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Tied Up in Knotts

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When she was 16, Karen Knotts performed with her father in his 1970-1971 variety series, The Don Knotts Show. She later appeared in the TV movie, Return to Mayberry, as Opie Taylor's secretary. (Photo submitted)

The way Karen Knotts, daughter of the late, great comedian Don Knotts, sees it, her growing up years in Los Angeles were Mayberry-like in many ways.

More importantly, she says, the man who created Deputy Barney Fife was "a great father."

Knotts, 57, shares details about her life with the actor, famous for his role on The Andy Griffith Show, in her 75-minute production, Tied Up in Knotts, at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Central Magnet School (701 E. Main St.).

"The show is about my relationship with my dad, which was pretty extraordinary," Knotts said during a phone interview last week from her home in L.A. "It may be hard to believe, but he was funniest when just being himself. I try to relay to people the person Don Knotts was and all the different facets of his life. People are so interested in the comedic genius. I try to shed some light on that. I try to show what made him tick.

"I talk about going on set of The Andy Griffith Show as a little girl and my impressions of the actors playing those roles. I discuss his relationship with Andy, how they met on Broadway (in the play No Time for Sergeants) and how Barney was created.

"I touch a little bit on him as dramatic actor, and my own foibles, trying to make it as an actress. I show some wonderful film clips that people probably haven't seen before, and I tell what it was like working with him on his TV show (The Don Knotts Show), and I also do characters," said Knotts, who offers a question-and-answer session at the show's conclusion.

Her play serves as a fundraiser and draws awareness to macular degeneration, a major cause of visual impairment in adults 50 and older that results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field because of damage to the retina, which her father suffered during the last 15 years of his life.

Karen and her brother, Tom Knotts (an engineer who designs computer chips), were not yet teenagers when their parents divorced. Even so, their home life was amiable.

"It was a little surreal. We lived in Glendale, which was almost Mayberry-like in smallness. It was a tight-knit community, like a small Midwest town in the middle of Los Angeles. Because my dad had such visibility, everybody knew where he lived, and fans would come to ask for autographs," she recalls.

"Life with my dad was so normal. He was such a great, multi-faceted man. My relationship with him was fantastic. We helped each other. He had a few little phobias. I think I helped him conquer them. He was a great father.

"His humor was extremely witty, ironic and dry. He had this whole humor of his own, like no other character. He would say things off-the-cuff funny, and he remembered tons and tons of stories from growing up and from the radio shows he loved, comedians like Jack Benny and Edgar Bergen. He could be very emotional about things, not very low key, and yet he was generally relaxed, very worldly and debonair."

And, she reveals, her father was quite the ladies man: "Oh, yeah, he always had these women that wanted to go out with him."

Among the biggest disagreements Karen and her father had during her teen years was her yearning to enter show biz.

"I always wanted to be an actress, even when I was young, but he said, 'No, that's not a good life for a child.' I did get to go on the set (she and her brother were extras in their father's movie The Shakiest Gun in West)," said Knotts.

"I got into drama class in junior high, and all of sudden I came alive. I thought, 'Oh, I belong here. I've got to do this.' And I was pretty good at it, so I decided to tell dad that I wanted to be an actress. I told him, and he kind of freaked out about it. He said, 'It's such a hard life. You don't understand.'"

"We kind of butted heads, but he supported me 100 percent in the end. He was afraid for me because he had seen so many people, friends, over time that couldn't make it in show business and had so much talent. He tried to talk me out of it for a while, but I did go on to be an actress. I've done tons of theater, some plays on the road with my dad, and written plays and do stand-up comedy," said Knotts, who appeared on such TV shows as One Day at a Time, Eight Is Enough and Archie Bunker's Place and in TV movies and films, such as Hobgoblins 2, her most recent movie in 2009.

In 1986 she played Opie Taylor's (Ron Howard) secretary in The Andy Griffith Show reunion TV movie, Return to Mayberry. "That was fantastic, working with him and Andy. I felt like I was dreaming," she remembers.

The actress performs her one-woman play 15 to 20 times a year. She will take it back to Mt. Airy, N.C., in September as it has proven to be a crowd pleaser for The Andy Griffith Show devotees who visit Griffith's hometown for the Mayberry Days festival.

"Mayberry Days is fantastic. It's amazing to see people bring a fictitious place to life and make it real and so much fun," said Knotts, whose day job is as a librarian in Los Angeles County.

As for the best part of having Don Knotts as her father?

"Just being close to him," says Karen, who, with Tied Up in Knotts, continues to share  the legacy of one of the funniest men in American television and film.

Get tickets
Actress Karen Knotts, the daughter of Don Knotts, presents Tied Up in Knotts, about life with her father and The Andy Griffith Show, to raise funds and draw awareness to macular degeneration. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 15, at Central Magnet School, 701 E. Main St., in Murfreesboro. Tickets ($20 advance, $25 at the door) are available at all Mid-South bank locations in Rutherford County.

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