Don Knotts was a nervous wreck when The Ghost and Mr. Chicken premiered

Leaving the safety of a regular TV show for the silver screen was a gamble, and Knotts was well aware of the risk.

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Don Knotts was associated with nervousness throughout his career. Heck, the proto-Barney Fife character that he created and became famous for on The Steve Allen Show was known as "The Nervous Man." Knotts knew exactly how to get a laugh by playing a wide-eyed, trembling guy in over his head.

The shakiness wasn't just for the act. Offscreen, Knotts was famously shy and soft-spoken. The move from the massively successful Andy Griffith Show to the big screen was a big leap for Knotts, and he knew it. 

The Associated Press went a step further, calling it "an expensive risk." They went on to add "[Knotts] enjoyed a safe and lucrative — $3,500 a week — berth on The Andy Griffith Show and could have remained at a raise to $5,000 weekly and a 10 percent interest in the series." That would be roughly $45,000 weekly in today's money, not counting the interest in the show. "But he chose the Universal contract instead."

The gamble of leaving TAGS got to Knotts during the lead-up to the release of his first movie after departing the show, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. United Press International wrote that "Knotts... sweated it out in cold panic. He lost weight, which he could ill afford, chewed his fingernails and prayed a great deal. He developed a slight twitch."

"I went through so many reactions I didn't have any idea how the picture would be received," Knotts said, while the article notes that he was "picking at" his lunch in the Universal lunchroom. "I was proud of the picture, but worried."

Since The Andy Griffith Show performed so well in the South, the studio chose to have the debut of the movie in New Orleans. 

"We had a preview down in New Orleans, and I climbed up on cloud 9," Knotts said. "The audience laughed in all the right places. They even laughed in some unexpected spots. I was so excited I could hardly sit in my seat. For the first time in months I really relaxed."

Well, maybe not entirely. Even as the movie was performing well where it was released in the South, Knotts couldn't fully let his guard down. He was worried that people were only turning up out of hometown loyalty since he was from West Virginia himself. To put these fears at ease, Universal went North — far North. They opened the film in Toronto, and it was a smash hit. 

"That meant a lot to me," Knotts said. "I didn't want the movie just to be a hit in the South."

He didn't have much to worry about in the end. As the Associated Press noted, "Shot for a half-million dollars, it has already returned four million, which makes it a better investment than most of the studio's product in recent years. The movie is still playing hither and yon and hasn't even braved New York City as yet."

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68 Comments

BorisK 9 months ago
TG&MC is my favorite spook-comedy, right up there with Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. I have an original TG&MC poster signed by Don Knotts, which he did for me at a Hollywood Autograph show in the early 90s (Beverly Garland Hotel by Universal). To this day that movie makes me laugh. Tons of hidden humor.
vonstockhoff 10 months ago
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was really an extension of TAGS, as the plot had been hashed out in TAGS episode "The Haunted House" and even used quite a few TAGS regulars. Fun movie and I still watch it every time it's on Svengoolie.
MichaelVegas 11 months ago
One of my favorite of his movies along with Private eyes, and the incredible
Deleted 11 months ago
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JJ614 11 months ago
And I loved those Matlock episodes he was in!
11 months ago
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11 months ago
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JHP 11 months ago
boy George?
George58 11 months ago
I love this movie. I never get tired of watching it. I was disappointed to see that they deleted some scenes from the movie tonight. Doesn't make sense since Svengoolie has been expanded to 2 and a half hours. You would think that the entire movie could be shown unedited.
JJ614 George58 11 months ago
EXACTLY! I thought THAT was the point of adding the extra 30 minutes!
BenSobeleone George58 9 months ago
I noticed the deleted scenes as well. Was wondering why?
BenSobeleone JJ614 9 months ago
I hear ya. Unfortunately, more commercials. Yikes!
KirwoodDerby 11 months ago
I only hope that before he died, Don would know how much he was loved by all his fans.
JJ614 KirwoodDerby 11 months ago
If you ever watch the video of his acceptance speech when he won his 5th Emmy for TAGS, it's very sad. Watching the first 3, he was so happy and excited. But his demeanor and words accepting the 5th, I think are more telling of why he quit and took a chance on movies than anything else.
KirwoodDerby 11 months ago
When Andy originally set out to do his show he let it be known that he intended to do five seasons and then end the show. Don had assumed that Andy would stick to that and so after season five ,began to explore other options. Of course Universal snatched up the white hot star, who'd just won his fifth Emmy. Meanwhile Andy was convinced to continue TAGS but Don was now committed to Universal and couldn't stay with the show. It makes me wonder how many more great episodes with Barney Fife would exist had that communication failure not occurred. Hmmm, let's just think about that for a moment.
KirwoodDerby 11 months ago
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grimeyboy463 KirwoodDerby 11 months ago
I never understood the lack of communication between Andy & Don. I thought they were good friends.
Jerryfan grimeyboy463 8 months ago
My guess is that it probably had something to do with their agents. Not letting anyone know what they were going to do until the deals were signed.
Vivian 11 months ago
Don Knotts was truly a fine comedian! The Andy Griffith Show, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, etc. He is a long time favorite if mine since I was a child. I loved coming home from school to watch The Andy Griffith Show as well as Dark Shadows decades ago. Never the less, I am certainly looking forward to enjoying Svengoolie's "Big Broadcast" this evening! My TV is always set on MeTV, the only channel for me!
trogg888 11 months ago
Even though I really hated Barney leaving Mayberry I still never get tired of ghost and limpett so I guess it was a good trade off
Wiseguy70005 trogg888 11 months ago
He could have stayed with the show and filmed the movie during the summer break.
RobertK 11 months ago
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is kinda like movie "comfort food". You just relax and enjoy some small town, scary fun and be entertained for awhile. Grownups don't need to be concerned when the little ones watch the movie.
kmsscs 11 months ago
Saw this movie for the first time at an outdoor movie setup at Mactan AB, PI.
Funny movie but the funniest part is we had a Airman Second Class (E3) who's
last name was Luther. Every time we'd see him we'd say "Atta Boy, Luther".
JJ614 11 months ago
It's so hard to imagine him shy and soft spoken, knowing he was a MARINE! One of his official Marine portraits hung in my son's sergeant's office over his desk!
gaeljoan 11 months ago
Atta boy Luther!!! ❤️❤️
solarface 11 months ago
I was introduced to this movie as a young child loved every second of it introduced his movies to my daughters they loved every second of them.. they now play the movies for their kids and they absolutely love these movies, three generations... Thank you Don for making millions laugh generations later.
ro67 11 months ago
Fans of "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" would also love Don Knotts in "How To Frame A Figg". The graveyard scene with Frank Welker is hysterical. Both movies had the same producer (Edward J. Montagne) and were directed by the same person (Alan Rafkin). Two of the funniest Don Knotts movies that we've ever seen !!
JHP 11 months ago
well

the most over played movies are....

#1 Jaws
#2 any rocky movie
#3 ghost and mr chicken (of course I call Barney "the chicken - his bones very fragile - he try hard but no can cut it"
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Moverfan JHP 11 months ago
I haven't noticed any constant repeats recently, but when I was a kid in the early to mid seventies, I'd have sworn that the NBC Saturday Night Movie was Dustin Hoffman's Little Big Man about every other weekend...thank God I liked that movie!
JHP Moverfan 11 months ago
Yeah I remember those too - That was shown and I think Mc Cloud was in that time slot once in awhile
Wiseguy70005 JHP 11 months ago
McCloud was on Sundays during the NBC Mystery Movie.
JHP Wiseguy70005 11 months ago
wasnt Banacek in that line-up with McMillan and wife also?
BuckRogers 11 months ago
Mr. Chicken, to me, was and is, a comfort movie that helped me get through a bad time period when I was eight years old. This movie came along late at night on TV and took away my problems for two hours, and I will always love it and always watch it when it's on.
solarface BuckRogers 11 months ago
Me as well as was The reluctant astronaut and shakiest gun in the West.... Got me through some rough times in my life.. to this day if I'm ever having a bad day I pop in one of the DVDs...
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