Even celebrities couldn't resist doing impressions of Barney Fife
Guess which TV stars grew up doing Barney Fife impressions. Hint: One was later his costar.
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Watching Don Knotts play Barney Fife isn't just about laughs. For actors in the audience, tuning in to The Andy Griffith Show during its first five seasons was a masterclass in how to create a truly authentic character.
"I learned a lot just watching Don Knotts at work," the late Tim Conway said in his 2013 memoir What's So Funny? "There wasn't a phony motion in him, everything was character driven, and, oh, what characters he created! I think Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show is one of the greatest, funniest, and truest personalities ever seen on the screen."
When Knotts first took the role of Barney Fife in 1960, his future Three's Company costar John Ritter was only 12 years old, but he already knew talent when he saw it.
"I used to do Don Knotts imitations of Barney," Ritter told the Weekly World News in 1981. "He's one of my heroes."
Plenty of other people did impressions of Barney Fife — we'd wager most everyone watching — and an entire industry akin to Elvis impersonators was created by some people claiming to be the best at stepping into Knotts' shoes. There could only be one, though, Conway says, and it's because of who Knotts was inside, which gave him a quality that could never be imitated.
"When you watched his antics as Andy Griffith's deputy, you were watching Don Knotts," Conway said. "He was Barney Fife, a kind, gentle, and loving person who dedicated his life to making people smile."
Some of the funniest women on TV looked to Knotts as a model, too. Ann B. Davis told the Television Academy how much she admired Knotts' particular brand of comedy, echoing what Conway said about Knotts: "I admired him. I thought he was one of the funniest people in the world."
Barbara Eden told the Television Academy about her time sharing scenes in "The Manicurist" episode of The Andy Griffith Show and touring with Knotts during a Neil Simon Broadway show run, breaking into a sparkling Jeannie smile recalling, "He was so wonderful."
To Ernest T. Bass actor Howard Morris, though, Knotts was more than wonderful. He was almost mythical. "A living doll, in every way," he said.
Everybody has a hero, and for some of TV's best comedic actors, Knotts was it. In Knotts' career, he idolized Jack Benny and always thought of himself as an actor who does comedy — not a comic.
That's why The Andy Griffith Show ended up being such a great way to introduce himself to audiences. It gave him a chance to come out strong and show how unique he was at crafting personalities that felt like real people that we recognized from the world.
"My five years with Andy were pure delight," Knotts told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1980.
If reading this has given you the itch to do your best Barney Fife impression, according to The Palm Beach Post in 2006, the hack to pull it off is this: "Draw up your belt a little, puff out your chest and inhale while saying something fake-modest."
How do you pull off your Barney Fife impression?