Even if I live until the 12th of Never (and thatís a long, long time), Iíll never forget the day Don Knotts came to work.
I remember like it was yesterday. Thatís because it was yesterday. I arrived at my office to discover comic actor (some would say comic genius, and who am I to disagree?), Don Knotts sitting in my visitor chair. I was momentarily rattled, but after I regained my composure, I said, "Mr. Knotts, Iím pleased to meet you. Iím a great admirer of your work."
Don Knotts looked at me hard. His bulgy eyes penetrated my soul. Finally, he said caustically, "Donít patronize me! You know nothing of my work. You wouldnít know Barney Fife from Mr. Limpet."
Don Knotts was right about this. Of course, everybody knows that Barney Fife was the wacky deputy sheriff on The Andy Griffith Show. Thatís just part of the common pool of American pop culture knowledge in the same way that everyone knows that Jeff Gordon is a NASCAR racer or that Big Bird lives in a nest on Sesame Street. However, the truth is, I donít remember ever watching The Andy Griffith Show, and I have no idea what makes Barney Fife so "fifelike."
I tried to stammer out an apology or a rationalization, but Don Knotts cut me off. "Donít worry about it." His tone then became earnest as he said, "I need your help, Rich." Knotts explained that, since his return to the movie world in Pleasantville, heíd been doing a variety of indie movie projects. "You know, a guy like me . . . I donít need the majors anymore," he said.
Knotts said he was preparing to play himself in a movie about a technical editor who finds a portal into the brain of Don Knotts. Before I could tell him it sounded familiar, Knotts read my thoughts and said, "Yeah, yeah, I know itís been done before. Being John Malkovich. Iím familiar with the movie. But we had the idea first and besides, let me lay the cards on the table here: Being Don Knotts is fundamentally different from being John Malkovich."
I couldnít argue with that logic.
"I always research my roles thoroughly before I take on a project," continued Knotts. "I followed a deputy sheriff around for six weeks before I took on the Fife role. I spent two hours a day in a fish tank for a month for The Incredible Mr. Limpet. What I need you to do is show me the ins and outs, the agonies and ecstasies, if you will, of being a technical editor. I need to know whatís going to make that guy in my brain tick."
I told Knotts Iíd be happy to help. We spent the morning going through my normal working day. I taught Don some proofreading symbols and the basics of editing, and he caught on very quickly. In fact, he did so well that I let him do my morningís worth of editing while I read the latest issue of Maxim magazine. Around 11:30 Don said, "Letís break for lunch."
We headed over to the finest restaurant in the town. Pizza Hut. As we entered, I was surprised to hear the hostess say, "Hello Mr. Knotts. Nice to see you again. The usual table?"
Don Knotts nodded, and we headed to a table toward the back of the place. As we settled in, I asked Don Knotts a question Iíd been pondering all morning. "So Don," I said, "Whatís up with Mick Jagger? Is it just my imagination or is he starting to look more and more like you as he gets older?"
Chuckling as he reached for his water glass, Knotts said, "Oh, yeah. Thatís intentional. Back when the Stones were recording Beggars Banquet, I was visiting Keith in the studio andÖ"
"Keith?" I asked incredulously.
"Yes, Keith Richards. Weíve been friends from way back. Anyway, I was talking to Keith when Mick walked over and stated, in no uncertain terms, that he hoped he looked like me when he got older. And then we recorded ĎSympathy for the Devil.í"
"Yeah, I came up with and arranged the "Hoo Hoo" part in the background. Thatís Mick, Keith and me singing."
Don told me more of his adventures with the Rolling Stones, and then mentioned that his original conception of the Barney Fife character was not exactly what the producers had in mind. "I wanted Fife to add gravitas to the show, you know? I thought he should be the moral focus of Mayberry. You know, set up interventions for Otis the Drunk and things like that. It didnít work out that way. I heard Robert Reed felt the same way about his Mike character in The Brady Bunch."
After lunch, we headed back to work. When we arrived back at my cubicle I checked my voice mail to discover that Don had a message from Andy Griffith. I relayed the message, and Knotts let out a sigh.
"Andyís trying to get me to do a Matlock TV movie with him. He wants me to play a deputy sheriff named Barnabas Fifer. Have you ever heard anything so thoroughly preposterous? I told him I wonít do it for a dime less than half a million bucks."
And so the afternoon flew by. Don Knotts did my work and regaled me with more tales. Having finished the Maxim magazine, I moved on to an old Cosmopolitan I found in the employee lounge. At the end of the day, Don Knotts thanked me for the experience and told me to go see Being Don Knotts when it was released. He assured me Iíd find my name in the credits as a "technical adviser to Mr. Knotts." Then Don Knotts walked off into the sunset, and I drove home whistling the theme from The Andy Griffith Show. Actually, I canít whistle, so I just sang along with a Mötley Crüe tape, but if I could whistle, I would have.
(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2000 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)