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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Citizen's Arrest

Today we celebrate what would have been actor Don Knotts' 86th birthday. The iconic character actor died in 2006. Knotts starred in television shows and movies for over 50 years, but the role for which he is most famous is as Barney Fife, the nervous, bumbling deputy sheriff of Mayberry, North Carolina on the "The Andy Griffith Show", 1960-68. The character of Barney Fife is so strongly ensconced in our popular culture that even today, whenever a town or city anywhere in America happens to have an unpopular sheriff or police chief on its payroll, the quickest way to insult him by encapsulating his lack of skills is to call him "Barney Fife". Don Knotts was in on the joke, though, playing the character to such perfection that it won him five Emmy Awards in the 1960's.
Don Knotts first appeared on television in 1953 on the soap opera, "Search for Tomorrow", and was then cast in the Broadway play, "No Time for Sergeants", which starred Andy Griffith. Knotts and Griffith made the film adaptation of the play in 1958, which was Knotts' film debut." He honed the "nervous man" character on several episodes of "The Steve Allen Plymouth Show" from 1957-60, and then in 1960 was cast in the role of Barney Fife, which would make him a household name. After playing the
"nervous man" in a couple of more films, 1963's "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" and "Move Over, Darling", he finally starred in his own film in 1964, "The Incredible Mr. Limpet".
Our favorite Don Knotts movie is 1966's "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" in which he plays, again, a nervous do-gooder who investigates murders in a haunted mansion in a small town. That one still makes us laugh. Forty more years of film and t.v. work followed, most notably as "Mr. Furley" for five years on the sitcom, "Three's Company". He continued to work until his death in 2006, one of his last notable performances being in the hit movie, 1998's "Pleasantville".
It's interesting to watch the first episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" in which the writers and producers tried to make Andy Griffith the comic star of the series. But it soon became apparent that the funnier stuff was coming from Don Knotts, and Andy settled into the role of straight man to Knotts for the remainder of the series. Don Knotts's legacy as one of the greatest character actors of all time is secure; in every poll and entertainment list compiled of entertainment's all-time greatest character actors, Knotts name is always at, or near, the top. Right where it should be.

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