Don Knotts said the Barney Fife character came to him in a dream

"A number of things were swimming around in me, of course, that led up to the dream," said Knotts.

CBS Television Distribution

It's easy to overlook the fact that a lot of Barney Fife's mannerisms predate The Andy Griffith Show. The character is so singular, so specific, that it seems like all those traits could only exist in Mayberry. The truth, though, is far more interesting than any spur-of-the-moment decisions made on the set. 

There was No Time for Sergeants, a Griffith and Knotts pairing that happened two full years before The Andy Griffith Show. In it, Knotts played Cpl. John C. Brown, and administers an Army manual dexterity. Would it shock you to learn that Knotts played the army man as a nervous, bumbling individual? It shouldn't, especially considering that the character traits predate the movie too.

Before The Andy Griffith Show, and even before No Time for Sergeants, Knotts refined his "nervous man" routine on the nightclub circuit. But, how'd he come up with the stuff, anyway? Knotts' own Barney Fife and Other Characters I Have Known holds the answer in its pages.

"Most people don't believe me when I tell them the nervous character I did on The Steve Allen Show came to me in a dream, but it happens to be the truth. A number of things were swimming around in me, of course, that led up to the dream.

"Several months earlier, I had attended a luncheon during which one of the speakers was so nervous his hands were shaking visibly. He rattled the paper his notes were written on, and when he attempted a drink of water, he proceeded to spill it all over himself. It was a painful thing to watch, but at the same time, amusing."

While Knotts was enamored with the man's actions from the get-go, it wasn't until much later that he realized it was a kernel of what could eventually become a full-fledged character.

"I wish I could say I suddenly thought to myself, 'What a great idea for a comedic character!' But alas, consciously, it went right over my head. It was almost a year before it came to me, and even then it had to hit me over the head in a dream."

Knotts refined those mannerisms slowly, first in private and then onstage. Eventually, he developed the rounded, believable character of Deputy Barney Fife.

The rest is history.

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7 Comments

obectionoverruled 21 days ago
everything barney said or did was genius on the andy griffith show. memorable episodes and hilarious lines were delivered when barney kept popping up out in the woods when andy took helen on a picnic, barney ticketed the governor’s misparked limo, barney nearly shot himself in the foot, on and on, show after show. one can imagine he probably directed the director, for surely no one could have dreamed up his ridiculous skits or turned the rest of the case into such galoots. floyd the stuttering barber, too. gomer with his sideways cap and stupid small town demeanor. this crowd was way ahead of the hollywood-centric tv comedy serial of the day.
HalCromwell 21 days ago
Please put on the Steve Allen show. I'm also going to suggest the Bob Hope show Milton Berl Laugh-In, Magic Land of Alakazam, The Smothers Brothers Hour, etc.
timothys71 HalCromwell 21 days ago
I too would love to see some of those shows on MeTV. I know the Smothers Brothers were on Get TV a few years ago, but I don't think that network is currently showing any variety or sketch comedy shows.
RachelR 21 days ago
I wouldn't call Barney Fife a nervous man. He's super confident to the point of being an ego maniac.
Inthe25th 22 days ago
Don Knotts is truly one of a kind. Excellent actor!!
ZOMBONAUT 22 days ago
I’d like to know what he was smoking to come up with that zany(and great) character!
A great part of that great show!
Runeshaper 23 days ago
That’s super interesting! 🧐 It’s funny what dreams can show us. Thanks for sharing, MeTV!
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