Don Knotts may be best known for his roles in The Andy Griffith Show and Three’s Company, so one may assume he got his start in Hollywood with his comedic chops. But that’s not the case. He actually got his foot in the door by being a skilled ventriloquist.
During a 1969 interview with Advertiser, per MeTV, Knotts admitted that he first tasted fame by traveling the country and performing his schtick at nightclubs. Another article by Classic Country Music traces his start all the way back to his childhood days when he starred as a ventriloquist at church and school functions.
Knotts then joined the army as a young man and continued practicing his craft. His daughter, Karen Knotts, shared that because of his skill, the military placed him in the performers’ unit. While there, he put on a skit with his dummy, named Danny “Hooch” Matador, during a show called Stars and Gripes.
But the military is where he let his hobby die. A book titled The Incredible Mr. Don Knotts: An Eye-Popping Look at His Movies shares that he grew to hate Hooch, so he tossed him overboard while he was on a ship in the South Pacific. A 1970s issue of TV Guide called Long before he became Barney Fife, Don Knotts was a ventriloquist shared that Knotts “swore he could hear the dummy calling for help as the ship sailed on.”
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Star Does Not Suggest Ventriloquism to Budding Stars
Why did Knotts decide to kill his wooden sidekick? According to the interview with the Adviser, he was jealous. He did all the work and Hooch got all the credit.
“I was technically great at the art of ventriloquism, but didn’t like the dummy to get the laughs,” Knotts admitted. So, he moved into acting instead. The iconic Knotts went on to star in 87 films and series and earn 5 Primetime Emmys. He passed away in 2006 at 81.
The Andy Griffith Show star would not suggest following his path to fame. During his interview, he gave some down-to-earth advice instead.
“The only thing I can suggest is for a young person to go [to Hollywood], and become involved somewhere, regardless of how minor a role or place. Become involved; get to know people and names. Get known and time will take care of the rest. It’s not easy any way you look at it. Stars must work for years before the break comes.”
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