Don Knotts portrayed many characters throughout his long-lasting career, however, almost all of his roles featured characters that had many characteristics in common. While some actors such as Leonardo Dicaprio, Joaquin Phoenix and Tom Hardy attempt to take as many varied roles as possible, some actors like Knotts favor finding their voice (or expression in his case) and use it as their go-to personality whenever they act in films and shows. Don’s characters were all nervous and anxious men who had really bad social skills and low self-esteem. He would often appear doing his iconic wide-eyed star expression whenever a situation would cause him stress.
Other unique features that made his characters memorable were his high-pitched voice and whiny but hilarious complaints. Overall, his ability to convey a large set of emotions through nothing but his facial expressions made him very entertaining and relatable. Knotts’ over-the-top characters and his consistent acting persona made him a funny and reliable actor, both for audiences and for filmmakers. This consistency and dependability led him to get cast in numerous roles throughout his long and fruitful career, as it was always a “safe bet” to go with an actor like him where you know what you’re going to be getting. Knott’s persona is quite famous, and often gets parodied to this day on shows such as “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”.
His First Serious Job
When Don Knotts first tried his luck at acting he was told by various talent hunters that he didn’t have what it takes for a future in acting. Despite their discouragement, he remained motivated and vigilant, never stopping until he eventually achieved his goal of becoming a successful actor. During the time he spent trying out and auditioning for various roles, Knotts was working as a chicken plucker to support himself. He eventually went on to become one of America’s most beloved celebrities and was loved by audiences and film crews alike — the former for his enthusiasm and highly-entertaining personality, the later for his work ethic, reliability, and always being ready to perform when needed.
One possible reason why Don was such a hard worker and prided himself on always being ready is because of his difficult childhood and a feeling that he had to be self-sufficient in order to survive. Most boys who have highly dysfunctional fathers, must either teach themselves how to become men or risk becoming dysfunctional themselves. It’s a good thing Don went for the first choice.
His Career As a Ventriloquist
Despite being known mostly as an actor, especially for his role on The Andy Griffith Show, Don’s first passion and career were actually as a ventriloquist. He was always the entertainer type and thought this would be a great opportunity for him to support himself while making others happy. His acts were well received and he went on to achieve a respectable level of success in this otherwise relatively fruitless vocation.
Don often appeared with a regular doll called Danny, who looked just as creepy as you might have imagined a ventriloquist doll from the ‘40s would be. Despite the doll’s haunting appearance, horror films were much less popular at the time, which meant people were able to enjoy its performance. Don and Danny made a great team and even ended up with the nickname - “The Don and Danny Duo”. Knotts saw his career as a ventriloquist rise even higher when he decided to partner up with Tim Conway. The two went on to appear in many films together, as Don began to focus most of his attention on acting, and gradually allowed his career as a ventriloquist to fade.
Appearances in Hollywood Squares
The popular actor appeared four times in the famous television game show, Hollywood Squares, a tic-tac-toe game with prizes. Although the game show eventually lost its popularity due to much more intense and serious shows such as “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”, it’s still remembered fondly for its comical nature and light entertainment qualities. Hollywood Squares was ranked in 2013 as the 7th greatest game shows of all time by TV Guide, and for good reasons.
The game show was quite a hit at the time and helped pioneer the game show format and inspire other shows that followed. It was quite rare for anyone to appear twice on the show, which goes to show just how talented and lucky Don Knotts was, as he went on to appear not once but a total of four times on Hollywood Squares.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken
Another famous appearance by the legendary Don Knotts was the 1966 black and white film “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken”. Perhaps its name might make you think that it was somehow related to the actor’s past profession as a chicken plucker, but the film was actually a romantic comedy-drama, and was originally named "Running Scared". The film’s cover features Don Knotts in his usual wide-eyed and surprised expression, with the film's slogan promising "You'll be scared until you laugh yourself silly - G-G-GUARANTEED!".
In the film, Don plays as a newspaper typesetter named Luther Heggs, who aspires to become a reporter and decides to write about Simmons Mansion, a haunted house in the fictional city of Rachel, Kansas. He ends up spending the night there, as hilarious encounters and situations ensue. His girlfriend in the film, Alma Parker, was a relatively small-time actress, who went on to appear in just a few more films before deciding to concentrate on TV shows after a horseback riding accident.