Don Knotts Was A Nervous Wreck When The Ghost And Mr. Chicken Premiered
Don Knotts, throughout his career, was known for his association with nervousness. He gained fame for his portrayal of the “Nervous Man” character, which he created on The Steve Allen Show and later became known as Barney Fife. Playing a wide-eyed and trembling character who was always in over his head, Knotts knew how to elicit laughter from audiences.
However, his shakiness wasn’t just an act. Offscreen, Knotts was famously shy and soft-spoken. Transitioning from the highly successful Andy Griffith Show to the film industry was a significant leap for him, and he was fully aware of the risks involved.
The Associated Press even described his decision as “an expensive risk.” They pointed out that Knotts had a secure and lucrative position on The Andy Griffith Show, earning $3,500 a week, with the opportunity for a raise to $5,000 and a 10 percent stake in the series. In today’s currency, that would be approximately $45,000 per week, not including the show’s interest. However, Knotts chose to pursue a contract with Universal instead.
The anxiety of leaving The Andy Griffith Show weighed heavily on Knotts leading up to the release of his first film after departing the series, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. According to United Press International, he experienced great anxiety, losing weight and developing a slight twitch. He expressed uncertainty about how the movie would be received, despite feeling proud of it.
To launch the movie, which was expected to perform well in the South due to the popularity of The Andy Griffith Show, the studio opted for its debut in New Orleans. Knotts was ecstatic about the audience’s positive reaction during the preview, where they laughed at the right moments and even unexpected ones. It was a moment of relaxation for him, a break from his months of worry.
However, Knotts couldn’t fully let go of his concerns. He worried that the film’s success in the South might be attributed solely to hometown loyalty, as he hailed from West Virginia. To alleviate his fears, Universal decided to release the movie in Toronto, far away from his home region. The film became a resounding success there, which reassured Knotts.
His worries were largely unfounded. The Associated Press reported that despite being shot with a budget of half a million dollars, the movie had already earned four million dollars, making it a better investment than most of the studio’s recent releases. The film was still playing in various locations and hadn’t even reached New York City yet.