If all you know about the late actor Don Knott’s is his role as the bumbling, comic-foil Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. Then you’d probably be pretty surprised to learn that he evidently quite the sex symbol of his day – albeit a rather reluctant one.
Yes, we’re still talking about the same Don Knotts – not some kind of sophisticated, buff, chiseled-chinned heartthrob that happened to bear the same name, but this guy! (Cue image of Don Knott’s looking ridiculous)
Comedians have never particularly known for being sex objects. In fact, the default setting of most comics is one of sexual inadequacy. Sure, there have always been swaggering jokesters who like to flaunt their sexual conquests. But the majority of memorable comics have been pathetic losers who can’t seem to score with the ladies to save their lives.
What is it about these kinds of perpetually single types that we find appealing? Well, if you take a look back at the early post-Hays code of ethics era of Hollywood in the early 50s and 60s; comedy films such as 1953s The Moon is Blue and 1962s The Touch of Mink depict seduction as something more akin to sexual assault than actual romance. Consent was very clearly something that the world was less concerned about in those days.
So, within this troubling context, the chronically single, desexualized, child-like comics of that era likely came as a bit of a relief, seeing as how they were practically the only ones that weren’t trying to force themselves upon young, vulnerable women.
Take the comedy duo of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, for example. In their films, Martin always seemed to be after only thing, if you get our drift, whereas Lewis wasn’t anything like a sexual predator. He simply was there to provide comic relief – something that he did expertly.
During the post-code era, many romantic comedy films were notable for their happy endings. But these endings weren’t all about wedding bells and honeymoons. They were the moment where the stars finally got a chance to sleep together. Sometimes these movies are called DF films – the D being for delayed and the F being short for something you can probably figure out on your own.
For some comics, however, like Don Knotts, the delay was always endless. Throughout his television and film career, Knott’s never graduated from the D to the F. Even in the 1969 film The Love God? in which Knott’s played an adult film producer, he remained a virgin for the entire duration of the flick – although he deceived into thinking that he had lost his V-card in the end.
So, why on earth are we here telling you that Don Knotts was some kind of sex symbol? Join FactsVerse as we explore this perplexing question. By the end of this video, we can almost guarantee you that you’ll see Knotts in an entirely different light.
The Nervous Man
Knotts often referred to his comic persona as the ‘nervous man’. The New York Times referred to this character in an article following his 2006 death as ‘absolutely flappable’. At first look, one might get the impression that Knotts was a bit of a ‘one trick pony’. While he always had those big fearful protruding eyes affixed to his wire-frame body. He was a lot more than just a bug-eyed goof.
Much of Knotts routine centered around his sexuality. The running joke was that he had no sexuality to speak of, primarily because of his pencil-thin frame. He would stutter profusely whenever he would stumble upon a voluptuous woman; such as was the case in his 1967 film The Shakiest Gun In The West.
But while sex seemed to be off the table for Knotts, in truth, he really quite interested in it. And accordingly to people that knew him personally, he managed to get it pretty often.
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Knotts’ Fundamentalist Background
Don’s mother was a born-again Christian. During the Depression, the fundamentalists of that era vehemently opposed to sinful things such as liquor, gambling, smoking, make-up, and Hollywood movies.
Fortunately for Knotts, his mother believed that the opposition to movies was a whole bunch of ‘hogwash’ as she put it. According to Knotts autobiography, his mom would take him to the cinema often.
During those early days of film, Knotts found himself drawn to films such as the Laurel and Hardy series. He also was quite fond of radio stars like Jack Benny and Edgar Bergen. And as soon as he started training to become a performer himself, he honed in on ventriloquism as his shtick.
His dummy, Danny, which handcrafted for him by one of his neighbors, bore a stoking resemblance to himself.
When he joined the armed forces in WWII, Knotts was so scrawny that he had to sign a waiver just in case his training killed him. Since he listed his profession as ‘ventriloquist’; Knotts quickly assigned to the USO where he and his wooden buddy Danny did a routine called ‘Stars and Gripes’. Once the war had ended, Don moved to the Big Apple where he wasn’t able to afford to attend Broadway performances but managed to score free tickets to radio shows fairly often. At those shows, he took mental notes and refined his own delivery. Eventually, he scored a role as a supporting character on an adventure radio program geared towards young boys.
The movies that he used to go see with his mother did inspire him to become an actor. But it was Knotts prowess with voval work that really helped him breakthrough as a star. It was his voice and delivery, not his body, that helped kick off his career. In truth, he never fully managed to learn how to use his body as a tool for comedy.
Knotts Still Developed A Bit Of A Swagger
Knotts’ head more than his body, was his most expressive body part. He had those huge bulging eyes, constantly pursed lips, and throbbing neck veins. Even in moments of action, his body rarely fulfilled comedic expectations.
Take the film The Reluctant Astronaut, for example. His zero-G performance left much to be desired. The closest he ever got to flaunting his bodily bravado was in the film The Shakiest Gun In The West in which there was a sequence in which Knotts, while attempting to treat a female patient who insists on not opening up her mouth, tussles with the woman with his legs wrapped around her waist as she swings about wildly.
Eventually, the camera cuts away, a resounding thud is heard, and the next thing we see is Knotts crouching over the incapacitated patient as he performs his dental work.
A few years later, Knotts appeared in The Love God?, a film that saw Knotts portray a pornographer who, despite surrounded by beautiful women in a fancy penthouse, never managed to have any luck with any of the ladies he lived with. The film received an M-rating; and the audiences were clearly not expecting Don to appear in such an overtly sexual film. He would later appear in a CBS special called The Don Knotts Nice Clean Decent Wholesome Hour; which was his way of poking fun at his squeaky clean-cut image.
On The Andy Griffith Show, of all places, Don Knott’s allowed a greater degree of sexual proficiency than you might remember. Barney Fife and his on-again-off-again girlfriend Thelma Lou; would often end up making up after a spat with what Andy called ‘smoochin’ parties’.
In the episode ‘Barney on the Rebound’, Andy walked in on Fife and Thelma Lou alone together on a love seat in a dark room. Barney ends up jumping to the couch while Thelma Lou runs out of the room. When Andy turns on the lights, he finds Fife nonchalantly sipping a cup of coffee cross-legged, with lipstick all over his face, his hair all disheveled, and looking uncharacteristically relaxed. Barney then proceeds to explain that he and Thelma Lou had been ‘talking’. The joke here, of course, is that Fife had just been ravaged, becoming a sexual object instead of a more masculine subject.
Whenever he would feel particularly confident, Fife would have this sort of self-assured swagger about him. Knott’s would later show off this side of himself on Three’s company when playing the wannabe swinger Mr. Furley. He likewise would show off this kind of gusto in The Love God? as he strutted his stuff wearing flashy outfits.
Knott’s Daughter Revealed He Was ‘Loved By Women All The Time’
Karen Knotts wrote a memoir about her father titled Tied Up in Knotts: My Dad and Me, which revealed that he was quite the ladies’ man. She called him magnetic and said that women would often get lost in those big googly eyes.
Karen’s mother, Kathryn Metz, was Don’s first of three wives. Karen lived with her dad while she was in high school and noted that he had a fairly healthy dating life back in those days.
According to her, no woman was ever upset with him. Even if their relationship came to an end, they still adored him and remained friends with him.
Knot’s dear friend Al Chacco once referred to him as ‘somewhat of a ladies man’ who fancied himself as something like a Frank Sinatra.
His first marriage to Metz lasted from 1947 to 1964. Don married his second wife, Loralee Czuchna in 1974. That marriage too would end in divorce in 1983. Knotts married his third wife, Frances Yarborough in 2002. The couple would remain together until Don’s death in 2006.
In between those marriages, Knotts dated extensively and was often pictured surrounded by beautiful women.
Don died at the age of 81 on the 24th of February, 2006 at Cedars-Sinal Medical Center in La from respiratory and pulmonary complications of pneumonia which was brought on by lung cancer.
So what do you think? Was Don Knotts really a sex symbol like some say he was? Or will he always be Barney Fife In your eyes? Let us know your thoughts on this late-great comic in the comments section down below.
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