Saturday, March 11, 2006

Come and Knock on our Door

I used to love ‘Three’s Company’ when I was a kid. I’d sneak on my TV, a monster console with a 30 inch black and white screen, after my parents put me to bed. (They were still married then and yes, 30” B&W, they got it for free; it had hundreds of tubes inside.) I was only 8 years old. I had no idea what the fuss was about a guy living with two girls. I just thought it was funny when Jack slipped or had a door close in his face. There was some indefinable stirring, a funny feeling, when Suzanne Somers was on the screen but I didn’t know what it was. I just liked it when she was on my TV.

If you were a TV junky and grew up in the Boston area during the 70’s and early 80’s you were lucky to get anything on the dial, there was no Cable back then. At least you didn’t have it because your parents didn’t see the utility in paying extra for TV. So you’d watch whatever the round coil on the back of the set could collect. UHF 56 came in great, so did 38. I remember a 25, 27 and 68 but they were crappy and 27 was scrambled during an attempt to sell movies, I think it was called StarCase. V66 didn’t come around until the mid 80’s.

You probably watched cartoons on Saturday and then switched over to Creature Double Feature on Channel 56. Unless it was an all, obscure Japanese monster day, then you went outside. Godzilla was cool but anything with Mothra or that turtle just plain sucked. Black & White movies claiming that someday-men-will-walk-on-the-moon rocked!

On Sunday mornings your viewing habits were a little less rigid. After Davy and Goliath the day was pretty open. Channel 56 and 38 always had cartoons from the 40’s or ‘The Three Stooges’. After, they’d trade the same handful of old comedies. If 56 ran Jerry Lewis, 38 would show Abbot & Costello. In six months they’d swap, or so it seemed. Basically, the two channels were interchangeable. There was no loyalty, you watched whatever you thought was funniest. Sometimes they’d get creative and show an all Bikini Beach Blanket weekend, an especially welcome sight in February.

On the rare lucky Sunday one or all of the movies would feature the high-strung antics of Mr. Jesse Donald Knotts. I can’t get enough of the old Don Knotts films. It’s the rare comedian who can play his own straight man. It’s even rarer for an actor to thoroughly enjoy being typecast. In career spanning five decades that saw many comedians quit being funny to make their ‘Truman Show’ or ‘Moscow on the Hudson’, Don Knotts always delivered the laughs that his fans wanted.

Many critics consider his character of Ralph Furley to be a comeback but that’s disingenuous. Don Knotts never left, true his movies cooled at the box office but were among the first to attract big numbers on Cable. ‘Private Eyes’ showed poorly at the box office but became a runaway hit on new-fangled cable channel Spotlight. After that all his older Disney comedies found new life with the new subscription movie channels and in part prompted Disney to launch their own cable network.

After wrapping up ‘Three’s Company’, Knotts found mostly voice work in animation, but his scattered appearances in live action films and television received critical acclaim, particularly as the TV Repairman in ‘Pleasantville’. Always the consummate entertainer, Knotts continued to work on stage or as a special guest giving a failing show a much needed ratings boost.

Fans of Don Knotts fall into two generations, those who know him best as Deputy Fife and mostly younger fans who loved him as Mr. Furley. I will always think of him with karate chop hands and sucking in his cheeks, ready for action. So I guess I fall in with the second camp. I see it fitting that his last performance was on ‘That 70’s Show’ during an homage to ‘Three’s Company’. He plays The Landlord and is the high point of the season. Television will never be the same.


Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

I'm old enough to know Don Knotts but he was almost always attached to stuff I had no interest in. I found the Andy Griffith show unintersting, unfunny and un-everything, that TV sitcoms represented. (The very term "sitcom" used to be an epithet, not just a label.)

However, I'm old enough to have seen some of his movies in movie theaters (in reissue double bills). Nothing against the man - I love the "trouper" mentality that he represents and that you allude to in your post: he was what he was and he did what he did better than anybody else.

Therefore, anybody even similar will forever be described as "Don Knotts-like" or "-ish." That's a brand of immortality.

Mar 12, 2006, 4:55:00 PM  
Blogger TommyOkktane said...

He will always be Luther Heggs to me. And that I'm young enough to be enthralled by gigantic turtles propelled via thrusters from his legholes says something about the endearing legacy of Don Knotts.

Mar 13, 2006, 6:55:00 PM  
Blogger Lychee-chan said...

Personally I found nearly any giant monster movie a plus, including Gamera, the much-maligned giant bumpy turtle (or was he a tortoise?).

As for Mr. Knotts, I never watched the Andy Griffith show and although I do indeed remember Mr. Furley when I think of Don Knotts I always think of the Wonderful World of Disney and Sunday afternoon movies.

Is it sad that in my mind he will always be a spectacle-wearing, roaring fish?

Mar 13, 2006, 9:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

I grew up in Boston and your post brought back several memories. I remember V66, Starcase on channel 68 and Preview (also pay tv) on 27. I used to watch these scrambled sometimes.

Jul 23, 2006, 3:26:00 AM  

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