I can’t say I’m the world’s biggest The Andy Griffith Show fan; even as a youth, I found it watchable but syrupy. But Don? Ah, he was pure. On that show, he put forth that character, and did it smoothly. You could respect the way Barney Fife never let reality get in the way of his self-image.
Mister Furley, that’s another matter (more a matter of writing than anything), but in his movies Don brought the same strengths. He was the guy who fought on bravely – real bravery. It wasn’t that he wasn’t scared, he was scared in ways that film hadn’t been able to show since Steppin Fetchit was no longer part of the game. But when running didn’t work, he managed to get through the situation. And the way he faced being a fish, or caught in a haunted house, or whatever… it was the way that we would have to admit we’d feel. He was an everyman to a unique degree.
(The last substantive screen appearance I can think of – he did at least a couple cameos since – was as the odd, friendly, but ultimately sinister TV repairman in the impressive film Pleasantville. Ultimately, it didn’t play to type, but he showed he could do more than usual.)
One of his films (one Evanier talks about) has an odd place in my history. From time to time as a young man, I’d be flipping channels and come into the middle of this film with Don being mistaken for the publisher of a Playboy-like magazine. If that happened today, I could quickly pull up the cable guide, or the ReplayTV listings, or go to the station’s website, or TVGuide.com, and so forth. But then, we didn’t subscribe to TV Guide. So I’d be wondering what this was, hoping to catch it from the beginning at some point (at the time I liked it better than Evanier suggests I should), but the odds of doing that were slim if I didn’t know what title to look for. Eventually I discovered it was The Love God, and did watch it from the beginning, years later. Kids today could just Netflix it and see it the next week.
(Now I’m left trying to remember what part I played in “Knotts Landing”, a comedy sketch that the comedy troupe Doorways To Lint performed, wherein everyone played a Don Knotts character, except for Martin King who played a Jerry Lewis character. I think I played Mister Furley… but Don really isn’t inside my rather limited impression range.)