Don Knotts, who played the naïve Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show,” knew a thing or two about getting an unorthodox start in Hollywood. His entertainment career began as a ventriloquist in Morgantown, West Virginia. It took World War II and a college degree in theater for Knotts to earn his big break.
In 1999, Don Knotts sat down with the Archive of American Television for an interview. During the one-on-one, Knotts was asked if he was aware of any blueprint for finding success in the entertainment industry.
“I think the only advice you can give, is you have to be persistent. Because it isn’t going to happen overnight and you have to keep believing yourself and keeping after it,” he said in the interview. “But as far as a blueprint, there is no such thing. It isn’t like in England, like they have apprentice actors in theater. But they don’t have anything like that here. You just have to knock around until you find your way and it’s tough.”
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Star Finds His Big Break
Don Knotts did as many aspiring young entertainers do. He moved to New York after high school to pursue his dreams. Unfortunately, his ventriloquism act didn’t gain much traction, and before long, the United States got involved in World War II.
He was assigned to the Special Services Branch, as many famous entertainers were. It was in the military that Knotts started to pursue straight comedy. The connections he made here would help him find work when he returned to New York after the war. Still, his work on the radio and doing stand-up comedy in clubs left a lot to be desired for the educated actor.
It wasn’t until Knotts played a small part in the Andy Griffith-led play “No Time for Sergeants” that his show business career really took off. Andy Griffith remembered the peculiar and talented Knotts when they were casting for “The Andy Griffith Show,” and Deputy Barney Fife was born.
The legendary comedic actor had some personal experience with persistence. Even after his run on “The Andy Griffith Show,” there was a period of time in the 1970s when Knotts wasn’t finding a ton of high-profile work. He kept at it, working in theater and low-budget movies until he finally landed a role on “Three’s Company.”