March 6th, 2007
WVU Intranet, March 5, 2007
The West Virginia and Regional History Collection at West Virginia University Libraries recently received some unique memorabilia from a famous alumnus – the late actor and Morgantown native Don Knotts.
The Collection, housed on the sixth floor of the Wise Library on WVU’s Downtown Campus, is now home to television scripts, awards, an original poem and the manuscript and cassette recordings from the actor’s autobiography — from his wife of many years, Francey Yarborough.
Photo by: Ted Webb
Best known for his portrayal of Barney Fife on the 1960s television sitcom “The Andy Griffith Show,” Knotts was born and raised in Morgantown and graduated from Morgantown High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from WVU in 1948.
At the time, there was no College of Creative Arts or WVU theater degree, so students majored in other disciplines while acting in school productions.“We are very thankful to receive these items, and we hope it is the beginning of many future installments of Don Knotts memorabilia,” said John Cuthbert, WVU curator.
As one of the University’s most illustrious graduates and the state’s most prominent native sons, Cuthbert said Knotts is considered “a genius in his field.”
“That is why it is so fitting that his memorabilia be housed in our Collection where it will be well preserved for future generations.”
Cuthbert said Knotts’ original typed autobiography, “Barney Fife and Other Characters I Have Known,” has many hand-written notes in the margins. Of significant interest are more than a dozen standard audio cassette recordings by Knotts, which Cuthbert describes as “fascinating because they tell Don’s story in his own words and voice — especially his recollections about life growing up in Morgantown.”
Knotts also tells the story of how Barney Fife was created, Cuthbert said, noting that Knotts said he called Andy Griffith and told him: “Every sheriff needs a deputy.” Griffith then talked to the show’s producers, and Mayberry’s well-intentioned deputy, one of the most famous and beloved characters in television history, was born.
The recordings will be copied onto quarter-inch tape and digitized for preservation purposes, Cuthbert added.
Photo by: Ted Webb
The Collection is also home to awards Knotts received over the years, including a 1994 plaque from former Monongalia County Sheriff Joseph C. Bartolo. The plaque reads, “Don Knotts Has Been Appointed Honorary Deputy Sheriff of Monongalia County.”A framed certificate, signed by former Gov. John D. Rockefeller designating Knotts as a 1982 “Distinguished West Virginian,” is also housed there.
In addition, the Collection received an unpublished, autobiographical poem written by Knotts, titled “The Man,” as well as two television scripts, “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” which was part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame Masterpiece Theatre, and “The Don Knotts Nice, Clean, Decent, Wholesome Hour,” a TV special from 1970.Although he was famous throughout the world, Knotts had a strong connection to WVU and Morgantown through friends and family members, and made many contributions to the City.
“He did many wonderful things for our community,” said Cuthbert, who met the actor in 1995 at the Don Knotts ‘Think First’ Invitational Golf Tournament sponsored by (WVU) Neurological Injury Prevention Program. “He was one of the kindest, most humble and gentle guys you’ll ever meet. He was very natural and easy to have a conversation with.”
In addition to his wife’s recent gifts, Knotts personally sent a group of scripts to WVU Libraries in January 2006, Cuthbert said. Those included ones he used during the filming of movies with Universal Studios and Walt Disney Productions. The scripts, which have his signature and hand-written notes on them, include: “The Reluctant Astronaut” (1966), “The Love God” (1968), “The Shakiest Gun in the West” (1967), “How to Frame a Figg” (1970) and “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo” (1976).
The WVU Libraries plans to exhibit the Don Knotts memorabilia in the future, said Dean of Libraries Frances O’Brien.
“We look forward to sharing these Don Knotts memories with the WVU and Morgantown communities as well as the world,” O’Brien said.
The memorabilia will be preserved so that writers and researchers can go directly to the source of original information.
“You can bet there will be plenty of writing about Don Knotts in the future,” Cuthbert said. “If a person were planning to write something serious about Don Knotts, that person would be remiss not to listen to the audio cassettes and look at the materials we have in the West Virginia and Regional History Collection.”
WVU Libraries has the most extensive collection in the world of primary information resources regarding West Virginia history, including maps, folk music, archives and manuscripts. The Collection is prized by researchers, both nationally and internationally. It also preserves the history of the University and Morgantown.
Morgantown will also soon be home to a bronze statue of Knotts by sculptor Jamie Lester. A memorial garden is also being planned in the City.
Photos by: Ted Webb