A Quirky Man

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Your roots can make you stronger, or they can ‘break you in two.’ This is the

story of Don Knotts, born “Jesse” Don Knotts. His birthday, July 21, 1924 and

the day he died was, February 23, 2006. This July, he would have reached the

landmark birthday of 90 years old.

Jesse was only four years ahead of my Mom, in age. But so far behind, from the

standpoint of his childhood background.

Jessie’s roots were in West Virginia where a lot of ‘hard scrabble folks’ were

born and raised. It wasn’t easy growing up in his family or that part of the

country. It was a rough time, for many people with the onset of the Depression,

not too long into Jesse’s life and all.

Jesse was raised by a father who was known to be a ‘brute’ of a man, with high

expectations of his son. (Some biographers have decided, from their research,

that his father may have been mentally ill.) He was rough on his son. So was

Jesse’s older brother. There have been stories of his father wielding a knife at

him and beating him.

The young boy, raised in the country on a farm, was often picked on at school

since he was so scrawny and his clothes didn’t fit too well either.

While in school, he was often sickly. Jesse got in the habit of becoming almost a

“hypochondriac.” Being ill deflected his Dad’s wrath and also, kept him out of

school. There were times his mother comforted and took care of him, helping

make him feel better about himself.  This and being a ‘day-dreamer’ managed

to help him survive school.

Jesse was someone who wanted to find a way to ‘fit in’ or get out of his life.

There were three brothers to be raised by his mother alone, once his father died.

One evidence of Jesse’s curiosity and use of imagination was shown in his choice

of reading and play materials. He developed a talent with utilizing sock dolls and

asking people for money for their entertainment factor. This meant they saw

him use the puppet, while throwing his voice, using varied tones to tell his

crazy stories and made up plays. He developed an early comedic timing, which

got some smiles and laughs. His hopes of being a ventriloquist was encouraged

by books on the subject he read.

One of the first jobs he got, sometimes he told people later in life, he felt he

‘deserved’ this pathetic job. He stood on a line at a chicken factory and his story

goes, plucked chicken feathers off dead chickens. This was helpful for saving his

money and purchasing a ventriloquist dummy.  Much nicer than the sock puppet!

This brought more money into his savings for his future.

Jesse graduated from high school and afterwards joined the military. He

persisted through sickness, getting recognition for his talents. Once he was

‘discovered’ to be quite lively and entertaining, he was put into the Entertainment

Corps. This helped him to become more confident. He was part of the United

States Army, from 1943 to 1946.

Turns out, this choice of joining the Army changed his life. Knowing he was

not a ‘loser’ nor ‘worthless’ meant he could produce popular and interesting

character sketches. The more people laughed, the more original his material

became. He could “make fun of himself” and make money, too.

Jesse attended and graduated from West Virginia University.

Jesse’s star would rise, up into the sky, as Don Knotts.

Using his ‘hypochondria’ and his ‘paranoia’ to his advantage, this and his

skinny, slightly unattractive and awkward looks made him even more funny

to his audiences.

Don Knotts became a ‘hit’ in the true sense of the word!

Don was on a soap opera, he was the “Man on the Streets” where Steve Allen

would conduct “fake interviews” with him, as a nervous man on the sidewalk.

He was in the Broadway production, from 1955-57, of “No Time for Sergeants.”

Don later reprised his role in the movie version. This was where he met Andy

Griffith.

The movie, “No Time for Sergeants,” was filmed in 1958 with Don Knotts

and Andy Griffith.

Their television show, followed in 1960, where the two of them were partners,

of sorts.

When he got the part of “Barney Fife,” in the television show, “The Andy

Griffith Show,” he played the deputy sheriff to Andy Griffith’s role of sheriff.

This show lasted from 1960 until 1968. Don Knotts won five Emmy awards.

There were many more movie offers for Don Knotts.

My favorite role of his lifetime was as the fish in the animated children’s movie,

“The Incredible Mr. Limpet.” I did not know him from “Search for Tomorrow,”

nor did I really like the movie, “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.” I did laugh at his

flamboyant role as landlord, in the comedy television show, “Three’s Company.”

Do you have a favorite role that Don Knotts played?

Did you like him best as the shaky, nervous Deputy Barney Fife?

He was sixth cousins to Ron Howard, who played the character, “Opie.”

Andy Griffith and Don were known to be close friends, throughout their

filming the t.v. show and later years.

Don Knotts was married three times, his first marriage lasting from 1947-1967.

He had two children, a daughter named Karen Knotts and a son, Thomas Knotts.

His last marriage to Frances Yarborough was from 2002 up until he died in 2006.

 

Making millions of dollars over his lifetime, being a ‘household name’ and his

having the record of the most Emmy Awards for television shows sure showed

his father and those bullies who picked on “Jesse” Don Knotts!

 

 

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30 responses »

  1. Poor Barney Fife… Andy never let him have any bullets for his gun!

    My mom was born in June of 1924, also. She would have been 90 later this month, except for the part about dying this last March. Dang, mom, you almost made it! You beat Barney, anyway!! 🙂

    • On the funny side of things… I do think poor Barney would have been a bit more dangerous with bullets! I liked that he was unafraid of being himself, dorky and silly looking. Not all people make it as characters like he did!
      Sorry about this, reminder of Mom. But you are okay, we did have some back and forth exchanges during this time. It seems like just yesterday to me…
      I think that is interesting that your Mom did live to 89 and yes, she beat Barney!
      Almost time to hit the road to Cleveland, for my week with my Mom. It will be busy, three Dr. appts. and times out and about with family, too. Thanks, W. S.! Hugs, Robin

    • You have added a great point, Timi! Definitely, Good ole’ Don Knotts beat the odds! He had a lot of hardship and endured some painful experiences. Not all goofy looking people become rich and famous, also ‘beloved.’

  2. wow. robin. i had absolutely no idea about his very challenging beginning in life. the fact that he was able to overcome all of this, is a testament to his will. i loved mr. limpet too, and wonder if it’s kind of how he got through everything, by living in his imagination a bit. great post )

    • This is a great insight, Beth! I am excited that this probably did help him a lot! Imagination brought him through what we would now label, “abuse” and “bullying.”
      I am so glad you liked my favorite movie with Don Knotts in it! We do this a lot, line up our opinions on these non-relevant stuff!
      I am going to be praying up a storm for safe travel mercies and the wonderful arrival of the munchkins and adults from Australia, Beth! Happy family times all around! Hugs, Robin

  3. I’ve always loved Don Knotts, perhaps it’s our common birthplace of West Virginia. I didn’t know that about him. I still watch The Andy Griffith Show on TV Land. You gotta love Barney!

    • I bet you have seen the Aunt Bea’s recipe book, too, Jill! I have seen a few of the special memorabilia, too! My last ex-husband was from Roanoke, West Virginia. He had quite a lot of stories to share with us, along with the awesome and beautiful scenery. We went to Hawk’s Nest (state park?) and other state landmarks with the kids when we married. We had three boys and three girls, mine and his combined. Fun times! Take care and hope to be able to blog and visit everyone, at Mom’s senior apts. Pub, computer!! Hugs, Robin

  4. Don Knots was and still is a treasure. Neat fact about him being related to Ron Howard.

    Don knots was Les Calhoun (16 episodes, 1988-1992), a brief stint for Knots, with them both being much older – with his friend Andy Griffith on the lawyer show ‘Mattlock’.

    Cheers, Jules

    • I am so glad you feel he is a treasure, Jules! I agree! He had a very nice spirit, humble and kind just seemed to go with Don Knotts! I also remembered his being lifelong friends with Andy Griffith, so it would make sense that he would be a special appearing guest and a character named, Les Calhoun! I am always happy to have your contributions for my posts. They really fill in the gaps, Jules!
      Hope you have a wonderful week leading up to the Fourth of July! I will be posting a poem today, then my monthly July Post but that will be all, I think! I need to concentrate on reading others and also, spending ‘oodles’ of time with my Mom! time is so precious, as you realize with your Little Prince and Sweet Princess, I am sure!Hugs, Robin

      • I hope to add with a smile – info that is tucked in my brain, or that I googled, because of your interesting post.

        Looking forward to your poem. Gee is it almost July 4th weekend? Best to you and your family – enjoy them all!

    • Thanks, Brenda! He was definitely a ‘one of a kind’ man! I think he must have been pretty funny and also, kind in his personal life. Don and Andy were friends from when “No Time for Sergeants” was made into a movie. That is a long and enduring friendship! I was so glad that Jules mentioned that Andy had him join 16 episodes of “Matlock” also. My Mom loves “Matlock” even in re-runs! Smiles, Robin

    • I like the way you added ‘comfortable’ to Don Knotts’ description, Colleen! that is totally why everyone liked the goofy guy! I am so glad you feel he contributed many smiles over his lifetime! I would have liked to seen him as a young member of the Army Entertainment Corps! wonder if there are clips? Take care! Robin

    • Carol, you have got that one right! He had inner strength, endured and didn’t use his childhood as an ‘excuse’ which many of us, may have done, in his shoes… I like the way you labeled him a ‘survivor,’ too! Thanks for this!

      • Everyone, Carol wrote a special book that includes her own personal story. It holds sadness, spiritual journey and a lovely tribute to love. Losing her mother and sister, n a short time… hardest times, but Luanne read this book, shared it in a review, you may check out Carol and find this book, too! Smiles and hugs to all!

  5. what a lovely post! I used to love watching his movies when I was very young, I remember my grandmother finding them on tv to play when she was watching me or looking for Andy Griffith Show reruns. I admit I still stop on the Incredible Mr. Limpit when it’s on and of course, as a young teenager when he showed up on Three’s Company after the Roper’s moved to Boca or wherever 🙂

    • This was a lovely set of comments, so sorry I found them today at awaiting moderation approval! You definitely are a Don Knotts fan, so glad your grandmother also enjoyed him! I hope that we will stay in touch, I am visiting my Mom this weekend and very sporadic at posting and replying! Smiles and Happy 4th of July!

  6. What a great tribute to a talented man. As a boy I did not think much of Don Knotts’ humor. However, after seeing him later on a rerun of ‘No Time for Sergeants’, I realized how adept he was at setting up the punch lines. Your behind the scenes story of Jesse’s early life increases my appreciation for his gifts as an entertainer. He was at his best as Barney Fife, and that’s saying something. He often made audiences laugh just by appearing in a cameo role, like the highway patrol officer in Cannonball Run II. Great story, Robin! Thank you. – Mike

    • I look up months and birthdays, this is how I found good ‘ole’ Don Knotts! I was not always appreciative of his talent, either. To be honest, sometimes I felt he overdid his roles but I do have a soft spot for certain episodes or scenes where he played his vulnerable self. He must have been a pretty nice guy, many people called him their ‘friend’ and he was able to catch 3 wives, too! Hopefully, loved for being himself and not the fame and fortune.
      Thanks, Mike for this example of how age can make you appreciate people, also knowing the ‘rest of their personal story,’ helps too! Hugs, Robin

    • Lorna, now you have to make a new gravatar! You have teeth to show! I had braces from age 30 until age 34. I took a long time to get used to having my teeth. It is nice to read about all of your busy activities, crafts and other things, but mainly editing and trying to finish your book is making me admire you some more! smiles, robin

      • Four years! I can’t imagine! I was lucky that my teeth were so cooperative and I only had them on for 9 months! I guess my teeth are very shifty!!! 😉

        As for a new gravatar, I don’t know that a set of choppers would feel very welcoming… 😉

      • I like the idea, since you have that hidden half faced gravatar and your smile is adorable and cheery, too! It is great to know you will be smiling a lot now! I had to last a while longer since I had gone through a pregnancy and they just left them in, not sure why it took so long! Love that snarky comment about shifty teeth, Lorna!

    • I know! You are so right, Luanne! I agree that Don Knotts played the perfect foolish side-kick role, allowing others to really shine beside him! He was very talented and I admire how he got past his childhood. We would consider it “abuse” and the kids at school, “bullies!” Well, I hope to read everyone, since I am going to be heading North to Cleveland soon! I got behind on my replies, too! Smiles, Robin

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