Berger goes darker and deeper. The twist here is that even though the book is not written in the first-person, everything in the story is filtered through Keese’s perception — and that perception is not to be trusted. If the novel were in first-person, Keese would be an “unreliable narrator.” It is revealed in the first few pages that his eyes and mind often play tricks on him, causing him to see things that aren’t really there, or rather, to twist things that are there into bizarre hallucinations. When he first sees Harry and Ramona’s dog, a large wolfhound, he mistakes it for a naked human being on all fours. That sort of thing. How much of this affliction affects Keese’s perception of his neighbors is for the reader to decide. There are moments when Harry and Ramona aren’t around that his wife and daughter admit the new neighbors are indeed creepy people and that they are just trying to placate them. But there are also moments when they are not there that Enid and Elaine continue to defend them, or at least shrug off Keese’s concerns. What is to be believed? What the hell is going on? Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Books, The Holy Bee Recommends

The Holy Bee Recommends, #16: “Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year” by Steve Turner

In these virtual pages, we’ve already discussed why 1966 was a revolutionary year in 41tfo6prkll-_sy344_bo1204203200_general. Now, to continue our celebration of this landmark year’s 50th anniversary, we’ll get specific. What did 1966 mean to The Beatles? According to Steve Turner’s excellent new book, Beatles ‘66: The Revolutionary Year, it was the crux of their existence as a working band — building on past triumphs, peaking with their most remarkable work, and even sowing the seeds of their eventual demise. Turner considers the events of 1966 too important to be condensed and shoehorned into a typical Beatles bio, and the year deserves its own book.

It was first and foremost a transformative year for them. In the space of just a few months, they went from their matching suits and famous pudding-bowl haircuts, bashing out “She’s A Woman” into a wall of deafening screams, to being draped in beads and velvet, sporting moustaches and soul patches, and beginning the recording process for Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. In between, they made the momentous (and unprecedented for a 60s “pop group”) decision to quit touring, produced what many feel is their greatest album, Revolver, and its accompanying single, “Paperback Writer/Rain,” and embarked on individual journeys of personal growth and self-education that fundamentally altered their relationship with each other and how they approached their art.

The catalyst for all of this was the fact that the first part of 1966 was the least active period of their professional lives. It wasn’t always going to be that way. 1966 was supposed to follow the pattern of 1964 and ‘65: film a movie in the first few months of the year, a world tour in early summer, a U.S. tour in late summer, a U.K. tour in the autumn — and writing and recording three hit singles and two hit albums in the midst of all that.

The pattern was broken when a suitable film idea could not be found. Initial talk about adapting Richard Condon’s 1961 Western novel A Talent For Loving came to naught. The film was eventually made in 1969, with Richard Widmark, Cesar Romero, and Topol (!) in the roles intended for the Beatles (one assumes a fourth role would have been created for the fourth Beatle.) Boggles the mind how anyone thought a very-adult Old West sex farce would be a suitable vehicle for four English musicians, but stranger things have happened.

So after a soul-punishingly brutal schedule since the onset of Beatlemania, with no movie 8d389a137df76159148ff5091cba9ba1shoot happening, The Beatles had over three months off. The only thing on their work calendar for January was doing some overdubs for the film of their famous Shea Stadium concert from the previous summer. Once that was done, John and Ringo skipped town to vacation in Trinidad, where Ringo celebrated being out of the public eye by growing a full beard a year before they “officially” debuted their facial hair look. George married his girlfriend of almost two years, Patti Boyd, and also headed for the Caribbean for a honeymoon. Paul remained in London, and plunged into intellectual pursuits.

John often gets credit for being the “experimental” Beatle, but the trend was started by Paul around this time, who began being associated with places like the Indica Art Gallery and people like art dealer Robert Fraser, artists Peter Blake and John Dunbar, and writer Barry Miles. He assisted with the launch of the famous “underground” newspaper International Times, attended lectures and concerts by modernist composers, and basically gorged himself on every scrap of intellectual stimuli he could get his hands on. He was the first Beatle to really experiment with the possibilities of home recording, creating sound-saturated tape loops by removing the eraser head of his Brennell Mark V reel-to-reel recorder.

A lot of this may have been instigated by living for almost three years with the family of his long-time girlfriend, actress Jane Asher. The influence of the unconventional and sophisticated Ashers was bound to rub off on Paul. Jane’s father, Dr. Richard Asher, was a brilliant endocrinologist, mother Margaret was an oboe professor at the Guildhall School, and brother Peter was half of the music duo Peter and Gordon. The press at the time reported Paul’s unusual living arrangement (millionaire pop star living in girlfriend’s parents’ attic) as being quite chaste — like another sibling. But given how open-minded the Ashers were, one would have to assume nocturnal navigations between the two bedrooms were undertaken. Even so, after a couple of years, Paul realized he needed a place of his own. He bought a large townhouse on Cavendish Avenue, just around the corner from Abbey Road Studios, in 1965. By the time it was ready for him to move in it was early 1966, and Paul had begun his cultural crash-course. By staying in London, he was staying close to the action.

John realized he had miscalculated by opting for the mansion way out in the countryside, and frequently expressed his envy of Paul’s being at the heart of things. He did what he could from his more isolated environs, mostly reading — and experimenting with another new development of 1966: LSD. More on that below.

George, although he did not eschew the acid experience at this stage, was choosing to expand his consciousness via more spiritual means. His interest in Indian religion and philosophy was growing by leaps and bounds, and now he found the time to devote himself to studying it — and struggle with learning the difficult-to-master sitar.

Their desire to improve their minds in this fashion was typical of intelligent people who had missed large portions of traditional education. “Having gone from the classroom to The Cavern, they leapfrogged the university experience,” said journalist Tony Barrow.

During this time, the individual Beatles sat for lengthy interviews with radio and print journalists such as Alan Freeman, Ray Coleman, and Maureen Cleave, who took them seriously and asked sophisticated, grown-up questions — a welcome change from their inane group press conferences when on tour. Although the philosophical underpinnings of these interviews would come back to haunt John in the coming months.

tumblr_nvh0tl3gdy1tga28so1_500

March 1966 — back to work

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Music -- 1960s

“Nothing Is Too Much Trouble”: A Chronology of Ian Fleming’s James Bond (Part 3)

md6733474402_thumb.jpgOctober 1962 – March 1963

Bond is rescued by a girl from a Japanese fishing village, but the bullet that grazed his skull damaged his prefrontal lobe, and he has lost all memory of his identity. For several months he lives as a fisherman on a small island off the coast of Japan. He takes the name Taro Todoroki. (YOLT)

Early 1963

The Secret Service pronounces Bond missing and presumed killed. His official obituary appears in the London Times. It is written by M, and gives a somewhat accurate overview of Bond’s life (though some dates are off by three or four years, see Appendix C.) (YOLT)

Spring 1963

Bond begins having fragmentary flashbacks to his previous life. He is certain he had something to do with a place called “Russia.” He travels on a mail-boat to the Russian island of Sakhalin. (TMWGG)

Between April and November 1963

Bond is picked up by Soviet police on the waterfront at Valdivostok. In a scuffle, he receives another blow on the head, and begins to vaguely recall who he is.

After discovering Bond’s true identity, the KGB interrogates him for weeks (learning nothing due to his partial amnesia), then sends him for brainwashing at “The Institute” in Leningrad. (TMWGG)

November 1963

Due to a mind and psychological will left weak by the after-effects of amnesia, the KGB brainwashing is successful. Bond is sent by the KGB back to London to assassinate M. The assassination attempt fails, and Bond is put under the care of Sir James Molony, for what M calls “un-brainwashing.” Bond’s rehab includes neurosurgery. (TMWGG)

December 1963 – January 1964

Bond undergoes six weeks of intensive psychiatric rehabilitation at “The Park,” a discreet convalescent home in Kent. (TMWGG)

Late Winter – Early Spring 1964

Bond’s mental rehabilitation is judged successful. Physical rehabilitation and a massive amount of target practice at the police range in Maidstone follows. (TMWGG)

March 1964md3995449602

Bond receives first post-illness assignment, a seemingly impossible mission to test if his abilities have been fully restored: track down and eliminate Francisco “Pistols” Scaramanga, also known as the Man With the Golden Gun, the most dangerous hired assassin in the world. Scaramanga is currently employed by the Communist government of Cuba. If Bond successfully completes this mission, he will be reinstated to his previous status within Secret Service. (TMWGG)

May 1964

Working undercover as “Mark Hazard,” a courier/security guard for Transworld Consortium, Bond tracks Scaramanga for six weeks through Mexico and the Caribbean, finally cornering him in Jamaica. He succeeds in eliminating Scaramanga, but receives serious gunshot wounds in the shoulder and stomach.

Felix Leiter and the CIA lend their assistance. (TMWGG)

June 1964

Bond recuperates from gunshot wounds at the hospital in Kingston, Jamaica. Shortly thereafter, he declines a knighthood. (TMWGG)

Late July 1964

Bond returns to regular service duties as a Double-0 in the Secret Service.

Early 1965

On an unspecified assignment in the U.S. (Bond only refers to it as a “discourtesy visit.”) (CS)

June 1965

Bond is in Hong Kong to assisst with inserting another agent into China, but the mission goes awry. (CS)

colonel-sunSeptember 1965

M is kidnapped by terrorists in the employ of Colonel Sun Liang-Tan, of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who is planning an attack on a Middle East peace negotiation being held in Greece. (M is to be used in a bit of misdirection to make people think Britain is behind the attack.) Bond travels to Athens to prevent the attack, and succeeds, but not before being subjected to his most brutal torture session since the Casino Royale mission. (CS)

1965

Bond reaches the age of mandatory retirement from the Double-0 section. It would appear this policy has been waived in his case, or perhaps the overall policy has been changed since it was first mentioned.

May – June 1967

On a three-month sabbatical from the Service, Bond must decide whether or not to continue as a Double-0. He spends a month in Barbados (where he finally takes up tennis, after disdaining it his whole life), then travels along the Cote d’Azure in the south of France, before ending up in Rome. (DMC)

June 1967200px-devilmaycare

The sabbatical is cut short when he is summoned by M to investigate Dr. Julius Gorner, a pharmaceutical magnate suspected of illegal narcotics trafficking. Bond discovers that not only is Gorner a drug lord, he is also a terrorist planning an attack on the Soviet Union using a hijacked British airliner (to goad the Soviets into retaliating against Britain.) Bond’s mission to thwart Gorner’s plans takes him through Iran and into Russia. (DMC)

1969

Bond celebrates his “45th” birthday alone at the Dorchester Hotel in London. (He’s really 49 — but the fiction that was concocted to shave four years off his age seems to have taken hold. See Appendix C.) Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Books

“Nothing Is Too Much Trouble”: A Chronology of Ian Fleming’s James Bond (Part 2)

imag0824-1

[NOTE: The events through 1945 are based primarily on John Pearson’s James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007 unless otherwise noted, and may be altered or eliminated as more current canonical material on Bond is published.]

December 1935

Over the course of several adventures, Bond has matured into an independent and solitary figure, and could no longer abide by the petty rules and restrictiveness typical of boarding school life. He leaves Fettes after the 1935 fall term.

His Swiss relations, the Delacroixs, arrange to move him to the University of Geneva, where he could live off-campus (supposedly “supervised” by a landlady, who Bond found quite easy to charm and manipulate) and set his own schedule.

Winter 1935-1936

During his winter break, Bond pays another visit to Hannes Oberhauser, this time at the Hannes Schneider School at St. Anton in the Arlberg range, Austria, to continue his skiing instruction. (OHMSS)

Early 1936

Bond attends lectures on psychology and law, and reads widely, but mostly does as he pleases, at times recklessly. He refers to the forthcoming year of his life as his era of les sensations fortes (“strong feelings.”)

After completing the intensely dangerous Aiguilli de Midi ski run, Bond gains a reputation as the “wildest skier in the university.” He also participates in bobsledding and mountain climbing, taking particular delight in climbing under hazardous conditions — and climbing in the same area of the Aiguilles Rouges that claimed his parents. (OHMSS, FRWL, supported by AB)

It is probably also around this time that he begins doing some auto racing, in pursuit of the life-threatening thrill to which he is now addicted. (After he begins his Double-0 work in the post-war years, motoring in his rare and vintage Bentley racer is described as his “only personal hobby.” Although he still makes time for cards and golf, it’s clear that his car is his true passion.) (CR)

classic-magazin-grandprix-rennen_titel_1180x686_1

A typical 1930s Grand Prix auto race

April 1936

Bond travels to Paris for his Easter break, where he visits a brothel on his very first night — he is summarily de-flowered and has his wallet stolen at almost the same time. The brothel madam, Marthe de Brandt, recovers his wallet. De Brandt is nearing thirty years old, notorious, wealthy — and something of a freelance spy, mostly in the employ of Eastern European powers. (AB; supported by FYEO.)

April 1936 – c.January 1937

Bond and de Brandt engage in a tempestuous affair, despite (or because of) their thirteen-year age difference. The head of the British Secret Service in Paris, a man named Maddox, confronts Bond regarding de Brandt, explaining that she is the most likely the source that recently leaked information damaging to the English-French alliance…and has also been frequently and flagrantly unfaithful to him (he has the photos to prove it.) Driven by a cold, furious mix of patriotism and romantic hurt, Bond drives himself and de Brandt off an embankment into the Seine. She is killed instantly, he suffers a few broken bones and a concussion. (The Bentley is also salvaged and repaired at great cost — and sometimes Bond recalls this as the incident that gave him his distinctive scar.)

Maddox covers up Bond’s involvement, and establishes a mentoring relationship with him as he recuperates. Bond later discovers that de Brandt was probably not the source of the leaked information, and the pictures Maddox had shown Bond were from before her time with him.

Early 1937

Maddox convinces Bond to work in an as-yet-undetermined capacity for the Ministry of Defence. (Maddox was surely aware that his Secret Service had been keeping tabs on Bond since 1934.)

June 1937

Bond returns to London and is vetted by various medical, linguistic, and firearms experts at the Ministry of Defence. His probationary period for top secret intelligence work has begun. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Books

“Nothing Is Too Much Trouble”: A Chronology of Ian Fleming’s James Bond (Part 1)

A guy named John Griswold passed away at the end of May this year at the age of 65. He may not be a household name, but he is viewed with a great deal of reverence by fans of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.

Although a huge fan of the 007 film series, to me the “true” James Bond is the literary one, the one who spies, seduces, and kills in the pages of Fleming’s series of Cold War thrillers published between 1953 and 1966. The one who is a much more complicated and multi-faceted character than he is often given credit for.

A non-stop activity among literary Bond-philes is trying to tie 007’s book adventures to a real-world chronology. When was he born? When did he become a naval commander? When did he become a Double-0? What year(s) did he save the world from SPECTRE? There have been several (now mostly 41 OG076r1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_defunct) websites dedicated to it, and in 2006, John Griswold published an entire book on the topic.

Griswold’s work was and remains invaluable, but there are a few theories and interpretations I disagree with, and a few things that Griswold doesn’t cover (mostly minor asides in the novels making brief mention of something that happened earlier.) Plus, the recent publication of a new series of officially-sanctioned “Young Bond” books — that Griswold, becoming lost in the cruel fog that is early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, never got a chance to read — sheds lots of light on the character’s formative years, and throws off Griswold’s findings by a couple of years. So I couldn’t resist taking a stab at it myself.

Or rather, returning to it.

The last time I read all of Fleming’s novels, one after the other, was eighteen years ago. Those were the last few weeks before my son was born, and it is also at that time I began taking notes on the chronology.  I clearly remember at the time thinking it was the final opportunity to do something that stupidly self-indulgent, before the responsibilities of parenthood curtailed my ability to sit and read an entire book series in one go. Now that the kid is going off to college, it’s a good time to dig out my old chronology notes and finish the project off properly.

Ian Fleming, 1908-1964. A lot of himself went into James Bond.

Ian Fleming, 1908-1964. A lot of himself went into James Bond.

Fleming died in 1964, and his final two 007 books were published posthumously. With the blessing of the official gatekeeper of Bond’s literary existence, Gildrose Publications (later Ian Fleming Publications), other authors have continued Fleming’s work. Kingsley Amis, John Pearson, Sebastian Faulks, William Boyd, and Anthony Horowitz all have contributed Bond tales set firmly in, and just after, Fleming’s timeline.

The Bond novel series of John Gardner (1981-96) and Raymond Benson (1997-2002), and a one-off by Jeffrey Deaver (2011), are quasi-reboots and place Bond in a modern timeline, so they won’t be part of this chronology. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Books

The Holy Bee Recommends, #15: “Andy & Don” by Daniel de Vise

r960-e3e07f80eaa2dd7cdb9cc4355d2faeb4I had seen this book, published last November, kicking around the shelves for a few months before I gave it a chance. I had never been much of an Andy Griffith Show fan. Syndicated reruns of it ran through my childhood, usually packaged with what I considered the superior show, The Dick Van Dyke Show. I much preferred the snappy pace and rapid-fire witticisms of Van Dyke over the pokey, measured plodding of Griffith. I remember the reruns always airing at noon, so it was a summer vacation show for me. My older sister liked it, so I had to get through it in order to get to Dick Van Dyke at 12:30. But from a more adult perspective, I realize that what I saw as the show’s weaknesses were actually its virtues.

The dual biography Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show by Daniel de Vise recounts the history of the long-time friendship between two slightly damaged men from rural Appalachian backgrounds. De Vise writes in a relaxed, informal voice, and makes lots of references and comparisons to things in modern pop culture, intending to strike a chord with Gen X readers or younger, few of whom were born during the show’s original run.

Andy Griffith and Don Knotts met in 1955 during the 796-performance Broadway run of the service comedy No Time For Sergeants, which starred Griffith and featured Knotts in a small supporting role. They hit it off right away. At the core of their relationship is the bond of having been two bumpkins from nowhere, scaling the ladder on raw talent, and proving to the big-city sophisticates that show business was not their exclusive domain.

“When we talked about our relatives, they all seemed to be the same. Our sense of humor clicked,” said Don.

“One thing we’ve talked about a lot is the way a comedian is born,” Andy recalled. “Don says a comedian is born out of either unhappiness or embarrassment…and you start to learn to protect yourself. When you’re laughed at, you turn it to your advantage.”

“Men very rarely are as intimate as they were together,” observed Don’s first wife, Kay Knotts. Don called Andy “Ange,” and Andy called Don “Jess” (a poke at his never-used real first name.)

8e5f2ee2f36dc9c4a22b55e2bfd5d144They both had embarrassment and unhappiness to spare in their formative years. Andy Griffith was born in 1926 and grew up in Mount Airy, North Carolina. He was not well-off and posh enough to be accepted as a peer by Mount Airy’s wealthier society on the north side of town, and not poor enough to be accepted by the hardscrabble, working class families (who often had ten or more children) on the south side. Andy, an only child, was stuck in the middle and friendless. It didn’t help that he was too gawky and uncoordinated for sports, and even when he discovered he had a talent for singing, his big ears and oversized pompadour hairstyle tended to provoke laughter whenever he performed as a youngster.

He got out of Mount Airy as soon as he could, and achieved success in the drama and music departments of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Before, during, and after college, he was intermittently part of the cast of the “longest-running symphonic outdoor drama” in stage history, The Lost Colony, a regional NorthWhat_It_Was,_Was_Football_cover Carolina phenomenon still running to this day. He met his wife, Barbara, among the The Lost Colony’s rep company, and the pair became professional party entertainers, hirable for your neighborhood barbeque or Shriners’ banquet. She sang (beautifully, it was said), and he told folksy, Southern monologues. When one of these monologues, What It Was, Was Football was released as a 45-rpm single in late 1953, it was a monster seller, and Broadway came calling…

Although he used the internalized memories of his hometown when creating the The Andy Griffith Show, Andy never really forgave Mount Airy for all of its snubs. When the town began capitalizing on it reputation as “the real Mayberry” by selling merchandise, hosting cast reunions and “Andy Griffith Days” festivals, Andy himself always kept his distance.

Jesse Donald Knotts, Jr. was born in 1924, deep in West Virginia coal-mining country in the town of Montgomery. The Knottses were dirt-poor (little Don slept on the kitchen floor next to the stove, the warmest part of the house), and their troubles were compounded by the presence of Don’s father, who was not only a raging alcoholic, but also an increasingly paranoid schizophrenic, who frequently threatened family members’ lives. (Don remembered him holding a knife to his throat.) No wonder Don’s early comic character was known as “Nervous Man.”

images12Underfed and undersized, Don knew his tense expressions and flailing mannerisms gave him a comical appearance, and gravitated toward performing as a protective barrier. He taught himself ventriloquism, and made a few dollars with his dummy, “Danny,” here and there. After high school, he attempted to break into show business by traveling to New York. He spent most of his time loitering in talent agencies’ waiting rooms. Broke and chagrined, he returned to West Virginia and enlisted in the Army, where he (and Danny the Dummy) were assigned to “Detachment X,” an entertainment corps that served right on the front lines of World War II (it was sometimes referred to as “the USO with helmets.”) After a few months, Don began to view ventriloquism as limiting and small-time. Danny the Dummy was pitched overboard from a troop transport into the South Pacific, and Don joined the ranks of the comedians.

The first chapter of Andy & Don is quite rightfully called “Don’s Demons.” Memories of his monstrous father, dead since Don was 13 and bedridden long before that, still haunted him constantly. He always felt like a bad Christian because he never felt the passion he saw in the fire-and-brimstone services at the Pentecostal church of his youth. He developed intense hypochondria and insomnia, and frequently had panic attacks and psychosomatic sickness before  performances.

Intense psychotherapy finally allowed him to let go of his religious hang-ups and become agnostic. Andy was always religious — he seriously considered entering the ministry at one point (the Football recording was credited to “Deacon Andy Griffith”) — and became even more so in his last years, when he privately fretted about Don’s soul.

But for all of their deep talks over a half-century, they never really discussed religion.

The downside of psychoanalysis was that Don’s therapist was pretty free and easy with the sleeping pill prescriptions, and Don was hooked for much of his adult life.

After the Army and a bachelor’s degree on the G.I. Bill from the University of West Virginia, Don began to make inroads into radio and the earliest era of television, appearing in small but memorable parts on everything from soap operas to children’s shows. On a whim, he auditioned for an upcoming Broadway play called No Time For Sergeants, starring the overnight sensation Andy Griffith, who had done that funny football record… Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Books, The Holy Bee Recommends