Classic Movie Travels: Andy and Don Take Manhattan

Andy Griffith and Don Knotts: A Manhattan Walking Tour

Though Andy Griffith and Don Knotts were creatures of Hollywood, best remembered as stars of The Andy Griffith Show, both men spent their formative years in New York. Don first journeyed there in 1942, right out of high school, in a failed bid to establish himself as a Vaudeville performer. Andy turned up eleven years later, in 1953, on the heels of his first big hit with the comedy record “What it Was, Was Football.” Surprisingly, both men bombed, meeting with rejection and indifferent audiences in Manhattan theaters and clubs. Luckily for us, they kept at it. Andy retreated back South to polish his act in regional nightclubs, then returned to take Manhattan by storm as the star of the 1955 play No Time for Sergeants. Don decamped to West Virginia, went to college and served in the Army before returning to New York in 1949 to launch his career as a radio actor. Six years later, he won his own small part in No Time for Sergeants, and soon he and Andy were friends.

Scene from the play "No Time For Sergeants" 1955 (Don Knotts on the right) . The play also starred Andy Griffith (not shown here). Photo: Yale Joel“No Time For Sergeants” on Broadway 1955 (Don Knotts on the right). Andy Griffith also starred in the play, reprising his role from the live television play that aired in March 1955. (Photo: Yale Joel)

Here is a list of 13 iconic addresses that figure prominently in Andy’s and Don’s careers. I assembled this virtual tour for an upcoming visit to the 92nd Street Y at noon on Monday, February 29. If you happen to live in New York, click here for details.

1. 356 West 34th Street: This address housed the Sloane House YMCA, which was reputedly the largest residential Y in the nation when Don Knotts arrived there in summer 1942 with a high school buddy, his first foray into New York after graduating from high school in Morgantown, West Virginia.

2. 23rd Street at Eighth Avenue: Here lay the Cornish Arms Hotel, next door to the Grand Opera House, where Don briefly worked as an elevator operator during his first stay in New York.

Cornish Arms HotelCornish Arms Hotel Postcard (photo: Ephemeral New York)

3. 99 Seventh Avenue South: This was the site of the Village Nut Club, where Don did his first “club” gig in New York during that 1942 trip.

4. 214 East 14th Street: Don Knotts returned to New York in 1949 with Kay, his new wife. His first Manhattan gig was at the RKO Jefferson Theatre in the East Village. He bombed. And that was the end of his brief vaudeville career.

RKO Jefferson TheaterRKO Jefferson Theater (photo: CinemaTreasures.org)

5. 1440 Broadway: Here lay the studios of WOR Radio, where Don appeared daily on Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders from 1949 until 1955.

6. 870 7th Avenue: Andy and Barbara Griffith arrived in New York at the close of 1953, lured by the promise of capitalizing on Andy’s hit record “What it Was, Was Football.” They took up residence here, at the Park Sheraton Hotel.

7. 152 East 55th Street: At different times in the mid-50s, both Andy and Don performed at The Blue Angel, a nightclub where new talent went to get noticed. Both of them bombed.

Neil Simon Theater (once the Alvin Theater)Neil Simon Theater (formerly the Alvin Theater) (photo: Wikipedia)

8. 250 West 52nd Street: This is now the Neil Simon Theatre, but it was called the Alvin in fall 1955, when Andy and Don opened the smash play No Time for Sergeants.

9. 228 West 52nd Street: The site of Gallaghers Steakhouse, where Andy Griffith persuaded filmmaker Elia Kazan to cast him in his 1957 film, A Face in the Crowd.

10. Sutton Place: With the money they earned from No Time for Sergeants, Andy and Barbara Griffith rented an apartment on this exclusive Midtown street, a block from the East River.

The former Hotel St. Moritz building, today Ritz-Carlton New York, Central ParkThe former Hotel St. Moritz building, today the Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park (photo: Wikipedia)

11. 50 Central Park South: Site of the elegant Hotel St. Moritz, where Andy Griffith and Sheldon Leonard hashed out the concept for The Andy Griffith Show in winter 1959.

12. 65 West 54th Street: Andy trashed a luxury suite at the Warwick Hotel here in 1971, when he came to New York to meet with CBS head William Paley over his languishing television career following the cancellation of The Andy Griffith Show.

13. Fifth Avenue at Central Park South: During a stay at the Plaza Hotel in the 1990s, Don unexpectedly danced out onto the sidewalk one night and began to serenade the homeless men with the old standard “How About You.” Observers said it was like a scene from a musical.

…..

–Daniel de Visé for Classic Movie Hub

Daniel de Visé is Don Knott’s brother-in-law and author of Andy and Dona lively and revealing biography, and the definitive work on the legacy of The Andy Griffith Show and two of America’s most enduring stars.  The book features extensive unpublished interviews with those closest to both men. De Visé shares a wealth of new information about what really went on behind the scenes, including personal struggles and quarrels.

If you can’t wait to win the book, you can click below to purchase it on amazon:

 

 

 

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2 Responses to Classic Movie Travels: Andy and Don Take Manhattan

  1. Chris Teel says:

    Really interesting. As funny as Don Knotts was for decades, it’s hard to imagine him bombing on-stage, but maybe that is what helped make him the comedy genius he was.

  2. Amy condit says:

    Great post-thanks for sharing the then and now locations. I love old New York, and thanks to the resources mentioned in the article, I’ve subscribed to some great New York historical blogs on places that aren’t here any more.

    Wish I could have been on the east coast to go to Daniel’s talk.

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