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CNN Larry King Live

Encore Presentation: Don Knotts Remembered

Aired March 05, 2006 - 21:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: "The Andy Griffith Show."



LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, exclusive, Andy Griffith and Ron Howard remember their friend and one-time co-star Don Knotts in their first interview together since his death last Friday; and, sharing personal memories Jim Nabors, another member of the beloved "Andy Griffith Show" gang; Don's daughter Karen Knotts; and Joyce DeWitt, Don's co-star in "Three's Company."

We'll take your calls too. It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Joyce DeWitt will be joining us later. Don Knotts earned five Emmy's playing Deputy Barney Fife on the "Andy Griffith Show," went on to a successful film career before striking sitcom gold again with TV's "Three's Company."

He died last Friday night of pulmonary and respiratory complications. He was 81. His career spanned a half century, including more than two dozen films and seven television series.

Andy, were you -- how long or rather right before he died how did you see him?

ANDY GRIFFITH, ACTOR: He died at eleven o'clock. I believe that's right.


KING: In the morning?

GRIFFITH: In the -- at night at UCLA and I was with him until 6:00 or 6:30 I guess and he couldn't respond but I did -- I was able to tell him I loved him and I asked him to "Breathe, breathe, keep breathing Jess." His name was Jesse and he never liked that name but he let me know it one time and I always called him Jess.

KING: Did you know he was going to pass?

GRIFFITH: I'm afraid we did. We didn't -- I didn't know it up until about that time. We were there and they were very nice to us at UCLA and we were down in the emergency room and we were near enough we heard the doctor tell Francie (ph), Don's wife that his heart had stopped in the ambulance and they had brought him back. But, yes, we knew.

KING: Karen, were you with him when he died?

KNOTTS: Yes, I was.

KING: What was it like?

KNOTTS: Well, it was -- I have to say if anybody ever has an opportunity to share a deathbed experience with a loved one it is an extraordinary experience. It was -- he didn't look like himself or like the way I remembered him but you felt his presence. You felt the soul there and you even said the same thing, didn't you?

And we spoke to him and talked to him from our hearts and I said everything I ever wanted to tell him. I was babbling and I had Kleenex and I was going through the box of Kleenex and just pouring out my heart but yet there were signs that he understood, like the way he -- little physical things, responses, like a squeeze of the hand or just certain things that you felt he heard you.

GRIFFITH: He moved his shoulder a little bit.

KING: Did he get sick at the house and then they rushed him to the hospital?

KNOTTS: From what I understand I was -- I actually flew in. I was in Tucson but Francie said that he was at the house and they had what they call a (INAUDIBLE), a thing that measures your oxygen on the finger and they always kept their eye on that oxygen. It can't -- it shouldn't go below 90, so it actually kept going down and then up and then actually went down to 50 and that's like where it can never go.

KING: Ron Howard, did you know that he was sick?

RON HOWARD, ACTOR: I had heard a few weeks ago that Don wasn't feeling real well but the last couple of times that I'd seen him he'd been really vibrant, really up, and so, you know, I was hopeful he was going to bounce back.

KING: What was he like, Ron, to work with?

HOWARD: Well, I have such great memories of the show in general and Don was, you know, an amazing guy in that -- and I've worked with a lot of very, very funny people over the years and they all have different styles but one remarkable thing about Don is that I wasn't aware of any neurosis or anything, you know.

I mean he wasn't -- he wasn't like his character at all. Even as a kid, you know, I could see that he was a really great comic actor who knew how to create this character and knew how to be very funny but, you know, he wasn't -- he wasn't Barney Fife. He was a very calm, very kind, very relaxed, very creative guy.

But one of the really vivid memories that I have, and I was thinking about this just when I heard about Don's passing, that one of the first images that came to my mind was there on the set and it was -- it was Don creating, you know, one of the moments that was going to -- that he was going to play out on screen and it was -- and it was Andy with his head back just laughing.

You know, Don had a lot of -- a lot of admirers throughout his career and he earned every laugh but I don't think there was a bigger fan than Andy and so many times I'd see Andy with just tears streaming down his face laughing at something that Don was creating. And the two of them, of course, were an amazing comedy team and what they could generate was, you know, something historic.

KING: Let's bring Jim Nabors in. What was he like for you? Did you know he was sick, Jim?

JIM NABORS, ACTOR: No, I didn't know he was sick. I hadn't talked to him in quite a while. You know I don't get to see people unless they come to Hawaii, so no I didn't know he was sick but it's a great loss for our industry but I loved that man dearly, as we all did.

And so many of the things that Ron was saying bring home things to me that when I remember he and Andy on the set and Andy did. Andy was his biggest fan. He fell down laughing but we all were. We all fell down laughing at Ron -- I mean at Don.

KING: You held him in special high esteem didn't you? I mean he was like your mentor.

NABORS: Oh, gosh yes. You know one of the things about Gomer on the show is he thought that Barney was probably the most, you know, sophisticated guy in all of North Carolina. He thought he was the greatest.

KING: By the way, when Don and Andy were both on the show in November, 2003, I asked Don how he got the job as Deputy Barney Fife. Watch.


DON KNOTTS, ACTOR: I saw Andy's pilot. It was done on the old "Danny Thomas Show," and so I got the idea maybe he should have a deputy.

KING: In other words, on the pilot there was no deputy?



KING: Now, Andy when you got the call from Don did you like it right away?

GRIFFITH: Oh, I said "I didn't know you were out of work. Call Sheldon" and he called Sheldon and he hired him right away and that -- that turned the show around. That made it, that made the show happen. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Andy, what was his brilliance for want of a better word? What did he do that others didn't do?

GRIFFITH: Well, Don did -- Don did just what Don did. Others couldn't do what Don did. There are many imitators of Barney now but they -- they can't reach what Don was doing ever. I would see -- I was able to say one time that the straight man has the best job.

The straight man gets to be in the show and see it too. I was so close to Don that I could -- physically so close I could see him turn into Barney Fife. I could see his eyes become Barney Fife and it was wonderful to watch.

KING: We'll take a break and be right back with more of our salute to the late Don Knotts. Don't go away.


GRIFFITH: Deputy Fife, it looks like to me you put in a good day's work already. How would you like to take Thelma Lou here and have the rest of the afternoon off?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, Barney, will you?

KNOTTS: I'd like to Thelma Lou but I don't guess I better.

GRIFFITH: Why not?

KNOTTS: Well, you just never know when another beast might come down out of the forest. You understand don't you Thelma Lou?


KNOTTS: I really don't expect you to. You see, Thelma Lou, this is what we call the deadly game (INAUDIBLE) apes.




KNOTTS: There, now you satisfied? A fiend is on the loose, citizens living in terror. We got to go down to his shack and smoke him out. Use teargas.

GRIFFITH: I believe I'll go down and pay him a visit.

KNOTTS: Yes. We'll move in from the high ground and surround him, throw a cordon around his hideout. Let me see if I got my bullet. Yes. OK, let's go.

GRIFFITH: You stay here. I'm going alone.


KING: Karen, what kind of father was he?

KNOTTS: He was an awesome father. He was awesome. I mean he was -- he treated me like a friend more than a parent and he told me everything and since a lot of the growing up he was single during the time so he talked to me about even his love life, everything that was going on and we -- we just were buddies. We were like best friends.

KNOTTS: Did your mother raise you?

KNOTTS: Well, yes, I mean up to that point when, you know, when they divorced then I actually went to live with him because she moved up to a ranch and I wasn't quite prepared for that so I stayed with him, yes.

KING: So, he was a single parent?

KNOTTS: Yes, he was, yes all through the '70s and he was -- he was quite the trendsetter in the '70s. He had a man purse and the whole thing.

KING: Ron Howard, I know you're an esteemed director. You're in London finishing up "The Da Vinci Code," but I was told, Andy just verified it, that "The Andy Griffith Show" was shot with one camera.

HOWARD: That's true. It was like a little movie every week and it was a -- it was a great experience and a great creative experience, great environment for me to grow up in. I mean it was very methodical, very professional but a lot of fun and there were a lot of laughs and I always credit Andy with creating this -- this environment that seemed to include the other actors.

And then also Aaron Rubin (ph) who produced the show and, you know, for the first five or six years of the show, it was you know it's an environment that I try to emulate on the films that I'm directing frankly.

KING: Huh, Andy.

GRIFFITH: Happy Birthday Ronnie.

HOWARD: Thank you.

GRIFFITH: And today is Aaron's birthday too.

HOWARD: That's right. That's right.

KING: Although it's March 2nd where he is so his birthday...

GRIFFITH: March 2nd there and it's my mother-in-law's birthday.

HOWARD: It just got to be March 2nd.

KING: If they did it with one camera that means you -- if I shot you face forward then I had to shoot you from behind... GRIFFITH: That's right.

KING: ...for the Don Knotts' scene.

GRIFFITH: That's right. That's right. And sometimes you'd have a single shot of you or a single shot of Don and sometimes over our shoulder or my shoulder onto him (INAUDIBLE).

KING: But you had to work twice as hard then didn't you?

GRIFFITH: Some days were long. Some days were very long.

KNOTTS: Like always.


KING: And where was Mayberry?

GRIFFITH: Mayberry was in Culver City. It was a place -- it was a place called Forty Acres, remember it Ronnie?

HOWARD: Absolutely, matter of fact I took a drive by there about three weeks ago. I've known for a while that, you know, it's not there anymore but it was behind what was the old Selznick Studios.


HOWARD: And it was great. It was kind of a playground for me and there's a great picture, in fact, of Don and I out there playing catch in Forty Acres that I have and in between set-ups when I got interested in baseball, you know, and Don would throw the ball around with me once in a while. It was, you know, it was a lot of fun.

KING: Jim Nabors, how did you get to be Gomer Pyle?

NABORS: Oh, Andy found me in a little nightclub in Santa Monica and I remember him saying after my performance he says, "I don't know what you do but you do it very well" and he told me -- he said if there was ever a part on his show he would give me a call.

And, I had never acted before and by golly he called me about two weeks later and I read for the part and I think he thought I was a little too far out but he had a little faith in my for which to this day I am so appreciative of.

But, I must say that the first time I was ever on the set Andy announced to everyone on the set and the cast, he said, you know, he said "Jim never has done this before so you all be nice to him and tell him what to do and how to do it and everything" and they were, everybody was absolutely fantastic to me.

And especially Don, who was really quiet in his own way but he'd whisper in my ear like "Don't do this. Don't (INAUDIBLE)" because I was used to being a nightclub performer and he was absolutely wonderful and sweet and I was very appreciative of it.

KING: That, of course, made your career. Did you come up with the idea of Gomer Pyle, Andy?

GRIFFITH: It was actually in a script. Jim Fritzell (ph) and Everett Greenbaum wrote it in a show called "Man in a Hurry" and it came up and I asked Jim if he wanted to read it and I read with him. And, Aaron says "I don't know," he said. "I've read another fellow who's got some experience but I don't know." I said, "Why don't you throw it to Jim" and he did and I'm really glad.

KING: It was a great character.


KING: Great character.


NABORS: I am too.

KING: We'll be right back with more on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


KNOTTS: Now, you listen to me both of you. We're here to protect one of the all time greats and how you can even think, think mind you of backing down is beyond me and mine. I realize that some of you have family responsibilities and if for that reason or any other you feel this mission is too dangerous and you want to pull out, all right you're free to walk right out that door. Hold it! Get back here.




KNOTTS: I can't understand it. Why does she keep on making them?

GRIFFITH: I don't know. I reckon like most women she just automatically figures that anything homemade has got to be better than something from the store.

KNOTTS: Well, store pickles are ten times better than these, 100 times better. I don't know how I can face a future when I know there's eight quarts of these pickles in it.

GRIFFITH: Hey, wait a minute. You just had an idea there.


GRIFFITH: Now, let's examine the situation here. Now we're more or less bound to consume the pickles in them jars right?

KNOTTS: Yeah. GRIFFITH: Now if they was good old store pickles we could eat them.

KNOTTS: But they ain't good old store pickles. They're bad old home pickles.

GRIFFITH: We'll just turn them into store pickles.


GRIFFITH: We'll get eight quarts of store pickles and put them in Aunt Bee's jars and then we wouldn't hurt her feelings. We could eat the pickles and she'd be tickled pink.

KNOTTS: Check.


KING: That was Don's favorite episode.

GRIFFITH: Yes, it was, the pickle story, written by Harvey Bullock (ph).

KING: By the way, Ron, you'll be interested in this. On my show a couple of years ago I asked Don if he ever thought Ron Howard would become so successful. Here's what Don said.


KING: Don, did you see that talent there that Ron Howard would become what he has become?

KNOTTS: Well, I didn't expect him to be a director to be honest. He was such a natural born actor that I just assumed he would go on acting.

HOWARD: It sure was swell.

KNOTTS: I heard!

HOWARD: Pa, Pa, Barney's face is bleeding!

KNOTTS: That's not blood.


KING: When did you decide you wanted to be a director?

HOWARD: Well, a lot of the directors on the show had been actors and that wasn't lost on me and also my dad was always directing a play or something and so I was kind of used to the idea of actors sort of graduating into that job. Mostly, on the environment there, in the environment of that show, I was fascinated by everything that was going on and it didn't take me very long.

Really, as a kid I sort of knew that I wanted to one day try directing. As a teenager, it became a real obsession. And, as a matter of fact, there's one thing I wanted to mention.

A few years ago I was directing "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" with Jim Carey and it turns out Jim Carey is a huge Don Knotts fan and had imitated him in his act at one time, had even done him on a show "In Living Color" and he could do a great Don Knotts.

And, we were doing this, you know, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and Jim had to wear this really oppressive makeup. It was really getting him down. He had to wear the Grinch costume and prosthetic makeup and contact lenses and the shooting went on and he was -- you could just see his energy was draining.

And, one day I surprised him by getting Don to come to the set and so Don showed up and it was a complete surprise to Jim Carey. Jim Carey was in his full Grinch costume standing up at the mouth of the Grinch's cave, which was this tall set at the top of a soundstage and he looked down and he squinted and went like that and he could see that it was Don.

And, he went into a really brilliant Don Knotts imitation and I only wish the cameras were rolling because here he was in the Grinch costume doing Barney Fife, you know, and it was -- it was hilarious.

And that day, Jim's spirits were really up because he got to go down and visit with one of his idols and Don graciously spent an entire afternoon hanging around there with Jim Carey.

KING: That's a great story.

HOWARD: That's the kind of guy Don was. He was very unassuming, very gracious.

KING: Jim Nabors, did you ever crack up working with him?

NABORS: Yes, as a matter of fact one of my favorite episodes I ever did was the -- it was citizen's arrest and it was only the third show I ever did on "Andy Griffith," and the third time I ever acted.

And, anyway, Don and I had this scene together and they were doing a close-up and once I would -- he would get into the Barney Fife character I would start to laugh and I couldn't help it.

And, after about eight or nine takes they're yelling at me and Don is too. He said, "Quit laughing." I said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." And, finally the director said "Let me fix it" and he shot a close-up of Don.

KING: You laughed a lot right, Andy?

GRIFFITH: I laughed at him all the time. My favorite was the preamble to the Gettysburg Address, no preamble to the Constitution and Don had written that bit and it's where he claims that he -- once he learns something it's locked in his brain and can never be removed. So, then he has me hold the book on it. He, of course, can't remember the first syllable.

KING: He had it down didn't he?


KNOTTS: Of course. In fact, I remember one of my fondest memories was on Sunday was the day that he would learn his lines for the new show and he would lock himself in that bedroom. And, I used to sit outside the bedroom door and listen while he -- he would take every line Barney had and practice it in probably I would say about 30 different ways, different inflection, just subtle inflections, one line, one word, up inflected, then the next word down inflected.

And until he found the way that he wanted to read that line and then he would -- once he had the way he wanted it, he would just repeat it over and over and over until it became locked in and then he would put it together with the other lines.

It was like a concert pianist learning a new piece and it was just fantastic to hear how he would work so hard at that. And then, of course, when he got on the set it was like natural and real.


KING: When was the last time he worked?

KNOTTS: Oh, just probably a month before he was sick. Francie said he did a voice-over for Disney.

GRIFFITH: Voice-over.

KNOTTS: He played Deputy Dog in a Disney movie, a voice-over. He was fantastic. He never stopped.

KING: We'll be right back with more of this tribute. And, Joyce DeWitt will be joining us in a little while. We'll be including your phone calls as well. Don't go away.


KNOTTS: Now you hit me right there just as hard as you can. It won't make a dent.

GRIFFITH: Go ahead, Ope (ph), it's OK.

KNOTTS: Come on, Ope, come on see I'm braced. See.

GRIFFITH: Ope, you want to help Barney in that chair there.




ANNOUNCER: "The Andy Griffith Show," starring Andy Griffith, with Ronny Howard, also starring Don Knotts.


KING: Studio City.


GRIFFITH: Culver City, yes.

KING: Culver City.


KING: ... North Carolina.

Our guests are Karen Knotts, Don Knotts' daughter, Andy Griffith, longtime friend of Don, who co-starred "The Andy Griffith Show" for five seasons. In London is Ron Howard, who was Opie on "The Andy Griffith Show." He grew up, becoming an Oscar-winning director. His newest film will be "The Da Vinci Code." It will be at the Cannes Film Festival in May. In Honolulu, Jim Nabors, who co-starred as Gomer Pyle on "The Andy Griffith Show." He was on from '62 to '64. We are also going to include your phone calls.

And we go to Grosse Pointe, Michigan.


CALLER: Hi, there.

I just wondered if, once Don left the show, was it ever an option for him to come back? Or did he ever ask you to come back?

GRIFFITH: He came back to visit three times. And he won an Emmy for two of them.


KING: Why did he leave?

GRIFFITH: He left because I had always said that I would -- I would only have the show -- I would only do the show for five years. And, so, during that fifth year, he started looking for work.

And he got a job over at Universal making some motion pictures. And, then, I decided to stay on. So -- but, then, he had already signed a contract with them.

KING: You said it broke your heart, though, when he left.

GRIFFITH: It did. It really -- it really broke my heart.

I missed him -- I missed him so -- so dreadfully, I can't begin to tell you. The show -- when Don left, the show lost its heart. It stayed on for three more years and was, in fact, number one for the -- the whole year -- the last year that it was on.

But it really -- it really lost its heart and its soul when Don left.

KING: You didn't replace him with anyone?

GRIFFITH: We tried. It just didn't work.

And, so, we just built up the other secondary characters. And I played straight for them. But Don -- Don used to -- Don used to, when I would be straighting for me, sometimes, I wouldn't be feeding the way he -- he wanted.

He said, Ang -- that's what he called me -- Ang, could you just bring that in a little closer?

You know that little high voice he had?


GRIFFITH: And, so, I would do it, and it would work.

KING: Jim Nabors, why did you only do it for two years, three years?

NABORS: Well, Andy suggested that I try to do something on my own. And he got Aaron Ruben, who was the producer of the show, to write a pilot for me. And away I went to the Marine Corps, and...


NABORS: ... never to look back. And I really loved it.

GRIFFITH: That was it.

KING: How long did that -- that show was a big hit.

NABORS: It was on five years, and then I went in -- then I went into music.

KING: Ron, do you -- were you..

NABORS: I'm sorry?

KING: ... with the show the whole -- Ron Howard, were you with the show the whole way?

GRIFFITH: Yes, he was.

HOWARD: Yes. Yes, I was.

I -- I was even in that Danny Thomas pilot, which...



HOWARD: ... you had asked earlier...

GRIFFITH: At 5 years old.

HOWARD: ... about the single-camera approach, and that show was done -- the Danny Thomas show was done in front of an audience with multiple cameras...

GRIFFITH: Three cameras.

HOWARD: which is, you know, for example, the way we did -- yes, with three cameras, the way we did "Happy Days" later for -- for most of the life of that show.

And -- but, I -- I remember my dad explaining that -- that -- that Andy wanted a more exacting, naturalistic kind of a style, and requested that they do the show one camera. And I -- I think it's one of the reasons that the show has really endured, because it's -- you know, it remains very -- very unique.

KING: Is it funny for you to watch yourself as a 5-year-old?

HOWARD: It's...


HOWARD: You know, it brings back a -- a -- yes, it's a little -- it's a little strange.

It brings back a lot of memories. And the -- watching an episode is -- is more like home movies for me, because it -- it -- it just brings back a flood of memories. I was watching one of those scenes, one of clips there. And I recalled something.

Andy, every once in a while, Aaron would come down to the set and say, the show is running a little short. And I have these vivid memories of you and Don and Aaron kind of going off to the side and cooking up some of these, you know, really classic two-person bits. And I always kind of wondered, did you have those in your hip pocket? Or did -- or did you just generate them from scratch?


HOWARD: Or how did that even...


HOWARD: It was always amazing to watch these scenes emerge.


GRIFFITH: We generally -- we -- we would get -- the three of us would get together and we would -- I know Aaron would -- Aaron was a brilliant comedy mind himself.

And one of us would come up and -- with an idea of what direction to go, and then the three of us would write it. And, then, we would go in and shoot it right fast.

KING: That scene where you punched Don in the stomach, how hard...


KING: ... did you punch him, Opie?


HOWARD: Well, I -- probably as hard as I could.

GRIFFITH: He hit him hard.

KING: Yes?


HOWARD: If you're a kid -- you're a kid getting away with hitting an adult. You know, you don't -- that's one of the little side benefits of -- of being in show business, moments like that.


KING: Houston, Texas, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. Thank you for taking my call.

KING: Sure.

CALLER: I wanted to see and say how much the show has meant to me over the years, growing up with the show. And it's absolutely fantastic. It will be in my memories for a long time.

My question is for Andy and Ron. I wanted to see how you would think Don would want to have been remembered.

GRIFFITH: Well, I...


KING: Like we're doing tonight maybe?

GRIFFITH: Yes, like we're doing tonight, and to -- to be remembered as a good man, who loved for people to laugh. And he loved to be laughed at, Barney did. Don did, too. Don Knotts had a very funny mind. And he was -- Don was a good man.

KING: You think that's it, Karen, that he made people laugh?

K. KNOTTS: Yes. He -- he was a -- a good, kindhearted person who loved life and loved to make people laugh. And he was just a whimsical guy. He just had a lot of fun in his life.

KING: Ron, as a character, Barney Fife was lovable, wasn't he?

HOWARD: Oh, well, he was -- he was absolutely lovable.

And I -- and -- you know, and the fact that -- that -- that Andy had so much patience for him, you know, meant that -- that, you know, he -- Andy saw something in him. And, so, as crazy as he could be, you know, everybody else did around him as well.

And -- and -- and, you know, I think -- I think Barney always proved to be, you know, a really admirable character in the end. Don himself, of course, had just a tremendous heart. And, you know, I never heard a cross word or tense moment, never saw, witnessed anything, other than a kind of a -- you know, a grace under fire, as he would -- as -- as the show would -- would -- would get made.

KING: Jim Nabors, how do you think he will be remembered?

NABORS: Oh, I think he will be remembered so lovingly.

You know, but one of the funniest things Don ever said to me -- we were doing a scene together, and I -- I was laughing at him. And I says -- I says, Don, I said, how you can be so funny? And he said, well, he says, it helps to look like I do.


KING: And we will be right back. Don't go away.



D. KNOTTS: All right. Is everybody setback there?

HOWARD: I'm all set.


NABORS: I'm all set.

D. KNOTTS: How about the front seat?


GRIFFITH: I'm all set.

NABORS: Hope I don't get car sick.

D. KNOTTS: Opie, you trade places with Gomer.


D. KNOTTS: I want him near a window.


D. KNOTTS: OK. Here we go.


NABORS: You might be mashing down too hard on the acceleration, flooding her out.

D. KNOTTS: I will handle this, Gomer.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I think Gomer is right. I smell gas. Do you smell gas, Andy?

GRIFFITH: I smell gas.

HOWARD: I smell gas.

NABORS: I smell gas.


D. KNOTTS: All right, all right, all right.


D. KNOTTS: You smell gas. Of course you smell gas. What do you think this car runs on, coal?




KING: (AUDIO GAP) ... generation of fans and created a memorable character on the hit "Three's Company." He played Ralph Furley, Jack, Chrissy, and Janet's landlord, and would-be swinger.

Actress Joyce DeWitt played Janet. And she joins us from New York.

What was it like, Joyce, for you? You have heard so much going on here tonight, talking about "Andy Griffith." What was it like for you to work with him?

JOYCE DEWITT, ACTRESS: It was the best. It couldn't have gotten any better.

When Don agreed to come on the show, we were absolutely astounded that this amazing, creative, extraordinary talent had agreed to come and join our cast. And, of all the people that you would ever meet in Hollywood, Don was absolutely the most unassuming, graceful, gracious man you could ever know.

The first day that he came to the set, we were dumbfounded. We could hardly speak, because Don Knotts was actually now working with us.


DEWITT: And he came in and thanked us for inviting him and asked for absolutely nothing. And he's the kind of person, that you wanted to make sure he was taken care of, because Don would never ask for himself. So, you had to keep an eye out to make sure that, you know, he need -- had what he needed, because he was such an unassuming, gracious person. And he brought such a gift to the show. To make such a seamless transition from the Roper leaving and Mr. Furley coming in, it really is because of the huge, enormous talent of Don Knotts that that was so seamless.

KING: But he -- he wasn't doing Barney Fife, was he?

DEWITT: No. No, absolutely -- and -- and, I mean, Don has this huge body of work that covers so many decades.

And, in every case, it's an absolutely unique, individual character. So, in no way was it Barney Fife. And, yet, it had that same zest and joy, and liveliness, and unpredictability, and sheer insanity of physical humor that he could do, that -- as Karen was talking earlier, that seemed, when it was done for performance, so effortless, as if it was just falling out of him for the first time.

And, yet, he was such a skilled professional. He prepared. He came prepared down to the minutest of moments. And, yet, when the camera would roll, it just fell out of him and magic began.

KING: Did you ever break up?



DEWITT: One of my great joys about "Three's Company" lives in my heart always that they gave Janet the job of dealing with Mr. Furley for the trio, so that, quite often, my scenes would be just Don and I together. And that was a great gift that they gave me, because I had no idea the joy that being a straight man could be, as Andy was mentioning earlier, until I worked with Don.

I mean, I would just say a line, and I would just wait until Don was done being absolutely hysterical. And then I would say another line. And, then, Don would do another two minutes of absolute hysteria. And the effortlessness with which one could work with him, because he was so brilliant -- you could just lay it out there and get out of the way.

And, yes, there were many a night that we had to stop camera and start over, because...


DEWITT: ... he was so good. He was so funny.

And the freshness with which he could do it each time was just so disarming that, many a time, thank God they would be over my shoulder on occasion, and we wouldn't have to stop. But when we were in a shared shot, many a time, they would have to stop and start over, because I couldn't help it. (LAUGHTER)

KING: Andy, do you watch him on that show?

GRIFFITH: Yes, I certainly did. I liked him on it, too, very much.

KING: Not surprised by anything he did?

GRIFFITH: No, no, no. Don -- Don was brilliant at anything he -- at anything he undertook to do. And he did "On Golden Pond" over there in Kansas City.

KING: Just a couple years ago.

GRIFFITH: Yes. He was -- he was doing that the last time we were on the air together.

KING: Correct. He was doing the play...


KING: ... in Kansas City.


KING: So, he was the -- "On Golden Pond," of course, he got laughs, but it's also a serious play.


K. KNOTTS: Well, originally, the play was a -- was a comedic play. And they changed it for Henry Fonda. That's what he explained to me.


K. KNOTTS: So, they went back to the original for him...


K. KNOTTS: ... for -- for my dad.

GRIFFITH: Don liked Karen as an actor very much. And she was in quite a few plays with Don.

K. KNOTTS: That's right.

We went on the road together a few times. And he taught me comic timing. It was so exciting to be backstage with my father, waiting just for the intermission to end, because you could feel the energy from him. And he would sit so quiet and so centered, and just almost -- I don't know -- it was just this contained energy. And, then, when he would go out on -- on stage, you could just feel the love just emanate...

KING: Yes. Amazing.

K. KNOTTS: ... from the audience.

KING: Let's take a call.

Granbury, Texas, hello.


I just wanted to say that I had a message on my answering machine that said, Barney Fife has passed away. Knowing what the message was about, I -- I called back and said, no, Barney has not passed away. Barney will be with us forever.

And I just wanted to -- to give this little thought to you, that I remember that this was good family entertainment, and it was about entertaining the public.

One question to Andy Griffith.

Was -- was Don a perfectionist?

GRIFFITH: Oh, yes, very much so. Don knew what he was doing at all times...

KING: Well...

GRIFFITH: And he had it down.


KING: All right, we'll be back with more right after this.


JOHN RITTER, ACTOR: Your apartment?


D. KNOTTS: Do you have a hearing problem?


D. KNOTTS: Does he have a hearing problem?


D. KNOTTS: Yes, my apartment!


D. KNOTTS: I'm Ralph Furley! I'm going to be the new building manager.


DEWITT: The new what?

SOMERS: The new who?

RITTER: The new which?


D. KNOTTS: They all have a hearing problem.






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... so much that's on TV today is just a waste of time.

D. KNOTTS: Well, I'm afraid I will have to agree with them. I -- I think that television has -- has not progressed. It has retro -- is that the word, regressed?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. That's good enough.

D. KNOTTS: I think television, on the whole, has regressed over the years. I don't know who is responsible, but I think -- I really think it should examine itself very closely.


KING: That was Don Knotts talking after winning one of his Emmys.

Ron Howard, do you agree with him? Do you think television was better then?

HOWARD: Well, I -- I think that -- I think there's some great work going on, on television now.

And, you know, I think it has always been, you know, some good, some bad. But, frankly, I think there's a lot of great writing, a lot of great acting, and a lot of great work that is going on to -- today. So, you know, I'm -- I'm -- certainly, great shows were made in the '50s, '60s, in every decade. And there was something special, I really do think, about "The Andy Griffith Show" and a couple of other shows that were on at that time.

But, you know, I think there's some -- I think there's some terrific work being done right now.

KING: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, hello.


We all loved Barney and Thelma Lou and Ang and Helen. But whose idea was the -- was it to have the girls from Mount Pilot come into the show?


KING: Andy?

GRIFFITH: The fun girls.


GRIFFITH: The fun girls.

I -- I -- I believe that was Aaron, Aaron Ruben, that we have mentioned so many times. He was our producer and head writer. And I believe it was Aaron that came up with the fun girls.

KING: Did he allow you to change scripts?

GRIFFITH: Oh, yes. We all -- well, we had great writers, Harvey Bullock, Jim and Ev. We had very good writers.

But all of us worked on the script. Don and I did, too. And we enjoyed working on those scripts a lot.

KING: Did you let little Ron Howard?

GRIFFITH: Little Ronny -- little Ronny was in there every single week. We read the script every Thursday and Ronny -- Ronny said one day, I don't think a little boy would say -- a kid would say it that way.

How would you say it?


GRIFFITH: And he said it. And we said, fine.


KING: Even then, Ron, you were -- you were -- you were taking over.


K. KNOTTS: Well, one thing I...


HOWARD: Well, I remember that moment that Andy is talking about.

I remember that. And I said -- and I think it was in the second season. And I -- I had been asking -- you know, making suggestions through the whole first season, and nobody ever took any of them, you know?


HOWARD: So, I was standing there a little dumbfounded.

And I remember -- I remember Andy saying, well, what -- what are you staring at, Ronny? And I said, well, that's the first suggestion of mine that you have taken. And he said, it was the first one that was any damn good. Now let's -- let's rehearse the scene.


KING: You were going to say, Karen?

K. KNOTTS: Oh...


HOWARD: It was...

K. KNOTTS: Oh, I was just going to say that I remember my father saying that, when they would come up with a funny line or a joke for one of the characters, Andy had an ironclad rule, and the writers, that it would not get in the script unless it was believable to the character. And it was -- it would just not make it.

KING: You know, Joyce, that Don Knotts loved John Ritter.

DEWITT: Yes, he did. They both loved each other very much. And they worked together so beautifully.

It's rare that you have two actors who are both so very good at physical comedy, working together, and have that work. But they were each so unique in their style and their presentation that it worked beautifully, as Jack and Mr. Furley. And it was a delight to watch them rehearse and get ready to perform, because they enjoyed each other so much and cared for each other so much.

I have had the great pleasure, I think, of having worked with two of the most beloved actors to perform in comedy in the 20th century.

KING: Yes.

DEWITT: A great gift...

KING: And they sure are.

DEWITT: ... in my life, both of those men.

KING: We will be back with our remaining moments. Don't go away.


D. KNOTTS: Say, listen, I have an idea. Why don't we all go over to the university tomorrow for Professor Hoffmeyer's lecture?


D. KNOTTS: Yes, on decapods of the genera pagurus.

You know, George, he's -- he's going to talk about the mating habits of the shellfish.


D. KNOTTS: It's a little risque, sort of for adults only, you know?



KING: Hillsboro, Texas, hello. Are you there? Hillsboro? Not there.

OK, Jim Nabors, you are living in Hawaii. What -- what -- are you working? What are you doing?


NABORS: I'm pretty much retired, but I do, do a couple of gigs a year. And I have a good life. And I love living over here. And I'm right here on the point of Diamond Head. And it's fantastic.

KING: Never left Hawaii, huh?

NABORS: No, I have been here a long time now.

KING: Joyce DeWitt, what are you doing now?


DEWITT: I'm actually here in New York, Larry, and meeting on a couple of projects that I can't really talk about. They're not that far along yet, but they're very exciting to me.

It -- it feels like it's time to come back into the world of television. And that's the projects that we're looking at now.

KING: Well, we miss you.

DEWITT: Thank you. It -- it would be lovely to be there again.

KING: Karen Knotts, are you -- you doing any plays or anything?


I have a play that I wrote. And I also am developing a show about what it was like growing up with my dad, which he was helping me with. But, unfortunately, he didn't get to finish that.


GRIFFITH: ... great. Great.

KING: And, Don -- and, Ron, we will see "The Da Vinci Code" in May, right?

HOWARD: May 19, that's right.

KING: Well, I want -- I -- I'm sure it's magnificent. It's the most awaited movie of the year...


KING: ... off the most talked-about book. And you have got Tom Hanks starring. And -- and you directed. It is going to be terrific.

DEWITT: I can't wait to see it.

HOWARD: It has been fascinating to work on.



KING: And, Andy, when are you coming back to television?

GRIFFITH: I -- I did -- I don't know about television. I did a little movie a few weeks ago called the "Waitress."


GRIFFITH: I played a character named Old Joe.


KING: We are out of time.

Old Joe.



KING: Thank you, Don Knotts. Thank you for living. Thank you for being in our presence.