MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The legendary career of comedian and actor Don Knotts halted traffic in downtown Morgantown Saturday.
Three replica police cruisers, 2 Barney Fife impersonators, countless fans and dozens of people with their own “before he was Barney” stories lined High Street outside the Metropolitan Theatre for the first annual Don Knotts Days celebration.
“I actually waited on him one time at the Wilkins Motors down on University Avenue. One day he came in. He came to my window and I waited on him,” laughed Jean Faini who added that Knotts was just “very normal”.
“I am a very big fan of Barney Fife for a long, long, long time. I watch him every night on TV. It’s just exciting that Morgantown can be part of this,” shared Morgantown resident Barbara Kuhn.
Don Knotts was and is a part of Morgantown. He grew up in a boarding house owned and operated by his mother. It was nearly as popular as the 5-time Emmy Award winning actor himself if you were from Morgantown.
“We would drive along University Avenue and we knew that’s where his mother still lived. So it was always like a big deal for us to see that she was still living. Then, you’d go home and watch Andy Griffith and see him on TV,” Kuhn reminisced in sweltering 90 degree temperatures, a heat that resembled the southern climate of Mayberry, Knotts’ fictional home from 1960-1965.
Part of University Avenue is now Don Knotts Boulevard. The renaming came shortly after Knotts was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Visitors from Miami to Michigan sweated it out for the afternoon reveal of a statue of the entertainment icon.
“Public art makes a huge difference in the community because it connects us with our past and it connects us with our future, I believe, because the young people in the community see the statues and have questions about them,” said sculptor Jamie Lester.
Knotts, a graduate of both Morgantown High School and West Virginia University, is depicted
seated outside the window of the Met, just below the sign where his name was in lights Saturday. The accessories he holds are representative of a midway point in the performer’s career.
“It’s a prop that is a symbol for the script for The Ghost and Mr. Chicken which he did around the same time. So, it’s a nod to his film work in his left hand and nod to his TV work with the Andy Griffith Show with the prop for the Barney Fife had in his right hand,” explained the artist.
Knotts’ daughter, on hand for the ceremonies, performed on the stage inside the Met where her father had been known to do a show.
She shared an even more intimate picture of the man she said was nervous by nature and some-what of a hypochondriac, not to mention one heck of a ventriloquist. He got the knack for it reading a manual he’d sent away for in the mail. Knotts’ talents throwing his voice were enough to grab the attention of a neighbor who created Knotts’ first real dummy.
Bringing laughs to the crowd, Karen Knotts explained, “He thought about calling it Fred. When his mother asked him why he chose Danny, he said, ‘I can put Danny on my fanny, I can’t do that with Fred. Fred is dead’!”
Knotts would have turned 92 Thursday, just a few days before a community came out to show its pride for a native son.
Phil Faini, former Dean of the College of Creative Arts, was there to take in the fanfare.
“I have to say I’m proud of two things. I’m proud of him as a former student of our college, but also of Jamie Lester who I think is the Michelangelo of Morgantown,” said the musician and educator. “This was an outstanding day for Morgantown. I think it will be an attraction for downtown Morgantown, the statue. People will come by to visit.”
Don Knotts Days continues Sunday with activities at the Morgantown History Museum.
Organizers are aiming for annual festivities in honor the Monongalia County legend.