See Beneath the Surface

Let me tell you, Jesse hated this job. And you would too, I imagine, if you had to do it. Jesse was a chicken plucker.

That's right. He stood on a line in a chicken factory and spent his days pulling the feathers off dead chickens so the rest of us wouldn't have to.

It wasn't much of a job. But at the time, Jesse didn't think he was much of a person. His father was a brute of a man. His dad was actually thought to be mentally ill and treated Jesse rough all of his life.

Jesse's older brother wasn't much better. He was always picking on Jesse and beating him up. Yes, Jesse grew up in a very rough home in West Virginia.

Life was anything but easy. And he thought life didn't hold much hope for him. That's why he was standing in this chicken line, doing a job that darn few people wanted.

In addition to all the rough treatment at home, it seems that Jesse was always sick. Sometimes it was real physical illness, but way too often it was all in his head. He was a small child, skinny and meek. That sure didn't help the situation any.

When he started to school, he was the object of every bully on the playground.

He was a hypochondriac of the first order. For Jesse, tomorrow was not always something to be looked forward to. But, he had dreams. He wanted to be a ventriloquist. He found books on ventriloquism. He practiced with sock puppets and saved his hard earned dollars until he could get a real ventriloquist dummy.

When he got old enough, he joined the military. And even though many of his hypochondriac symptoms persisted, the military did recognize his talents and put him in the entertainment corp. That was when his world changed. He gained confidence. He found that he had a talent for making people laugh, and laugh so hard they often had tears in their eyes. Yes, little Jesse had found himself.

You know, folks, the history books are full of people who overcame a handicap to go on and make a success of themselves, but Jesse is one of the few I know of who didn't overcome it. Instead he used his paranoia to make a million dollars, and become one of the best-loved characters of all time in doing it!

Yes, that little paranoid hypochondriac, who transferred his nervousness into a successful career, still holds the record for the most Emmy's given in a single category. The wonderful, gifted, talented, and nervous comedian who brought us Barney Fife was Jesse Don Knotts.

-- John E. Dent, Jr.
Content Editor, Life Lessons
LifeWay Christian Resources

"Don Knotts and "Danny the Dummy"


  1. I read some where that Don threw Danny off a bridge into a river....What a loss....

  2. Carl Richards9/19/2010

    Thank you for sharing that. I never had any idea about Don Knotts childhood, let alone that he was a ventriloquist!

  3. Anonymous9/19/2010

    Thanks for posting this wonderful story. I had no idea he was a ventriloquist!

  4. Anonymous9/20/2010

    Thanks for posting the pic, I knew that Don was a vent and that there was a pic out there with his figure. I have been looking for it for a while..Thanks again..Charles

  5. Threw his dummy in a river? He does look sort of fed up with the little guy in the photo.

    I wonder if there's any footage of his ventriloquist act out there? That would be a find.

  6. Very interesting article. Don was a very talented artist. I miss him, I got an old oil lantern, one of 3 that were used in the Shakiest Gun in the west, He shot it by accident, in the final cut this one, was taken out because he alresdy shot one simular to it, He gave it too me as a gift. I still have it. Don was Very Kind.
    I wonder if there is any tapes of his Ventriloquist act. I would love to see it.
    I didnt know this, thanks for the write up and photo. I wonder if he wasnt bullied if he would have been so good as that nervous, unsure, and stumbeling Barney Fife we all grew up to love.