'He wasn't Barney Fife -- he was my dad'

·4 min read

Mar. 11—Barney Fife's daughter is dropping in this weekend to say "Hey, " to the people of her dad's hometown.

Karen Knotts will present her tribute show, "Tied Up in Knotts " at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Metropolitan Theater on High Street. Visit https://morgantownmet.com /events /karen-knotts-tied-up-in-knotts / for ticket prices and other information.

Her dad and the subject of the tribute, Don Knotts, won five Emmys for his portrayal of the above bumbling deputy on the "The Andy Griffith Show, " which was a staple of 1960s television.

He was senior class president at Morgantown High School, turning his tassel in 1942.

With World II at its height, it didn't take long for the draft board to come calling. The future Mayberry deputy served in the South Pacific, where he sandwiched a ventriloquist act in between the fighting.

After earning a speech degree from WVU on the G.I. Bill, he lit out for New York City to give show business a try. It worked. His early appearances on Steve Allen's pioneering TV show led to a long career spanning television, movies and theater.

He had a hefty resume at the time of his death in 2006. For many, though, no role resonated quite like that of Deputy Fife.

That's why a big portion of her show, Karen Knotts said, vectors in on those Mayberry days of Barney, Andy, Opie, Aunt Bea and every other character who populated the fictional North Carolina hamlet modeled after Griffith's real one.

The show has never really stopped airing since that first episode hit on CBS more than 60 years ago.

Reruns gave way to streaming video, which means new audiences in the 21st century can now watch the wiry, jittery deputy strive, and fail — only to strive again.

"Everybody rooted for Barney, " Karen Knotts said. "You had to love him. You just wanted him to succeed."

While the show had its share of slapstick, it was never totally silly, she said. It never played too broadly. Thank Griffith and her dad, and the whole staple of talented writers and actors for that, she said.

"Acting, " was the watchword, she said.

"My dad was a serious actor who happened to do comedy, " she said.

And when Don Knotts came home after work — a certain character was shed and left behind on the soundstage.

In real life, her father was not given to Barney's histrionics, she said.

Don Knotts only looked like the deputy, she said. He was well-read and enjoyed discussing subjects that didn't involve the ego-driven machinations of what he did for a living.

She and her brother, Tom, a Silicon Valley engineer, grew up in leafy, suburban Glendale, away from the smog of Los Angeles and klieg-light glare of Hollywood.

The only time at home she knew her dad was Barney, she said, was when he would go to into a room, close the door and run his lines for that week's script of "Andy Griffith Show."

Thirty times for a phrase, she said. Fifty, for an exclamation. He was meticulous, honing the words until he got the "Barney " take.

"He would rehearse and rehearse, " she said.

"He would drill those words until he got the right inflection and nuance. In a lot of ways, he was like a classical musician."

In every way he was a like a dad, when Karen Knotts, now an actress, comic and author, told him she wanted to do what he did.

At first, he gently tried to talk her out of it. "He was trying to protect me, " she remembered.

That's because L.A. end of the Golden State, she said, is full of privileged progeny, who often fall short in the same creative endeavors that made their moms and dads famous.

To make him happy, she went to college. The University of Southern California. Library science. Yes, really, she said.

Those klieg lights wouldn't stop shining, however. Soon she was honing an act in the comedy clubs.

"Yep, I was a librarian and standup comic. I had to whisper my jokes."

Later, she thrilled in sharing the stage with him, performing in live regional productions of Neil Simon comedies and other plays which allowed Don Knotts to shine, and Karen Knotts too.

"We'd come off the stage and Dad would say, 'What if you said that one line like this ?' or, 'What if you gave a little look to the audience with that one scene ?' It was the craft. He was teaching me how to get laughs."

The tribute show now has an accompanying book of the same name. Karen Knotts penned "Tied Up in Knotts " last September.

With its beyond-the-scene photographs and interviews, the book, like the show, she said, is a fun punchline and love story: "He wasn't Barney Fife. He was my dad."

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