Don Knotts was just as funny in advertisements as he was on The Andy Griffith Show
His slapstick comedy helped sell hardware, hot dogs and Atari.
After five seasons of The Andy Griffith Show, Don Knotts left Mayberry for the big screen. It was a bold, risky move to walk away from Barney Fife, but Knotts fared quite well in movies, from The Incredible Mr. Limpet to his slapstick flicks with Tim Conway. By the end of the 1970s, Knotts would return to television, taking the job as the landlord on Three's Company.
Along the way, and later in his career, Knotts supplemented his career with commercial work. He turned up in ads as Barney Fife, as himself and sometimes as new characters altogether. Once, he was even a prisoner. Whatever guise he donned in advertising, Knotts also delivered his trademark physical humor and rubber-faced reactions.
Though they're just ads, they should still bring a smile to any fan's face. Let's take a look.
1. Sanka Coffee
Part of the job of starring on The Andy Griffith Show included turning up in ads for the show's sponsors, which notably included Post Cereals and Sanka Coffee. This two-page magazine spread for Sanka went meta, showing Andy and Don trying to construct the props for the advertisement as if it were IKEA furniture. "It says here 'Use no hooks,' Andy," Don says. "Don't say nothin' 'bout hands, does it?" Andy replies. Interesting that they're in costume but referred to as Don and Andy, not Barney and Andy. It at least offered a rare glimpse of Barney Fife in his deputy's uniform in full color.
2. Grape Nuts Flakes
As mentioned above, Knotts and Griffith, not to mention Ron Howard and Frances Bavier, would perform in short skits at the tail end of The Andy Griffith Show to promote the show's sponsors. Here, Andy and Barney head to a fancy French restaurant, which Mayberry apparently has, where Barney orders something fancy-sounding en français off the menu. Turns out, it's just breakfast cereal.
3. Gaines Dog Food
The Andy Griffith Show cast also pitched Gaines-Burgers dog food, despite the fact that nobody on the sitcom owned a stereotypical family pet. Well, not counting Barney's brief fling with his bloodhound, Blue. That being said, Sheriff Andy seemingly owned a pooch named Prince in commercials. Knotts, on the other hand, performed other characters for the dog food brand, like this pet psychologist.
4. Burgess Batteries
For this batteries promotion in a print magazine, Knotts adopted his trademark scaredy-cat shtick, which he had recently put to good use in his popular flicks The Reluctant Astronaut and The Shakiest Gun in the West. Only here, instead of heading into space or the Wild West, he appeared to be "the Petrified Park Ranger" or something of the sort.
5. Dodge Trucks
This somewhat bizarre commercial breaks the fourth wall and becomes a commercial about making a commercial. We call it bizarre because the entire premise is that Knotts' performances fail to satisfy the director, who presses his star to act more and more aggressive. In the end, Dodge throws up its hands and inserts a shot of a pretty lady.
When Atari launched its groundbreaking home video game console in 1978, the tech company called on stars like Pete Rose and Don Knotts. Pete Rose, naturally, got to play himself — an All-Star slugger. Knotts, however, popped up as a jailbird behind bars. "You can't keep me in here, Atari!" he threatened, presumably to push the game Breakout. That cartridge mostly involved shooting a dot at a rainbow, but it takes on new meaning now that we realize the secret point was to break Don Knotts out of prison.
7. Bonanza Steakhouses
Bonanza, a steakhouse chain named after a popular TV Western, pulled off a surprising crossover in 1978 when it brought both Gilligan and Barney Fife together. Bob Denver relaxes in a hammock at the start, presumably still stuck on his island, which makes you wonder how he "discovered a Bonanza." Fife turns up at the end. Take a look at the door behind Barney, which reads "Sheriff's Office." Does this mean that Barney got a promotion in the intervening years?
8. Beneficial Income Tax Service
In this 1979 accounting commercial, Knotts played a new goofball, "Elmer," who fumbles his mail and nearly knocks over a pencil holder.
9. Our Own Hardware
Someone buy him that ladder quickly! Knotts also appeared in circular ads for the Our Own hardware stores chain. You might remember seeing him in the Sunday paper, like in the image at the top of this post.
Somebody get this man a hot dog! Knotts hungers for burgers and franks in this ad for the convenience store chain. He's not overtly playing a character, but he does wear a similar salt-and-pepper suit to Barney's. Perhaps this is Mr. Fife in the modern age?
See also: Quiz: How well do you know Don Knotts movies?
Fill in the wacky words missing from these titles! TAKE QUIZ.