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My Week With Don
The Social Diary Entertainment Columnist Fred Saxon
Column #2, March 27th, 2006
Don Knotts passed away
on February 24, 2006. While the uniquely talented actor and comedian
may have died, the on-screen performances and enjoyment that he
brought to audiences will live on forever.
Most will remember Don Knotts as the loveable,
laughable Barney Fife on "The
Andy Griffith Show", or Mr. Furley
on "Three's Company." I
have my own special memories of Don and the week we spent together
in Atlanta Georgia.
It was 1979. I was the entertainment reporter
at WXIA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Atlanta. My
agent sent me on an audition for the part of the ringside radio
announcer in a new movie being made in Atlanta. It was called
"The Prize Fighter," starring
Tim Conway and Don Knotts. I
got the part.
- Fred Saxon and Don Knotts on the set of "The Prize Fighter."
Photo is courtesy, credit and copyright of Fred Saxon)
I was thrilled to be doing my very first
movie role, and even more thrilled when I discovered all of my
scenes would be with Don Knotts and Tim Conway.
Don was playing "Shake", the manager of "Bags Collins",
a rather clumsy and inept boxer, played by Tim. His place on the
set was in the corner of the boxing ring, right next to where
I was sitting as the ringside radio announcer. The story took
place in the 1930's and we were dressed appropriately.
Anyone who has seen the movie-making process
knows it's a game of "hurry up and wait". There is at
least one hour of waiting for every one minute of shooting. My
scenes were at the end of the movie, where Bags was battling a
tough boxer called "The Butcher" for the championship.
As the ring-side radio announcer, I was next to the corner, calling
the fight-on camera-but would add the actual audio track later
at a recording session in Hollywood.
For six days I went to the municipal auditorium
early in the morning to have my makeup applied and take my place
on the set. And for six days, Don Knotts was right there beside
me as we both waited for the camera to roll and the director to
While we waited we talked.
It was great fun to be part of a movie
but it was a joy to be able to spend the time between takes talking
and schmoozing with the great Don Knotts. He was a kind and quiet
man, soft-spoken and friendly. Don told me stories and we shared
I remember Don referring to the green pack
of Lucky Strike cigarettes on the table where my microphone was.
The microphone and cigarette pack were both props. Don said that
up to the start of World War II, Lucky Strikes were in a green
package but as the war broke out, they changed their packaging
to white using the advertising phrase "Lucky Strike Green
has gone to war." He wasn't sure exactly why the company
used that phrase but seeing the cigarette pack brought the memory
of the slogan back to him. That conversation with Don Knotts has
stuck with me, and I recently discovered the history behind Don's
story on the internet. (http://www.wclynx.com/burntofferings/adsluckystrikegreen.html)
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucky_Strike) Seems they were cleverly
marketing cigarettes even then.
As the week unfolded, Don Knotts
and I became friends as we shot our scenes, talked between takes
and shared jokes.
Later, when I moved to Los Angeles and
went to work for CNN, I would occasionally see Don at an event,
but not often. He was a guy who shunned the spotlight and the
glitz of Hollywood. I took an improv comedy class where I met
Don's daughter, Karen. She was proof that the 'comedy gene' is
indeed something you can inherit.
I often wish I had a video recording-or
even an audio recording of the week I spent with Don Knotts on
the set of "The Prize Fighter." I can see us in the
scenes from the movie, but that only represents a few minutes
of our time together.
The last time I saw Don Knotts
was October 1999, some 20 years after we first met. My wife and
I were having dinner in the Garden Cafe at the Four Seasons Hotel
in Beverly Hills. Don was there, dining with a woman.
I walked up to his table, introduced myself and reminded him that
we had worked together on "The Prize Fighter". He remembered,
and said, "that was fun."
Yes it was Don. Thank you. And thanks for
all the smiles you brought us through the years with your loveable
Fred Saxon was selected as the first Hollywood-based
entertainment reporter for CNN in 1980 and has been interviewing
Hollywood stars ever since. Fred has appeared daily on CNN, The
Nine Network Australia, KUSI MORNING NEWS, and FOX IN THE MORNING
with his entertainment reports, movie reviews and celebrity interviews.
Fred has also hosted the half-hour shows "Closeup,"
and "Fred Saxon's Inside Entertainment." He has been
awarded two EMMYS for his work on television. For more on Saxon
please visit www.fredsaxon.com
to New this Week......Fred
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and Margo Schwab.
reproduction of any part or parts is allowed without written permission
by Margo Schwab