As a child I was always amazed that someone that looked as odd as Don Knotts was considered so darned funny. I remember many an evening in which my "Uncle Ed" would come over, and he and my dad would watch The Andy Griffith Show. They'd laugh, and laugh at Don Knotts.
As a child I didn't get all the fumbling, and bumbling, the nervous rattle made me a bit jittery. As an adult I realized that Don was doing an excellent job immersing himself in character, and had won several emmys in the process of making himself look like a bumbling fool - in the noble quest of making money, and even nobler quest of making people laugh.
Several years ago there was a Mayberry Reunion Special, and I recall watching a documentary on Don Knotts. Year after year he'd walk on stage in his tuxedo in front of standing ovations to fetch his emmy award for best comedic actor. I realized then that he must has been a genious.
The one show I'll remember him best for won't be any episode of the Andy Griffith show, but was the 1964 motion picture, The Incredible Mr. Limpet. I'll always remember watching that childrens movie every year. Mixing animation with video was rare then.
The local television stations seemed to have it in rotation (or perhaps it was sold to them as a summer kid's movie), and it would play during the summer year after year. The children of our family would excitedly watch the transformation of the bumbling, but nice Mr. Limpet into a fish! A patriotic fish at that!
Only in a child's mind, and in a children's movie, are such things possible.
One of Don's last movie performances was in Pleasantville. Pleasantville is one of my favorite movies. It doesn't ask much from an audience, and it is entertaining, and thoughtful. Sort of a pleasant movie. Don's character seemed positively nasty when things didn't turn out the way he planned - good job Don! It was good to see him in a classic show like Pleasantville.
Knotts began his show biz career even before he graduated from high school, performing as a ventriloquist at local clubs and churches. He majored in speech at West Virginia University, then took off for the big city.
"I went to New York cold. On a $100 bill. Bummed a ride," he recalled in a visit to his hometown of Morgantown, where city officials renamed a street for him in 1998.
Within six months, Knotts had taken a job on a radio Western called "Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders," playing a wisecracking, know-it-all handyman. He stayed with it for five years, then came his series TV debut on "The Steve Allen Show."
He married Kay Metz in 1948, the year he graduated from college. The couple had two children before divorcing in 1969. Knotts later married, then divorced Lara Lee Szuchna.
In recent years, he said he had no plans to retire, traveling with theater productions and appearing in print and TV ads for Kodiak pressure treated wood.
The world laughed at Knotts, but it also laughed with him.
He treasured his comedic roles and could point to only one role that wasn't funny, a brief stint on the daytime drama "Search for Tomorrow."
"That's the only serious thing I've done. I don't miss that," Knotts said.
Don Knotts was yet another representative of a kinder, and gentler time in U.S. comedy. He was a Greatest Generation World War II Vet, and a comedian who could get people to laugh without offending anyone, or without putting anyone down. Don Knotts dead at eighty one. You'll be missed, and remembered.
Here's are some Don Knotts links: