His mother was 40 years old when Jesse was born. Jesse grew up in a very rough home in Morgantown, West Virginia. Jesse’s father, who was mentally ill, was a violent man and was abusive to Jesse. At 13, his father died leaving his mother to take care of him and his brothers.
At the time, things weren’t easy for Jesse and he didn’t think life held much hope for him. While Jesse had his struggles, he had dreams too. He wanted to be a ventriloquist and he found books on ventriloquism. He practiced with sock puppets and saved his money until he could get a real ventriloquist dummy.
When he was old enough, he joined the military. The military recognized his talents and placed him in the entertainment corp. He toured the western Pacific Islands as a comedian as part of a G.I. variety show called “Stars and Gripes.” It was there he was able to share his talents with fellow soldiers. In 1946, he discharged with rank of Technician Grade 5, which was the equivalent then of a Corporal.
During his military service, Jesse was awarded the World War II Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with 4 bronze service stars), Army Good Conduct Medal, Marksman Badge (with an M1 Carbine) and Honorable Service lapel pin. Through his military service, Jesse gained confidence and found that he had a talent for making people laugh. In spite of his early struggles, Jesse became one of the best-loved characters of all time.
For it was Jesse,…Jesse Don Knotts who brought us Barney Fife!