Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Attaboy Luther! Karen Knotts on her dad Don Knotts and the making of THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN



Karen Knotts talks about her dad Don Knotts and his classic 1966 Universal Studios film THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN. 

TV STORE ONLINE:   How did your dad Don come to make the film THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (1966)?

KAREN KNOTTS:  He was offered a five picture deal at Universal Studios.  It was while he was still on The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68).   Andy had originally said when they first started shooting the show that he wanted it to go for only five seasons.   So my Dad decided that he had better start scrambling for work.  So he took an offer for a five picture deal at Universal because he thought that the show was going off the air.   THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN turned out to be the first of five films that my Dad made at Universal.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Your dad had become quite the hot property because of his work on The Andy Griffith Show...He had worked in some great films but this marked the first time that he had to carry a film on his shoulders...

KAREN KNOTTS:  Right.  He was nervous and excited about it all at the same time.   I can remember him worrying about that, because this marked the first time that he wasn't playing a second banana.  He had a lot of anxiety about that for sure.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Yet, Andy Griffith had a lot of involvement in the writing of the screenplay for THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN, didn't he?

KAREN KNOTTS:  He did.  There was a first draft of the movie that was written by Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum.  My Dad and Andy had worked with them many times on The Andy Griffith Show.  Dad wasn't very happy with what they had done in the first draft, so he called Andy and asked him if he'd serve as a consultant and help with the script.   I think Andy had a lot to do with the story line for the movie as we know it today.  Once they got that all worked out they were on their way and they starting shooting the movie.

TV STORE ONLINE:    I've wondered if the origins for THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN didn't come about because of that episode of the 4th Season of The Andy Griffith Show which was called "The Haunted House"?

KAREN KNOTTS:
  I don't think it was, but I can't recall if I ever heard my Dad say anything about it, but who knows it might have.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN was directed by Alan Rafkin and he also went on to direct some of your dad's other Universal films as well...What was your dad's relationship like with Rafkin?

KAREN KNOTTS:  Alan, also directed many episodes of The Andy Griffith Show too, so when they started on THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN they had become quite comfortable working with each other.  He was a very experienced director.   I even worked for him on an episode of Too Close For Comfort [1980-86] and he was great.    My dad and Alan worked on many projects together.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How do you think THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN ranks among your dad's movies that he made?   How does it stand next to something like HOW TO FRAME A FIGG (1971) or THE LOVE GOD (1969)?    What THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN one of his favorite films that he had been a part of?

KAREN KNOTTS:   Yeah, THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN was his favorite for sure.   But, he really enjoyed THE LOVE GOD too because he thought it was such a different role for him to take on.   I think THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN is a classic.   He talked about the movie fondly.  He told me a story once about how he had snuck into the back row of one of the local theaters when it was released because he had wanted to see how the audience was going to react to what was on the screen.   He had seen the film in a screening room and heard the Studio Executives laugh at it but he wanted to see how it would play to the public.    He wanted to make sure that people were laughing in the right places.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  It's such a classic film...

KAREN KNOTTS:  I think it is.  The haunted house story makes it a classic.  The acting was great in it.  It was scary and funny.  It's a underdog story. My Dad was basically reincarnating "Barney Fife" for THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I love the colors in the film and the score really makes THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN that much more wonderful...

KAREN KNOTTS:  Yeah, it's a beautiful movie.  They spent a great deal of time trying to find what they thought was the perfect looking organ for the movie.   They spent a lot of time getting that music just perfect for it too.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I also love how that relationship forms in the movie between your dad's character and the character that actress Joan Staley plays in THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN...

KAREN KNOTTS:  Me too. I love that as well.  I love how she sweetly encourages him to go off and do what he does...

TV STORE ONLINE:  That scene on the porch between them is so wonderfully child-like and tender....

KAREN KNOTTS:   That's the best isn't it?  I love that scene.  What guy wouldn't want that opportunity with Joan Staley... You can relate to that... The whole "Should I or Shouldn't I?"

TV STORE ONLINE:  Considering how often your dad and Andy Griffith worked with writers Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum...I was wondering if you could recall ever hearing your dad talk about a film project that all of them were working together that never came to fruition called "Me and My Shadow"?  It was supposed to be about two depression era hitchhikers going across the country.

KAREN KNOTTS:  I do remember hearing about it, but I don't think that it ever got written in script form.  I think it was just something that my Dad and Andy had wanted to do together.  They wanted to do that for a long time.  It was about two con men that go across the country together.  I think it was just a wish and dream of theirs.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you have a favorite scene in THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN?

KAREN KNOTTS:  I think the courtroom scene is my favorite just because of all the characters that appear in it.  I just noticed the last time I saw it that the schoolteacher "Miss Tremaine",  who is played by Ellen Corby, is wearing black leather gloves.  There are so many details in it...They shot the film in like seventeen days and it was done on a fairly low budget.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you think that Universal knew what they had with the film? When THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN was released it was pushed out on a double feature with MUNSTER, GO HOME! (1966)...

KAREN KNOTTS:  I think they did.  They marketed it as a family film and that was a very popular genre for that time.  It was marketed the same way that the Fred McMurray films were being marketed in that time.   I can remember my Dad telling me though how that genre disappeared, and that's why he stopped making those types of films when he did.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Tell me about how your "Tied Up In Knotts" stage show came to fruition?

KAREN KNOTTS:
  Before my Dad passed away in 2006, I had started talking with him about producing this show.  But I didn't get really serious about it until after he was gone.   When he passed away I kind of panicked because I thought that the most important thing to do was to sit down and get all of these memories down onto paper because as time goes on your memories can fade away.  So I got the show up the stage and we had some success with it right away with a short run but I thought that it really needed some fine tuning.  So I did some work on it over the years as I've been going around with it.   I've done the show all over the country and I do it every year at the Mayberry Days Festival in North Carolina.   When I first started doing the show people that saw it would say, "That's a nice tribute to your Dad" and as it's evolved I now her "That's a great show".   My goal with it was always for it to be both.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Writing the show...Going back through those times and memories of your Dad...Was it ever difficult emotionally?

KAREN KNOTTS:  Actually just the opposite.  It's really fun to think about those times.  I want my audience to experience those times with my Dad just as I experienced them.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you find that the response that things in the show get vary from audience to audience?

KAREN KNOTTS:  Absolutely.  One audience will give me just a little chuckle on a line and then on the next night a different audience might roar out loud on the same line...It's what I love about live theater.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Can you share with me one of your favorite stories from your show?

KAREN KNOTTS:  Sure.   So Dad and Andy did a live stage show....  They would do it all over the country.   There was one show that they were set to do at Harrah's in Lake Tahoe.  This was right around the time that my Dad had left The Andy Griffith Show.  Andy took me backstage with him and we stopped at the curtain. He said, "Put your ear up to the curtain.. What do you hear?" I said, "I hear the audience giggling and laughing..."  He said, "That's right.  I always listen to the audience before I go on stage and that gives me a idea about how they're going to react."   It was fantastic because all of these years later I still use that technique myself before I go out on the stage.

Check out the website for Tied Up In Knotts HERE:
Interview Conducted by:  Justin Bozung