Don Knotts in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966): Movie Trivia & Fun Facts
Universal Pictures' raucous comedy The Ghost and Mr. Chicken came to movie theaters in 1966. The incomparable bug-eyed Don Knotts stars as Luther Heggs, a wanna-be newspaper reporter who cracks a 20-year-old murder mystery at the old Simmons Mansion. Here are 21 The Ghost and Mr. Chicken movie trivia items and fun facts...
1. Budgeted at $750,000, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken bore the original working title Running Scared.
Don Knotts as Luther Heggs in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) - Universal Pictures
2. James Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum, two veteran writers from The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68), penned the screenplay. Brought in by Don Knotts to help out with the script was an uncredited Andy Griffith. Alan Rafkin, also a fixture on The Andy Griffith Show, directed the movie. Vic Mizzy, of TV's The Addams Family fame, provided the spooky music.
3. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken marked Don Knotts’ first feature film since leaving The Andy Griffith Show. Knotts’ final appearance as a series regular came via “The Arrest of the Fun Girls” on April 5, 1965. Knotts later reprised his role as Barney Fife in five special appearance episodes, culminating in “Barney Hosts a Summit Meeting” (1/29/68).
4. Technically speaking, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was Don Knotts’ second “haunted house” project. In the October 7, 1963, The Andy Griffith Show episode titled “The Haunted House,” Knotts, playing intrepid Mayberry Deputy Barney Fife, along with Gomer and Andy, enter the old Rimshaw House where they encounter “ghosts” conjured up by a trespassing moonshiner.
5. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was filmed on the Universal Studios backlot in 17 days from June to July 1965. The old mansion used in the movie dates back to 1950, when it had been built for the James Stewart picture Harvey. Updated through the years, the house also served as the home of Gabrielle and Carlos Solis on the ABC-TV drama Desperate Housewives. But there's more, as sharp-eyed viewers will also recognize the old The Munsters mansion as well of 1313 Mockingbird Lane fame, which serves as the entrance to the Simmons House.
6. The main theme music from The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was adapted from a 1936 Will Hudson/Irving Mills/Mitchell Parish song titled "Mr. Ghost Goes to Town," recorded by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra with vocal refrain by The Three Esquires. It was released as a 78 rpm disc as Victor 25509. The tune was also recorded by The Five Jones Boys.
7. Joan Staley, who appears as Alma Parker, Don Knotts' love interest, was Playboy magazine's Miss November of 1958.
8. Dick Sargent plays Rachel (Kansas) Courier Express editor George Beckett while Skip Homeier appears as reporter Ollie Weaver, Don Knotts' principal rival for pretty Alma Parker's affections. Ollie is a sarcastic guy, calling typesetter Luther Heggs (Knotts) "Mr. News." Ollie also brands Luther with the derogatory name "Scoop."
9. Screenwriter Everett Greenbaum provides the off-camera voice of the wiseacre who continually shouts "Attaboy, Luther," which is heard six times in the film.
10. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken features a number of performers who had appeared on The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68), either as regulars, semi-regulars or guest actors. Here they are, old Andy’s Alumni: Don Knotts (Deputy Barney Fife), Reta Shaw, Lurene Tuttle, Charles Lane, Jesslyn Fax, Robert Cornthwaite, Jim Begg, James Millhollin, Cliff Norton, Ellen Corby, Phil Arnold, Ceil Cabot, Al Checco, Herbie Faye, Everett Greenbaum (writer), J. Edward McKinley, Burt Mustin, Eddie Quillan, Maxine Semon, Hal Smith (Otis Campbell), Hope Summers (Clara Edwards) and Ruth Thom.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken insert movie poster - Heritage Auctions
11. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken opens with slanted, The Addams Family-type credits. Featured is Don Knotts as Luther Heggs driving his 1950s Edsel into the small town of Rachel, Kansas.
12. Hal Smith, who played town drunk Otis Campbell on The Andy Griffith Show, appears as the hapless, inebriated Calver Weems, who is waylaid by a two-by-four outside the Simmons Mansion. Luther Heggs reports that Calver has been bludgeoned to death, but the clearly "undead" Calver later shows up holding a handkerchief to his throbbing head.
13. Both Luther Heggs and Ollie Weaver reside at Natalie Miller Room & Board.
14. The old Simmons House was the site of a ghastly murder-suicide 20 years ago, with Old Man Simmons' nephew Nicholas (Philip Ober) arriving from Chicago to take title to the mansion and supervise its immediate destruction by bulldozer.
15. Liam Redmond plays Mr. Kelsey, the Courier Express' janitor who had worked as the Simmons' gardener 20 years ago. He suggests that Luther, who holds a certificate from the Kansas City Correspondence College and Journalism, write an article on the 20th anniversary of the Simmons tragedy. It appears as an unsigned filler in the newspaper titled "Anniversary of Simmons Tragedy." Ollie Weaver detects Luther's clumsy prose, and mockingly reads Luther's concluding sentence: “The horribleness and awfulness of it will never actually be forgotten.”
16. Kelsey makes the suggestion and editor George Beckett concurs that Luther, with his overactive imagination, should spend the night in the haunted Simmons Mansion to commemorate the tragedy. Luther's subsequent harrowing story is headline news in the Courier Express: “LUTHER HEGGS’ EERIE EXPERIENCE IN SIMMONS MANSION.” The newspaper is a big seller, with editor Beckett printing up another 500 copies.
17. The Psychic Occult Society of Rachel marches on the Simmons Mansion, determined to go inside and connect with the house’s supernatural spirits. But two police officers stop the women, telling them that it’s private property. Society member Halcyon Maxwell (Reta Shaw), the wife of banker Milo Maxwell (James Millhollin), convinces her husband not to sign over the title papers to Nicholas Simmons. She and her fellow occultists want the Simmons Mansion preserved as one of Rachel’s ghostly landmarks. Milo acquiesces, as his wife owns 51% of the bank’s stock.
18. Nicholas Simmons threatens to sue Luther Heggs and the Courier Express for liable unless a retraction of the haunted house story is printed. George Beckett refuses, and the trial is held at the Rachel County Court House. Luther's corroborating witness is a CPA named Gaylord Patie (Al Checco), who under cross examination by Simmons' bulldog lawyer Mr. Whitlow (Charles Lane) reveals that he heads a UFO organization whose last meeting was held on Mars!
19. Luther later redeems himself at the old Simmons Mansion, springing into action a la "martial arts expert" Barney Fife as he rescues Alma from the clutches of the evil Nicholas Simmons. Heggs explains his deadly assault on Simmons to a bystander, “That’s right, karate. Made my whole body a weapon,” Luther says matter-of-factly.
20. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken – by golly! – premiered in New Orleans on January 20, 1966. During its mid-summer theatrical release, the movie was often double-billed with Munster, Go Home (1966).
21. Deceased The Ghost and Mr. Chicken cast members include Don Knotts (1924-2006), Liam Redmond (1913-1989), Dick Sargent (1930-1994), Reta Shaw (1912-1982), Lurene Tuttle (1907-1986), Philip Ober (1902-1982), Harry Hickox (1910-1994), Charles Lane (1905-2007), Jesslyn Fax (1893-1975), Nydia Westman (1902-1970), George Chandler (1898-1985), Robert Cornthwaite (1917-2006), Jim Begg (1938-2008), Sandra Gould (1916-1999), Cliff Norton (1918-2003), Ellen Corby (1911-1999), Hal Smith (1916-1994), Hope Summers (1896-1979) and Burt Mustin (1884-1977).
“Why don’t you run up an alley and holler ‘fish’!” Don Knotts' Luther Heggs tells one of his detractors. Attaboy, Luther!
- Don Knotts and Joan Staley in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) - Universal Pictures
Copyright © 2011 William J. Felchner