Don Knotts spent a sizable portion of the 60s delighting television audiences with his comedic portrayal of the bumbling Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. His skittish, afraid-of-his-own-shadow demeanor won the actor three Emmy Awards for his efforts. So, when Universal Pictures was looking for the perfect candidate to spend a harrowing evening inside a haunted house in their 1966 film, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, they turned to the beloved, bug-eyed actor and the results were comedic gold.
Knotts stars as Luther Heggs, typesetter for a small-town paper. Luther has two goals in life: one, to make it as a real reporter; two, to make some headway with town beauty Alma Parker. The same man stands in the way of both goals: Ollie Weaver, star reporter and Alma’s boyfriend. Ollie and newspaper editor George Beckett cook up a plot sure to scare the edgy typesetter back into his place. Under the pretenses of giving Luther his shot at the big time, the two offer him a chance to write a real story, a report on his overnight stay at the supposedly haunted old Simmons House.
Luther reluctantly agrees, spending a spooky night at the abandoned mansion, complete with a mysterious self-playing organ, hidden passageways and a bleeding portrait. Luther’s story makes him a hero among the locals, but a Simmons descendant sues for libel, and the trial judge orders Luther and others to return to the dilapidated residence for another night of spooky encounters. It will take every ounce of bravery for Luther to clear his name and solve the mystery of the Simmons house once and for all – assuming he’s up to the task.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was the first in a string of memorable films that Knotts made following the departure from his successful sitcom series. The movie proved that he could hold his own as a leading man, even when paired with former Playboy Playmate, Joan Staley. As a result of the film’s success, Knotts would go on to appear in such timeless classics as The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Reluctant Astronaut, and a handful of Disney films alongside fellow funnyman, Tim Conway. Today, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken remains a beloved film, passed from generation to generation as parents relive this not-too-spooky classic with their kids.
If you are a fan of this frightfully funny film, we welcome your thoughts in our comments section, as we tip our hats to the memory of Don Knotts, who made a career out of playing an inept bumbler and won millions of hearts along the way.