So, as I was saying…
I moved to L.A. with my dear wife-to-be in the early ‘80s. I had a job (clerk in a Crown Book store on Pico Blvd.) and a temporary place to stay, with my girlfriend’s aunt and her husband. Who happened to be Don Knotts.
Don Knotts. One of the most gifted comedians of his generation. The Nervous Man on the Street with Steve Allen. Deputy Barney Fife on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. Luther Heggs in THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN. And, when we came to stay him, Ralph Furley on THREE’S COMPANY.
He had a low-slung ranch house in Beverly Hills that used to belong to Barbara Stanwyck (long since torn down and replaced with a huge white monstrosity). I recall sitting in his living room watching the Z Channel (more on that later) and staring at his FIVE Emmys.
Don was a very nice guy, extremely giving and generous. He used to regale us with stories of his long and varied career. Used to complain that he didn’t like the multi-camera form. Didn’t like playing in front of live audience. Said the temptation the play to audience was too great. Made the performances too broad.
Ah, but I remember those great scene with him and Andy on the porch in THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. They were some of the touchstones in my life as comedy writer. Usually Barney talking about how he was going to go see Thelma Lou and have to soda pop, Andy saying he thought he should. They never had anything to do with the story. They were beautiful examples of comic irrelevance that I would often re-visit in the conversations with Norm and Cliff in CHEERS.
One scene I remember in particular; Barney trying to recite the Preamble to the Constitution. It’s one my favorite comedy moments in film or TV history. Check it out:
Don knew I wanted to be a writer. He was kind enough to arrange a lunch for me with the writers of THREE’S COMPANY. So I took first many fruitless lunches at Lucy’s Ed Adobe, the dingy Mexican restaurant right across the street from Paramount Pictures. (Go there. It hasn’t been redecorated in the last thirty years.) The execs didn’t know what to make of me and I didn’t know what to make of them. It didn’t lead anywhere, but you can’t fault Don for trying.
We moved out after a few weeks and Don moved on. I didn’t see him much after that. But I always remembered his kindness.