About that time Don Knotts was ''Man of the Year'' at a college fraternity

We already knew Don Knotts was the man, but his former frat gave him the title of "Man of the Year."

Image credit: The Everett Collection

The idea of Don Knotts being anything but the shy and nervous guy we thought he was based on his portrayal of Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show is something many can't imagine.

Knotts was best known for his role in the series, among a few others, and for his unique brand of humor. His nervous, high-strung persona mixed with his impeccable comedic timing led the entire country to fall in love with him.

He had a knack for funny one-liners and being a king of physical comedy, but nowhere in Knotts' long career would we have expected him to be a former fraternity member. Although Knotts never seemed like much of a frat boy, they loved him.

In a 1962 interview with The Times, Knotts was getting ready to be honored by his old college fraternity as their "Man of the Year." He graduated from West Virginia University where he was actively involved with the theater program in addition to his major in education. 

For someone who struggled keeping control of his nerves, he had no problem fitting into any type of social group.

"Heck," Knotts said. "I don't deserve the honor. It should go to a scientist or something like that."

Be that as it may, Knotts was still voted as "Man of the Year" by the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity. He was scheduled to give a speech and make a toast at a big banquet in honor of his undergrad journey and career.

"I couldn't afford to be a member, so they let me in free because I was an entertainer," Knotts said. "They were a great bunch of boys. I was so scared of flunking out of school. I worked hard enough to graduate in three and a half years."

Knotts said he loved being part of the fraternity in college, and was happy to be back at the university where it all started. 

On brand as usual, Knotts used his anxiety as a way to come up with a speech fit for him.

"I've got to find a ghostwriter," Knotts said. "I'm lousy at giving speeches. I'll just have to steal a line from Jack Benny. I'll tell 'em I don't deserve the honor. But I have hay fever too, and I don't deserve that either."

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6 Comments

AlSwilling 1 month ago
Don Knotts definitely was one of the royalty of comedy. I remember him when he did the "Man on the Street" bit on the Steve Allen Show. He was hilarious. Then there was his role as Cpl. John C. Brown in the movie, "No Time for Sergeants", with Andy Griffith in 1958, after acting together in the Broadway play by the same name dating back to 1955. I was familiar with those roles when The Andy Griffith Show first aired on TV. I noticed that he incorporated elements of both of those characters into his portrayal of Barney Fife. He was a gifted comedian. No one else could have played Barney Fife. It was obvious that the role was created for Don Knotts and no one else.

What made the character of Barney Fife so funny, I think, to viewers in the South was that there were deputies like Barney in real life. I think every Southerner has, at one time or another, even to this day, met or has had an encounter with a Deputy Fife. There was no comedian funnier. Andy Griffith was a funny guy, but in the field of comedy, Don Knotts is STILL "Man of the year".
Irish AlSwilling 1 month ago
I totally agree. He was the Andy Griffith Show! I remember the Man On The Street. "Are you nervous?" "Nope!" He was hilarious!
Sooner 1 month ago
I was in a frat in college. However, it was more like the frat in Animal House. What a wild bunch we were. I don't think any of us ever wore a suit and tie, or even polo shirts.
obectionoverruled 1 month ago
One of America’s all time funniest straight men. He is one of a few - Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, Jack Benny and Phil Harris come to mind - who comes off as if he’s ad-libbing and is making it up on the fly. As soon as he appears in an Andy G show, I start laughing at him before he says a word. His mangled persona and excitable nature cause him to completely overlook his gorgeous girlfriend, Thelma Lou, the perpetual bride to be. Locking himself in his own jail cell, ticketing the governor’s limo in town, and interfering with Andy and Helen Crump’s picnic getaway are all hilarious!
Irish 2 months ago
Absolutely a great story! Don deserved the honor and I'm happy to hear that he received it! I miss him.
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