Don Knotts was almost in Disney's Haunted Mansion (2003)
The star of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was nearly the mansion's groundskeeper.
Don Knotts is a legend of frightened shakiness. We love him for his unique ability to quake in his boots because, in those moments, he is our exaggerated audience surrogate. When things get scary, Don Knotts is scared for us. He is a very human performer and reflects our emotions back to us, magnified in his eyes and antics.
Knotts was a veteran of the spookhouse genre, as well, having starred in 1966's The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. In it, he played Luther Heggs, a small-town typesetter who spends the night in a haunted house. The horror comedy movie has grown to cult classic status and is one of Knotts' best-remembered flicks.
Towards the end of Knotts' career, Disney greenlit a feature film version of their theme park ride The Haunted Mansion. The 2003 movie, which starred Eddie Murphy, was a lighthearted family-friendly comedy with some spooky elements sprinkled in. Murphy was experiencing a career renaissance. After struggling to find dramatic roles in the early-mid '90s, Eddie Murphy found some of his biggest successes in family films, doing voice work in Mulan and Shrek, and starring in movies like Daddy Day Care and Dr. Doolittle.
The studio itself was also in the midst of a renaissance. Despite the box office failure of the theme park adaptation The Country Bears, early special effects shots from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl were so promising, that Disney greenlit The Haunted Mansion as well. The Pirates franchise would carry the studio to their biggest success of the early 2000s.
So, with the stars aligning for a feature-length family-friendly Haunted Mansion, the movie's creative team looked to the past to populate the creepy locale. While the movie borrows gags liberally from older haunted house movies, it nearly borrowed a familiar face as well.
According to Entertainment Weekly, Mr. Chicken himself, Don Knotts, almost appeared in the movie as the mansion's groundskeeper. Fans of the ride will remember the character shakily holding a lantern while his skinny dog brays at the frightening apparitions. However, the cameo was, ultimately, not meant to be.
"One frightened face you won’t be seeing around the house is Don Knotts’. Minkoff, who’s fond of Knotts’ 1966 opus The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, wanted him for a cameo as a groundskeeper, but says 'there wasn’t enough for him to do, according to his agent.'"
For those of us mourning the possibility of Don Knotts in a Haunted Mansion, we can always take solace in the movie's 999 other happy haunts. After all, there's always room for one more!