Don Knotts statue celebrates life and career
“The Incredible Mr. Limpet” is one of the first movies I remember seeing as a child. My family introduced me to a wide variety of movies at the drive-in theater around 15 minutes from our home in Ohio. I was amazed at how animation could mix with reality, but was confused as to why Barney Fife was playing a character other than Barney Fife.
For a child growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s, there were a tremendous amount of movies with a family feel, humor that was physical, clean and easy for us to digest. Don Knotts was one of the greatest at making my family laugh together. “The Apple Dumplin’ Gang” was my favorite of his films, because when you fused Knotts and Tim Conway into a movie, there was little need for a script.
Most of us knew Knotts from his role as the bumbling deputy whose bark was worse than his bite. The simple character, Barney Fife, was perfectly portrayed by Knotts, who completed Andy Griffith’s character of Andy Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show.” Once Barney was gone, Mayberry seemed to lose its spark. Three’s Company would have never survived the exodus of so many main characters without the addition of Knotts as their landlord, Mr. Furley. Both of those shows continue to show their strength in reruns on multiple channels on a daily basis.
On several occasions, my wife and I have made the trek to a small North Carolina town called Mt. Airy, where Mayberry continues to be celebrated. Artwork, buildings, props and costumes, scripts and music make the town a capitol for the people who celebrate Knotts and Griffith, along with their long lasting reach into the lives of fans.
What I didn’t realize until recently was that Knotts actually grew up not far from where I made my home for many years. Knotts was a resident of Morgantown, WV, the home of the Mountaineers football program and only a short drive from the coal mines and steel mills that brought power to the United States and prosperity to the region for many years.
Knotts began his career in vaudeville, using his jittery, timid character to charm audiences, until the introduction of television, to which he was a perfect fit. His small frame, bulging eyes and crooked smile weren’t character flaws, rather they were an asset that brought us joy and him fame.
The city of Morgantown, in proper fashion, was unveiled Saturday in front of The Metropolitan Theater on High Street. Knotts, who passed away in February 2006, would have turned 92 on his birthday, just a week ago, but is now immortalized in bronze for all time. The statue depicts Knotts sitting on a bench, holding the deputy hat and was created by artist Jamie Lester.
Looking back now, with more than 80 different credits to his acting career, a city in North Carolina that is still a tourist attraction in his honor, a new statue celebrating his life and career, I suppose it is more than fitting that my earliest memory of his films was “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” because Don Knotts was truly incredible.