My interview with Don Knotts appeared in the October, 1998 issue of PlanetX Magazine. It was a pleasure working with Scott Moon, the owner/editor of PlanetX.
'I wish, I wish, I wish, I were a fish,'
This was the wish spoken by Henry Limpet that started his whole adventure in "The Incredible Mr. Limpet." Wishes have been the subject of countless stories over countless ages. Most "wish"stories are intended to have a moral, or to teach us that old adage "be careful what you wish for, you might get it." Also most "wish" stories end up with the wish bringing about unexpected and disasterous results.
Well, his is one of the very few "wish" stories where the wish winds up being a boon rather than a burden. The film was a work of love created by writer and director John C. Rose. According to Don Knotts, with whom I had a very nice conversation, Mr. Rose worked on "Limpet" for many years before he was ready to start putting the actual project together. Mr. Knotts said that he was doing the part of Barney Fife at the time, and Mr. Rose came to him and asked if he were interested in the lead roll in 'Limpet'. There was no casting call or anything: Don Knotts simply WAS Henry Limpet. Most of Mr. Knotts' work was done in the voice-over studio, which he said was 'very hard and tedious work.' He even had to come back and do it all over again when the first 'Lady Fish' didn't work out.
Mr. Knotts said that the director just didn't like her, so Elizabeth Macrae (better known as Gomer Pyle's beautiful but naive girl friend, LouAnn Poovey) was brought in. Mr. Knotts said she worked out VERY well .... (To all of you folks out there who ever wondered if "Lady Fish" was as beautiful as her voice, well, now you know...) When asked point blank about his Barney Fife character always being played as not having much of a singing voice - and his song come out so well in the movie - he was obviously a little embarrassed about it (picture Barney embarrassed, looking down, scraping the floor with his shoe...). He laughed, 'Well, they put me in a booth and then did some nice things to the speaker to make it come out sounding ok'.
The live action shooting only took about three weeks to complete. Mr. Knotts said that he particularly enjoyed working with Jack Weston (who played the part of Pickle ...er, no that's Stickle (heh). Mr. Knotts and he had worked on several projects in New York before. But he said that it took forever (almost two years) to do all of the studio animation, editing and post production. Most of the animation was supervised by none other than Robert R. McKimson, of Bugs Bunny et.al. fame.
Well, when it was finally ready, it was released at a pre-screening in Wikiwashi, Florida for the press. It was a special underwater theater where the film was actually projected through the water to the screen, and the audience watched from a glass enclosure. Mr. Knotts laughed and said the funny thing was that projecting the film through the water actually washed out most of the color. The screening went well otherwise, but it wasn't a "big hit" at the time. They even tried to get it into Radio City Music Hall, and were almost successful, but it fell through. Mr. Knotts said that he believed that if they could have gotten the screening there, it would have made it a bigger hit at the time. As it was, it took several years for it to reach the classic status that it enjoys today.
Arthur Godfrey attended the screening in Florida as he had recorded some of the songs from the soundtrack and was promoting his own endeavour. Mr. Knotts said he didn't know if it helped his record sales or not ....
One rumour that can be put to rest is that Mr. Knotts was somehow cheated in his involvement with 'Limpet'. He said outright, that "No, I wasn't payed a whole lot of money for it, but I didn't feel cheated in any way; it was my first top billing in a feature length movie," and he added that it helped his career a great deal.
The story af Henry Limpet's wish to become a fish has a rare 'wish story' happy ending. Not like the story of the little island boy who rescues a magical senjen from the sea. The senjen (a notorious literalist) grants him one wish. The island boy thinks long and hard about a wish that couldn't possibly backfire. Finally, he tells the senjen, '1 wish that all of the pain and suffering on Earth would end.' So the Earth vanished forever.
Now, a remake of "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" is in the works. Norman Jewiston's ("In the Heat of the Night" and "Moonstruck") Yorktown Production's is taking on the project. The script is being written by Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnic, who wrote "Space Jam" and "The Santa Claus.". Rumours are flying about who will play the part of Henry Limpet. The name that comes up most often is Jim Carey. Mr. Carey is said to also be considering "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". The conondrum here is that Walter Mitty only daydreams about leading other lives while Henry Limpet actually lives another life.
When I first saw "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" as a child, I was entranced. I "thrummed" for days until my parents' patience wore out and [they] instituted the "No thrumming in the House" rule. I begged for an aquarium, and got "Sea-Monkeys" instead, which, at the time were pretty cool.
Be careful what you wish for, you might get it!
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