February 27, 2006

The gender mysteries of Don Knotts.

Virginia Heffernan has a nice piece about the late Don Knotts:
He was wonderfully unthreatening to other male comics, all of whom could think of themselves as one step closer to leading men than Mr. Knotts was. It's hard to think of an actor, in fact, who got more helping hands than Mr. Knotts in his early days. Male actors were forever offering him parts, trying to get him to join their acts. Sharing the stage with this skinny, spazzy guy could only make them look more commanding....

In the nervous man, he reveled in the discomfort that most comics tend to pass off as indignation or savoir-faire. As Barney, he satirized swagger and self-importance. Finally, on "Three's Company" in the late 70's and 80's, he sent up the comedian's hypersexuality, which is often his pride. Mr. Knotts, over and over, was willing to play the desperate, pathetic low-man-on-every-pole. He did it so well — never forsaking his persona and trying to seize the lead, as nearly all major comedians do these days — that his talent for abasement became a source, paradoxically, of great authority. By revealing but never indulging these pretenses, he enlightened everyone he worked with, and his audiences.
I like the way the man's extreme sexual unattractiveness opened up a portal for him. Not only did he receive opportunities from other men (who believed that he couldn't be more loved than them) but he accessed wisdom (about the ridiculousness of men who believe too much in their own masculine greatness). Come on! Someone needs to do a Gender Studies seminar on Don Knotts.

35 comments:

goesh said...

There must be something to it - I can't see Barney as being anything traditionally male. He was too hyper to even be a pallid bookworm hiding in the stacks late at night. I suspect many men would have laughed at him being a substitute in a dwarf throwing contest as well. Laughter is not always to easy to analyze.

chuck b. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
chuck b. said...

I saw a drag show of a complete, made-up episode of Three's Company wherein all the characters were performed by actors of the opposite gender. The Mr. Furley was hi-freakin'-larious.

As I recall it involved Jack needing to get a tattoo on his ass removed, and the COMIC MISUNDERSTANDING of everyone else somehow thinking he was going to the hospital for a sex change. (Everyone except for the Suzanne Somers replacement character who was a nurse or something. She knew.) Anyhow, the actor/ess playing Mr. Furley really hammed it up with the outsized ascot and those wierd facial tics he used to make.

CGrim said...

the man's extreme sexual unattractiveness opened up a portal for him

dear lord, may that phrase never be used to describe me...

Lonesome Payne said...

There was one episode where Barney had to deal with two truck farmers who set up without a license outside of town. They were a couple tough guys - one of them played by that ubiquitous blond fellow who appeared as several tough guys on the show over the years (and also played Sgt. Carter's rival Sgt. Hacker on Gomer Pyle).

Anyway, Barney had to confront his inherent wimpiness head-on: first giving into it, staring into the abyss of his own lack of manhood as he retreated from open mockery, and then returning and conquering the limitations: first with Andy's secret help, which devasted him when he found out as I remember, but then alone.

Very painful and redemptive show with only a few laughs, really.

Incidentaly, the physical resemblance between Don Knotts and the 1950's Frank Sinatra is uncanny.

MPH said...

How about his near perfect performance in Pleasantville?

Lonesome Payne said...

http://www.hanacoast.ws/malestars/pictures/341429/donknotts.jpg

http://www.biggeststars.com/f/frank-sinatra-photo-3.html

Gary Cruse said...

I'd forgotten the horror of Three's Company. Don can be forgiven his participation in the insipid spitoonery of that mewling melodrama. If you ever saw "Man About the House," the British series off which 3's C was ripped, you'd know what a surrender to fear of sexuality the American offshoot portrayed.

Fat Man said...

I would be very surpprised if they had not already done that. Of course, it really is kind of discouraging. At the rates they charge for tuition these days, it would not go over well in my house if one of my children said: "I am taking a seminar on the Gender Mysteries of Don Knotts next semester."

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lonesome Payne said...

Just a memory: one time, when an episode centered on jealousy between him and Thelma Lou, the kicker at the end of the show featured Barney's one last attempt to make Thelma Lou jealous. He saw her and Andy approaching the office; he pretended to be on the phone as they walked in, his back turned to the door, facing the camera, making fake sweet-talk to Juanita at the Diner.

There was a flash of Thelma Lou anger, but then - the phone rang! Barney caught, his face caved in, his eyes all wide, the phone still to his ear. Andy, big grin: "Barn', would you mind gettin' that? You're closer."

AllenS said...

I heard on the radio this morning that his full name was Jesse Don Knotts. Somehow, that just doesn't work, does it?

Ann Althouse said...

Sippican: "...he's alone in the sherrif's office, pomading his insane shock of Shemp Howard hair into a glistening pompadour in a little mirror, referring over and over again to a picture of a movie star he got from a magazine. He tries to form his silly putty face into the cool expression of the heartthrob, and the juxtaposition is hilarious, and tender at the same time. The picture is of Rock Hudson. There's two Gender Studies Courses in that one, easy. Or maybe not. It's best not to vivisect humor, after all; the patient always dies during the procedure, and the joke is lost anyway."

I see three Gender Studies topics there. You're omitting the fascinating gender mysteries of Shemp Howard.

As to killing all the fun: Isn't that the essential methodology of Gender Studies?

Unknown said...

I've got a non gender based theory.

Don Knotts was funny as hell, and good for ratings. He helped make Andy Griffith rich.

Just a theory.

I bet he got a lot of tail, too.

Parker Smith said...

Let me be the first to note the manifold implications of the fact that, as Barney, he was armed - but had only one bullet, and that was kept in his pocket.

Discuss.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vbspurs said...

Ugly people often have that effect, comedically -- that is, one has a gratuitous liking for them, and even tenderness.

In this regard, he was the Imogene Coca of male comedians.

So scrunched up, so brittle, but so transparent, that it was hard not to laugh at his hokey comic byplays.

Try as I might, I can't think of one truly outstandingly handsome comedian though.

Perhaps Coca's partner-in-yucks, Sid Caesar, came closest.

Finally, I wonder how many people watched the Biography Channel's segment on him, some years back?

Seems that, IRL, he was quite the Casanova, and in fact, had a messy love life with women young enough to be his grandchildren.

But hey, RIP.

Cheers,
Victoria

Hucbald said...

I'm 48, so I grew up during Knot's prime and dearly loved the fellow. Not only in the Andy Griffith show, but also in the animated movie "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" and basically everything else he ever appeared in. I think one of the attributes which made him a viable role model was his tacet acceptance of who he was - who God made him - and so those of us not in the "in" cliques could still say to ourselves, "Hey, that's cool." He was definatelt a "What you see is what you get" kind of guy, and there aren't enough of those around, IMO.

vbspurs said...

Apparently he was quite successful
with the women admirers as well.


Ah! Should've read past comment 10.

Cheers,
Victoria

Eddie said...

Barney is a Kantian ethicist, while Andy is an Aristotelian. Chew on that one.

Jack said...

"I've got a non gender based theory.

Don Knotts was funny as hell, and good for ratings. He helped make Andy Griffith rich.

Just a theory."


Second that.

Meanwhile I'll sit here safe in my contrived macho masculine greatness.

Saganashkee Slough said...

I hate to show how old I must be, but my first encounter with Don Knotts was as the super nervous "Man on the Street" on the Steve Allen show. It was worth turning on the Allen show just to see pop-eyed nervous Don Knotts answering questions with a quick "yep" and "nope". It must of been the highlight of the show because that is all that I can clearly remember of Steve Allen.

Aaron's cc: said...

College course on Don Knotts? Love the observations here, and his character acting, but why should parents paying tuition be threatened with the OPTION of such a course on the curriculum?

Maybe if there is a constitutional amendment requiring that the tuition fees come out of the student's future paycheck...

When I'm king, I'll eliminate humanities department tenures and enact laws that deny tenure to anyone who hasn't worked at least a decade in the private sector.

No more cradle-to-grave academics.

Ann Althouse said...

johannclimacus said...
""[H]e accessed wisdom (about the ridiculousness of men who believe too much in their own masculine greatness)..."

"I don't think that describes the Barney role. On that show, Andy played the "dominant" masculine role, but it was not a domineering role. Andy was kindly but strong, and he had integrity beyond doubt, but was understanding of the foibles of others (especially Barney.)..."

This is one of the topics we discuss in great depth in the proposed seminar. Barney and Andy are different manifestations of the masculine. They complement each other. Barney is deficient in many ways and tries to compensate, tapping into ideas about the masculine, and pointing up the deficiencies in the cultural norms of masculinity by rigidly enforcing formal rules and threatening to inflict punishments. Andy shows the way to new manhood, by incorporating many elements traditionally associated with the female. His softness, flexibility, and concern for interpersonal relationships are all qualities the culture has assigned to the female. Andy taps these qualities to construct a superior masculine identity. Thus, the show implicitly critiques gender norms.

AST said...

1. Bullybrown's post is spam, off topic and tendentious. It doesn't belong here.

2. I hate seminars. They imply that their subjects are more important than they are, especially when they include things like "gender studies" approaches. PoMo baloney. I don't understand the urge to hold conferences and seminars on blogging either. Is it really that difficult to understand?

Don Knotts created one of the most memorable, if not lovable, characters in television history. His work needs no spin. May he rest in peace.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vbspurs said...

rney is a Kantian ethicist, while Andy is an Aristotelian.

So Barney was an extremist, and Andy was always seeking after balance?

What happens if I'm more like Andy/Aristotle, but have the nervous energy of Barney/Kant?

Please don't say Hegel.
Please don't say Hegel.
Please don't say Hegel.

Chew on that one.

Ouch! Mine had a bone in it.

vbspurs said...

When I'm king, I'll eliminate humanities department tenures and enact laws that deny tenure to anyone who hasn't worked at least a decade in the private sector.

No more cradle-to-grave academics.


Oy.

Academia ├╝ber-critic that I am, I found this remark all too similar to Brian William's cutesy interjections about politics during the Opening Ceremonies.

We're here to talk about Don Knotts, QEPD, not about Ward Churchills' hangups!

Anyway, a course on Don Knotts is no worse than many another I've seen being flogged out there.

Cheers,
Victoria

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan said...

In watching the TV tributes, I noticed that the younger Don Knotts was, of course, strikingly goofy and unattractive looking, but the old, retired Don Knotts looked like a normal old man.

Charlie Eklund said...

Bravo, Sippican...bravo!

vbspurs said...

Bravo, Sippican...bravo!

Seconded!

Cheers,
Victoria

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.