While the actor brought endless energy to his part as Mayberry’s overachieving deputy sheriff, the actor opened up long after the show was off the air about the physical toll of portraying Fife.
Knotts pitched the idea of a sheriff’s deputy on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ to the star himself
Don Knotts was out of work when he saw his friend Andy Griffith on the Griffith Show‘s pilot episode in 1960. The actor was delighted with what he saw and began campaigning to fit himself into the show, a move that not only improved the program but his career as well.
“I saw Andy’s pilot on The Danny Thomas Show and noticed he didn’t have a deputy,” Knotts told Richard Kelly, the author of 1981’s The Andy Griffith Show Book. “I learned Andy was on vacation in North Carolina, so I called him and said, ‘It would be neat if you had a deputy.’”
Griffith reportedly agreed and encouraged Knotts to call the show’s producer, Sheldon Leonard. After an audition, Barney Fife was born and signed on for five years.
Don Knotts struggled with physical exhaustion on the show
Kelly wrote as well of the actor’s sole quibble with his time on the comedy.
“My only complaint about the whole show,” Knotts recalled, “was that I would get fatigued from the physical workouts. I would get irritable by the end of the day, even though I was having a hell of a good time.”
The future Three’s Company star told the propmaster, Reggie Smith, “Hey Reggie. Come here. I want a chair with my name on it.”
Smith was hesitant to get the star a seat because, as Knotts pointed out to Kelly, “This subject had never come up before and we were in our third year. I’m thinking, ‘I’m out of line here, because the star hasn’t asked for this and I have.’” Smith, however, repeated that it simply wasn’t done on the set.
Knotts insisted: “We’re going to do it now…I’d like to have a chair by tomorrow, with my name on it. That’s where I’m going to sit from now on.”
Andy Griffith himself, Knotts realized later, had been standing behind him during the whole conversation, “and it really delighted him.” Griffith told the propmaster, “Reg, I want one, too.”
The actor asked not to be included in a number of scripts a year
Because of the pounding on his body in his portrayal of the rubbery, bumbling deputy, Knotts eventually asked to be left out of a certain number of scripts.
Kelly added: “As the series progressed, the writers gave Barney larger and larger parts, and the thirty-two shows a year began to tell on Knotts. Finally, he asked to be written out of four scripts a year so that he could catch his breath.”
Knotts’ absences from the show were usually explained with scripts having Barney on vacation at the YMCA in Raleigh, NC. A lengthy letter from him was a treat for Andy, Floyd, and sometimes Goober as they savored the single deputy’s details of his adventures in the big city.
All of Knotts’ hard work paid off: the actor earned five Emmy Awards for his outstanding work on the Griffith Show.