In his five years on The Andy Griffith Show, Barney Fife actor Don Knotts quickly became a fan favorite on the show.
With his practiced, rubbery facial expressions designed to entertain, the second banana to Andy Griffith was one of the most beloved members of the cast.
Unfortunately, Knotts did not make nearly what he could have from the show. Here’s why.
Don Knotts had no ownership stake in ‘The Andy Griffith Show’
Richard Kelly wrote the 1981 in-depth look at the classic sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show book. As much as Knotts was loved by viewers, cast, and crew alike, Kelly wrote, he was not an owner of the show. It belonged solely to Andy Griffith and its producers Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas.
“The producers signed [Knotts] to a single season, and then to a five-year contract, at a starting salary of $1,250 an episode, or about $35,000 a year,” Kelly wrote.
Knotts’ manager, Sherwin Bash, regretfully told Kelly, “I worked out this terrible deal for [Don Knotts], where he ended up making no money in five years.”
Griffith’s ownership interest, meanwhile, according to Daniel de Visé in his 2015 book Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show, “would give him a measure of artistic control. In time, the arrangement would also make Andy” a wealthy man.
One side of the story
According to author de Visé, Andy Griffith told Don Knotts’ manager after the comic’s death in 2006 what his former show partner asked of him. Knotts had already left the show when he and Griffith met.
De Visé wrote that in 1965 during season five of the show, the two men met and it was during that meeting that Knotts offered to return to the show “if he could have an ownership stake” in it.
The author implied that Griffith may have misunderstood Knotts’ request, that Griffith may have thought his friend wanted half of his own share.
In the end, their talk had no real conclusion. Knotts continued with his new film career and Griffith with the show.
What Don Knotts had to say
As Knotts’ manager noted, the actor made no real money in the five seasons he was on The Andy Griffith Show. He earned an armful of Emmy awards but no monetary investment to thank him for his having helped the show become the hit it was. “The producers low-balled Don, playing on his insecurity and concealing their eagerness to sign him,” de Visé wrote.
Knotts, going on Griffith’s assertion that he would not be continuing the show after the fifth season, looked for and found other acting opportunities. He received a contract from Universal that would give him visibility in the film industry.
“[Leaving the show] was a tough time for me,” Knotts said in 1999 in speaking with the Archive of American Television, “because I enjoyed the Griffith show so much. I hated to leave.
“I never expected it to go on.”