One of America’s comedy legends would be celebrating their 97th today. Don Knotts’ birthday is a great time to sit back and reflect on his contributions to American TV and film. Of course, he is mostly known as Barney Fife, the bumbling deputy on The Andy Griffith Show. It was all the way back on this day in 1924 when Knotts came into the world as Jesse Donal Knotts. A native of Morgantown, West Virginia, the comedian and actor went on to star in tons of classics.
As Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife, Knotts brought laughs and memories to fans of The Andy Griffith Show. What would Mayberry be without its loving and well-meaning deputy? During his tenure on the show, Knotts would go on to win five Emmy Awards and would late go on to star in other classic sitcoms.
From 1979-1984 Knotts played Ralph Furley on Three’s Company. As the landlord of the apartment building the series took place in, Knotts was always popping in and bringing his usual confused wit to screen. However, it will be his performance as Barney Fife that has endeared him to fans for so long. With his big mouth, figuratively and literally, Fife would go from yelling to a dead whisper in just a matter of seconds depending on the situation.
Almost always going around Mayberry with a look of bewilderment or blissfully ignorant content, Don Knotts brought the fun-loving and sensitive deputy to life for eight years. With his one bullet tucked safely into his pocket, Fife dreamed of the day he could use it. The Andy Griffith Show showed, perhaps more than anything, Barney Fife represented the big dreamer in a small town that was too unsure or capable to make his own way.
After Andy Griffith
Don Knotts went on to play other high-strung characters in TV and film. After signing a five-film contract with Universal, Knotts’ movie career really took off. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken came out in 1966 with Knotts as Luther Heggs, a town dunce. One of his most popular movies, The Shakiest Gun in the West, was a remake of an old Bob Hope movie. Knotts plays Jesse W. Heywood a dentist on the frontier from Philadelphia. Heywood goes on to find himself in quite a messy wild west situation.
Almost all of Knotts’ films featured him as an underqualified, regular person who gets thrown into uncertain circumstances. The characters make their way through by luck or instinct. Perhaps Knotts played Barney Fife everywhere he went in some way. The original idea for The Andy Griffith Show was for Fife to be the straight-played deputy. Andy Taylor was the original comedic relief, but the dynamics were soon switched to what fans know and love.
Knotts passed away on February 24, 2006, at the age of 81.
Happy would-be 97th to Don Knotts!