This a big happy book that the fans of the inimitable Don Knotts will doubtless want to purchase for
themselves or as a gift for the fellow fans. As is well known, Don Knotts was the eternally querulous, often stubborn, sometimes know-it-all sidekick Deputy Barney Fife to Andy Griffith's calm, competent Sheriff Andy Taylor in the long-running, extremely successful TV series
The Andy Griffith Show. When I say successful, I mean tantamount to a religion with some folks (I happen to live in "Mayberry",
aka Mount Airy, NC, so I speak with some authority on this subject). There are websites devoted to the show as a basis for Bible study, and year after year "pilgrims" flock to Mount Airy to stay at the Andy Griffith boyhood home, ride in the black-and-white police car from the TV series, compete in the Mayberry Trivia contest, and win prizes for the best Andy, Barney, Bea or Opie look-alike.
Barney Fife only appeared in about half the series, there for most of the first five years (though it was he, not the show's hero Griffith, who garnered Emmys for his performance on the show). The story (reported in Cox/Marhanka's book) is that Don, who had seen a couple of the opening shows of the series, called his friend Andy and suggested a quaking, high-voiced sidekick to serve as a foil to the folksy, laid-back sheriff. Griffith liked the idea, and having considerable say-so, he arranged to put Knotts's character (which the comedian had been developing over nearly a decade starting with
The Steve Allen Show) in the script. Their personae impacted in a perfect storm of innocent comedy, with the love between the two characters as obvious as the need of one always to save the other and the other to be saved only after thoroughly messing things up through his gullibility and cocksure stupidity. Fife never shot himself in the foot exactly (that would have been too violent for the ethos of the show), but he was allowed only one bullet because of his incompetence, and he did lock himself in jail. Week after week, Fife initiated the ridiculous snarl-ups that the obviously more stable Griffith was forced to rescue everybody from.
Griffith and Knotts were pals from way back, Knotts having appeared in the vehicle that launched Griffith to fame, the Broadway production of
No Time for Sergeants. It was an appropriate beginning for their lifelong professional relationship – Andy played a laid-back redneck, Knotts a screwy psychiatrist.
Behind the scenes, Knotts was known as a perfectionist. Having desired movie stardom from an early age, the hardworking West Virginia boy grew up to be a serious actor who practiced every line, every nuance, again and again. Once he left Mayberry, he went on to star in a gaggle of what I would have to call "silly" movies
- movies designed to appeal to pre-teen kids, movies with preposterous premises (man becomes fish, dentist becomes cowboy, car knows more than owner sort of thing). One of the movies, one that Knotts himself felt good about, was called
The Incredible Mr. Limpet (man becomes fish) - hence the title of this book.
Knotts eventually returned to television as the confused and easily fooled landlord on
Three's Company, where he was less nervous and more of a grown-up comic. But when he wanted a laugh, anytime, he would do the Barney Fife sniff. Sort of a combination arrogant snort and miffed snuffle, it got his audience rolling in the aisles every time.
This book chronicles each one of Knotts's movies, with elaborated plot and list of characters, and includes interviews from some of the people whom Knotts worked with, people who clearly admired him and were thrilled to have a chance to be on the set with him. By most accounts, he was a tough-minded businessman and a marvelous father. His passing was mourned by friends, family and thousands of fans. Andy Griffith visited him in the hospital days before his death.