How similar were Don Knotts and his character Barney Fife?
The blurry line where actor stops and character starts.
Don Knotts' character Barney Fife was the comedic center of The Andy Griffith Show. While Andy Taylor was the moral compass, and Gomer Pyle was the town clown, Barney's well-intentioned, nervous demeanor teed up some of the biggest laughs throughout the series' eight seasons. It was because viewers inherently trusted Barney Fife, Andy's cousin and deputy, that the laughs flowed naturally. But how much of Barney is Don Knotts, and how much of Don Knotts is Barney? The two are, at times, both similar and worlds apart in who they are and how they act.
To understand where actor ends and character begins, one must trace the beginnings of the Barney Fife character back to Broadway. This where Don Knotts first met the real Andy, Andy Griffith, and the two had immediate chemistry. Knotts starred alongside Griffith in No Time For Sergeants for two years before moving to Hollywood to bring the story to the big screen. It was in this role that Knotts first began exhibiting some of the nervousness he'd later embody as good ol' Barn.
"I wasn't really nervous," Knotts told The Evening Sentinel in 1961. "I just had a good memory. And I remembered this after-dinner I'd seen back home, in Morgantown, West Virginia. He was nervous. So I aped him. And gradually built up the routines."
The routines Knotts mentioned were originally comedy material developed during long waits backstage between scenes. Eventually the act would land him Gary Moore's successful daytime talk show, before leading to a stint on Stebe Allen's The Tonight Show.
Fans will be pleased to know that, although the nervous tics were, in fact, a put-on, Knotts was maybe even funnier in real life than he was onscreen.
"That is the funniest man I've ever known," said Griffith, of Knotts, in The Evening Sentinel. "Some of the funniest bits we had on the show last season were Don's. Just sits there, and comes up with 'em. Or he does a bit of business. Anyone else tries it, nothing. When Don does it, you fall down dead laughing."
One other key difference between the two: Knotts differed from the beleagured Barney in his overall outlook. The tortured Fife was never able to maintain a contented mood for more than a few script pages, and was not a happy man. "But I am," said Knotts. "And I love it."
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"The routines Knotts mentioned were originally comedy material developed during long waits backstage between scenes"
The writers and continuity person all had a snootful for sure also
Love The Barney character. The series was not the same when he left after Season Five.
And yet, you can see it working in Matlock, when they get back together. Just just played off of each other!
Regarding contracts for the types of shows we're watching. The average was about 5 years, in terms of gaining the actor's commitment. Even though not all the shows lasted that long. Then they'd renegotiate. Not saying actors we're perfectly capable of handling their best interests. But my hunch is, the managers felt the need to earn their keep. You've seen it play out comedically in Frasier and how BeBe "handled" her stunning clients. And, for humor's sake, whacked him out of his job. Because she pumped such narcistic ideas into his head. It might've been done with Don Knotts, as in getting out at the top and into movies while the demand is hot. But then they also spoke of the relentless schedule being so tiresome. Except for those, like AG who really loved the concept of their show. And seemed able to handle both worlds.