Don Knotts had a way of making people laugh at the everyday antics of Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. Whether it was a glance, smile, smirk, or manic behavior, Knotts could find a way to elicit a response out of viewers.
While some actors might trust their professional experience to help them out, Knotts leaned all the way back into his life for help. In fact, he remembered being a youth and would mirror those experiences into his day-to-day work.
“Mainly, I thought of Barney as a kid,” Don Knotts said in a 2000 interview. “You can always look into the faces of kids and see what they’re thinking if they’re happy or sad. That’s what I tried to do with Barney. It’s very identifiable.”
Knotts did not have a very happy childhood. He reflected back on that in a 1976 interview with The Los Angeles Times. “I felt like a loser.” He said, “I was unhappy, I think, most of the time. We were terribly poor, and I hated my size.”
Don Knotts Discovered Barney Fife’s Persona
Taking this step in his career helped Knotts find his humorous side. As he tapped into his own persona while on stage, Knotts could work comfortably in different roles. He took this practice into his Fife character and also for Ralph Furley on Three’s Company.
Working on The Andy Griffith Show gave Knotts time to develop Fife and all of his quirks, according to MeTV. But a subtle change on Griffith’s part would end up helping Knotts’ Fife even more. When his show first started, it was Sheriff Andy Taylor who was at the center of the action.
As time wore on, though, Griffith took note of a developing situation. Producer Aaron Ruben offered some enlightening words. We get them through Richard Kelly’s great book, The Andy Griffith Show. “One day he [Griffith] said, ‘My God, I just realized that I’m the straight man. I’m playing straight to all these kooks around me.”
Later on, Griffith noticed the progression of his show when it came to characters. “Over the years, we added various other characters as we needed them, and our show became what it was — what it didn’t start out to be, but became what it was,” he said.
Don Knotts was on The Andy Griffith Show for Five full seasons. After leaving to do movies, Knotts would come back in guest-starring roles as Fife. Griffith’s show did continue for three more seasons, but fans can tell that its magic slipped a little until the end.
Griffith and Knotts would work again, though. Years later, Griffith played attorney Ben Matlock on Matlock and had Knotts along for the ride.
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