Thursday, December 21, 2006


My story telling group Story Salon dedicated our last show of 2006 to those who have made an impact on our lives. Looking back at 2006 we have lost many icons, the one that first pops into my CHILD OF TELEVISION brain is actor Don Knotts. Many people consider Barney Fife to be the greatest comedic character in the history of television. Prior to playing Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show Mr. Knotts played the nervous Mr. Morrison on The Steve Allen Show. Mr. Morrison’s initials were always related to his occupation. For example K.B. Morrison’s job was to place the pins in hand grenades. When Steve Allen asked what the initials K.B. stood for, Mr. Morrison replied, "Kaa Boom!" Steve Allen would ask Mr. Morrison if he was nervous and always got the quick one word reply, "No!!!"

After The Andy Griffith Show Mr. Knotts made movies like The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964), The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968) and still made guest spots on the The Andy Griffith Show. He earned two of his five Emmys from doing the guests spots. In 1979, Mr. Knotts joined the cast of Three's Company as the new landlord Ralph Furley. I even remember seeing Mr. Knotts as a nervous guy working in a watch repair shop as part of a prank with Allen Funt on Candid Camera but Don Knotts will always be remembered best as Barney Fife.

Why do we love Barney? Even twenty-somethings who were not even alive when Don Knotts was playing Mr. Furley let alone Barney, (the same twenty-somethings who don't care about anything that happened before they were born and don't watch any thing in black & white) love Barney. There have been many great comedic characters on TV, but many of these comedic characters go to a farcical extreme spitting out predictable punch-lines, one liners and zingers. Some even dropped I.Q. points for the sake of a joke. I think there is a lot of Barney in all of us. We may strive to be like Andy Taylor, act like Andy Taylor and may even fool ourselves into thinking that we are Andy Taylor. But we are really Barney Fife, full of good intentions, but with a bullet in our pocket.

Andy Griffith felt that the integrity of Mayberry’s citizens was more important than a punch line. The same integrity of the Barney character allowed Don Knotts to play the serious moments as well thus making Barney a more well rounded character and proving that Don Knotts was a good actor.

While writing this, I realize that I have been more influenced by Andy Griffith than Don Knotts. I guess it’s because the comic relief overshadows the straight man. I, like Andy, work best as a straight man when working with other actors. My pilot Red State has a strong Mayberry’s influence all over it. And as a comedian I, like Andy, told stories.

I never met Andy, I only saw him once from a distance when he was shooting Matlock on the Universal lot. I met Don Knotts once. It was at a local art store where he was having a picture framed. This was on same day that Return to Mayberry was to air. Everyone in the store had to approach Mr. Knotts to tell him how much he or she loved his work and that they would be watching the Mayberry Reunion that night. I’m sure he was in a hurry but he took the time to look people in the eye, shake hands and thank everyone for his or her kind words.

My favorite Andy moment from The Andy Griffith Show was Andy's History Lesson.

My favorite Barney moment from The Andy Griffith Show was the episode Barney and the Choir. When Mayberry choir director announces that they need a new first tenor, Barney volunteers for the job. No one had the heart to tell Barney that his singing was bad. Andy comes up with a face-saving solution by having a Barney’s mic turned off and a baritone sing Barney’s part from back stage.

Don Knotts lip syncing still makes me laugh.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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