Ask the Writer

Harvey Bullock
Harvey Bullock

Everett recently
Everett Greenbaum

We are very pleased to have this feature here on the TAGSRWC web site. You will be able to read the answers to questions posed to two of The Andy Griffith Show's most prolific writers, Harvey Bullock and Everett Greenbaum. We can't thank these two wonderful writers enough for their time and for giving us this insight into "our hometown."

The questions have been submitted by members of the "Who's Been Messin' Up the Bulletin Board?" online chapter of TAGSRWC.

Q. What did Barney mean when he was talking about the hot weather and said, "It must be the bomb?"

A. From Everett:
This was a very common expression during the post-World War period. Back then, as some of you have mentioned, people ascribed every unusual happenstance as an aftermath of "the Bomb." It was a worldwide apprehension. I went to a theater in London during a monstrous downpour...I said to the doorman, "Nasty weather, what?" He immediately said....well, you know the line.

From Harvey:
Yes, it was a common misconception which Barney probably shared with many. But somehow, reading the script thirty years later, I wince a bit about getting gentle Mayberry associating unnecessarily, even in a minor way, with the topical and tragic. Maybe my years in OZ have made me a softy.

Q. I have a question for Harvey Bullock. I've watched the episode "Aunt Bee's Romance" at least 30 times, and I always wonder about the punchline to Roger's riddle: What DID the mirror say to the dresser?

A. To that most faithful viewer who's seen AUNT BEE'S ROMANCE thirty times (!!) and is going into terminal bonkers over a question asked but not answered.; First I am flattered immensely by your interest in TAGS. Next, ,I really had to rack my ancient mind to remember the reply in the old gag I had the annoying Roger use, e.g. "What did the mirror say to the dresser?"

In the script I didn't give the answer, I stewed and stewed, finally EUREKA..after 35 years the answer came to me..I remembered it was a touch gamey to be told in Aunt Bee's presence, (but very tame by today's standards.) the zippy answer is


I hope Faithful Fan's sanity can now be saved.. best to all, Harvey Bullock

Everett Greenbaum Then
Everett Greenbaum plays along with Andy on the set.

Q. You had mentioned being a freelance writer. Were you commissioned to write a certain number of episodes, or did you just submit them as you wrote them? Did you ever have any ideas rejected, and what stories were these?

A. Freelance writers were gypsies. They worked mostly at home, weren't on a payroll so no salary, no perks. Being new in town, the tough part was getting a buyer to listen to my story ideas. Producers were hard-pressed to find time to meet with an unknown who hadn't written a single word for any sitcom in town.

Finally a break; my agent got me a meeting with Aaron Ruben at TAGS. I rehearsed telling my four or five notions (Per union rule, they had to be presented orally, nothing in writing.) If the producer didn't take any, the meeting was over, no money changed hands.

Aaron was most gracious, sensing my nervousness. He was constructive, and non adversarial. Wonder of wonders, he accepted one of my stories, OPIE'S HOBO FRIEND. I was now entitled to "story" money (about $1100) and if the story went through to completed script, another $2400)

Best of all I had a chance to work on a that prestigious show. What a thrill!! I drove away from the studio in my rent-a-wreck clunker, and the wheels never touched the ground!

Thereafter I would meet with Aaron whenever I had accumulated some story notions. He often bought one. Sometimes a producer offered a "multiple script" deal promising a writer a certain number of assignments, usually three or four. This was beneficial to both, the producer was assured of a supply of "workable" scripts and the freelance writer had a measure of security. Of course, the writer still had to come up with enough stories to fill his commitment. After my first year, Aaron offered me a TWELVE script commitment! Unheard of! My wheels were off the ground again.

Now, what were some of the rejected stories Aaron didn't buy? There were many, many of them, many more rejects than acceptances. But to my utter amazement, I can't remember the details of a singe one! I guess my brain just sluiced them away as useless memories, best forgotten...Harvey

Q. In the WBMUTBB Digest of 2/18/99 Ken Kokourek spotted a character in episode #39 named Frank Myers (played by Andy Clyde). In the credits of this episode there was also a Frank E. Myers listed as production manager for TAGS. Was this just a coincidence or a way of honoring the Production Manager?

A. The late Frank Myers was an affable hard-working TAGS production chief...he had to line up live bears, or pole-climbing repairmen, or a loaded goat, or a collapsible cave for the rescue story..whatever the writer indicated. My partner, Ray Allen, and I had a small room at the Cahuenga Desilu Studio just down the hall from Frank's office. So on a dull day, we inserted a phoney scene into a script we'd just finished, It called for as forest fire which was put out by busting a dam open. The script went to his desk, and soon after we heard the most agonizing screech from his office. A truely un-earthful howl...A FOREST FIRE AND A DAM BURSTING!!!!!

Eventually he simmered down enough to let us crawl out from under the desk.

Frank's son Chuck was also on the production crew. Frank Myers was truly a memorable character with almighty pride in TAGS. We gratefully used his name, and he relished seeing it. - Harvey

Q. How can a copy of Mr. Greenbaum’s autobiography be found? Where did the title come from?

A. The book, THE GOLDENBERG WHO COULDN’T DANCE was published around 1980 by Harcourt Brace Co. It is out of print but there are copies in many libraries.

WHERE DID THAT TITLE COME FROM? Everett had close relatives in Philadelphia named Goldenberg, all of whom prided themselves mightily for being accomplished dancers. It was in the blood, they all were exceptional, they danced night and day. Everybody except Everett. Try as he might, he couldn’t dance a lick! The family tried everything, Everett couldn’t even dance the Hora. He thinks they kept it a secret; they were too embarrassed to admit to the world there was such a thing as..A Goldenberg who couldn’t Dance. - Harvey 

Harvey and Andy
Harvey and Andy look over a script.

Q. Where did the "T" in "Ernest T." come from?

A. Everett’s first big-time assignment was writing in New York, with Jim Fritzell, all the scripts for MR. PEEPERS" for the three years it was on the air. Wally Cox was the star; the talented cast included Marion Lorne, Pat Benoit, Tony Randall, Ruth McDevitt, Georgian Johnson, Reta Shaw and Jack Warden Jack played the part of rough and tumble school coach. Everett and Jim were anxious to get a name just right for the aggressive Warden. They finally decided to call him "FRANK T. WHIP."

Ev and Jim were tickled by the name, and for whatever reason, were specially happy with the "T" middle initial. Go figure. Many years later when they created Howie Morris’ inimitable role, they made certain its name also had a middle initial "T". It differed in that it attached itself to the first name, which was never used without the T..It was always like one name, "Ernest T." - Harvey

Comments from Harvey:


Everybody has a little streak of ham...the desire to hear laughs and to hypnotize an audience. Everett got his first chance when he attended a rehearsal for the MR PEEPERS show. An actor was missing, it was almost airtime, so the producer grabbed Everett saying "You wrote the script, you know the lines, you do it."And Everett did. It was a tiny part, just a line or two but the producer was impressed. He suggested Ev and Jim Fritzell write a script with a sizable part for Everett . and they did.

The show went on, featuring Cyril Richard. Everett got his cue, stepped onto the set. took a breath and then froze solid. His mind went completely totally zero. And this was on LIVE Tv, no retakes. Wally Cox and Alice Ghostley quickly went on stage and ad libbed hoping Everett would regain his memory. No such luck. Mercifully the cast finally rescued Everett. But he had developed a deep aversion and embarrassment about performing...which lasted twenty years. Today he’s over it, and blithely takes on sitcom roles and TV commercials.

Q. Were there any TAGS scripts which were written but never filmed?

A. Yes .Paul, I wrote one ..( I don't know if other writers wrote any.) Our unfilmed episode was THE WANDERING MINSTREL, which I wrote with Ray Allen Saffian for the 1962-1963 season.. It featured a charming footloose guitar player we called "Wally Jordan." ( based on an actual musician Andy had great respect for, Brownie Mcghee)

Andy had constantly spoken in praise of Brownie, so it was inevitable someone would write the story. We wrote the outline and then the fully completed script. Now the weird part. To this day nobody on TAGS can give a reason why it wasn't filmed. It's still a mystery.

If you'd like to read the script, it is printed in its entirety in Richard Kelly's seminal book THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW .. Pickled Tink to hear from you. Harvey B

**You can get Richard Kelly's book guessed it...Weaver's Dept Store***

Q: In episode #67, "Andy's Rich Girlfriend," Andy said that the Model A that he and Barney were driving to New Orleans broke down in DeQueen Junction. Is that an actual town?

A: From Everett:
This is an actual town, and in fact, the town where my wife grew up. The name came about when Queen Wilhelmenia of Holland once visited and the small village celebrated this marvelous happening by naming itself "DeQueen." Other towns nearby tried to get on the bandwagon, one called itself "Queen of Holland," another "Queen Junction" and even one simply "Nina."

Another town nearby is Dierks, where my wife, Deane, went to high school.

From Harvey:
There's more to the story. Everett's wife came from the plainest background back in the hills, no indoor plumbing, catching the milk wagon to get to school, etc. But she was a lady determined to get an education so she came to Los Angeles and got a job as a doctor's receptionist. Every night she was at school or the library. That's when Everett had (unknowingly) a stroke of luck. He took sick and made an appointment with his doctor...yep, you guessed it.

Deane says when she first saw Everett she KNEW immediately she was going to marry him!

Now most of you will recall that wonderful dialogue scene between Andy and Barney on the porch where Barney casually states he finally found a present to give his parents. They're hard to buy for. But he found the very right thing. Andy asks what it was and Barney says, "A septic tank." Andy says,"You're a good son, Barn." Barney replies, "I try."

THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED!!! Everett GAVE his new IN-LAWS BACK IN DeQueen a COMPLETE septic tank!!! They still marvel at it.

Q. Was there a connection between the word "ABYSINNIA" used as slang by Opie in a TAGS episode...and then the same word reappearing as a title to a M.A.S.H. episode, since both were written by Everett Greenbaum and Jim Fritzell?

A: From Everett:
Everett responds: "I remember well using the slang/gag term in one of Opie's speeches, it was the sort of corny humor of the times..and like other kids, Opie liked to be on the cutting edge sometimes. However, when later Jim and I wrote that MASH episode, we did not recall (at that time ) having used it with Opie. It seemed to make a good title for that MASH story about the demise of Colonel Blake."

"So it was not a conscious reminder of the TAGS show which prompted us to title the MASH episode. But since both usages came from the same memory pool, there MAY have been a psychological connection. Interesting gadget, the medulla oblongata!"

Q. How long does it take to write an episode for TAGS?

A: From Everett:
The variable here is the STORY. Finding one is the toughest part of writing. Sometimes it takes a week, staring at the ceiling, pitching half-baked ideas to each other. Nothing seems to work, then one suggestion starts to click. Cautiously we experiment...expanding the tenuous notion...things seem to be working. QUICK, get this stuff down so we can make an outline!!

After producer Aaron Ruben amends and accepts the outline, we usually were able to bring in a completed script of forty pages in about forty hours. The strength of the story dictates the pace. A well-conceived story types up fast. When we wrote MY FAIR ERNEST T BASS, using the ageless Pygmalion premise, it was done in record time. We were able to use marvelous dialogue close to the original and backed by a solid and familiar plot line, Heaven!

Q. Have the actors ever deviated from the script?

A: From Everett:
TAGS sometimes had a few last-minute changes but they were minor. The performers had read the script so many times they were in a rhythm with each other so ad libs were unnecessary. They stuck to the material.