The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

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The Ghost and Mr. Chicken
Ghost and mr chicken.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alan Rafkin
Produced by Edward J. Montagne, Jr.
Written by Jim Fritzell
Everett Greenbaum
Starring Don Knotts
Joan Staley
Liam Redmond
Sandra Gould
Dick Sargent
Skip Homeier
Music by Vic Mizzy
Cinematography William Margulies
Edited by Sam E. Waxman
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • January 20, 1966 (1966-01-20)
Running time
90 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is a 1966 American comedy-drama film starring Don Knotts as Luther Heggs, a newspaper typesetter who spends a night in a haunted house, which is located in the fictitious community of Rachel, Kansas. The working title was Running Scared.[1] The actual title is presumably a humorous variation of the 1947 film, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.


Luther Heggs is a typesetter at the newspaper in Rachel, Kansas, but aspires to be a reporter. One night, observing what he believes to be a murder outside of an old, supposedly haunted house known as the Simmons Mansion, Heggs rushes to the police station with his scoop. Unfortunately, as he relates the details of his story to the Chief of Police, the murder "victim" walks into the room, a local drunk who had merely been whacked unconscious by his irate wife, who had brought him in to be locked up. The next morning, Heggs walks downstairs to the dining room at the Natalie Miller boarding house and overhears Ollie Weaver (Homeier), a full-time reporter at the newspaper, mocking his mistakes of the night before; Ollie is also dating Heggs' love interest, Alma Parker (Joan Staley). According to local lore, the Simmons Mansion was a "murder house" (murder and suicide) 20 years earlier, when Mr. Simmons murdered his wife (with some unknown sharp instrument that was never located - ultimately revealed to be a pair of gardener's pruning shears), and then jumped to his death from the organ loft. Legend has it that the ghost of Mr. Simmons can still occasionally be heard playing the organ at midnight.

To increase newspaper sales, Luther is assigned to spend the night in the house on the 20th anniversary of the murder/suicide. At midnight, Heggs sees the old organ begin to play by itself. There are a few other mysterious happenings, including Luther's discovery of a secret staircase to the organ loft, hidden behind a sliding bookshelf. His eerie story gets the town abuzz and causes a delay in the plans of Nicholas Simmons (Philip Ober), nephew of the deceased couple, who intends to demolish the mansion. In retaliation, and to discredit Heggs, Simmons sues both Heggs and the Rachel Courier Express (the local newspaper) for libel.

In the courtroom, Heggs' credibility is impeached by damaging testimony from his grade school teacher (Ellen Corby) that Luther was "keyed up" as a child, and prone to telling tall tales to get attention for himself. Luther's own testimony is twisted by Simmons' attorney, suggesting that Luther (a typesetter who dreams of being a reporter) made up the story about his spooky night in the mansion in order to win a job as a full-time reporter. Luther's dramatic denial prompts the judge to order the jury and all interested parties to appear at the Simmons house at just before midnight to allow Heggs to prove his story. But with everyone now inside the mansion, nothing happens, and they conclude that Luther made up the whole story. Everyone leaves the mansion except for Alma, who lingers behind in secret, hoping to find evidence to restore Heggs' reputation.

Outside the mansion, alone and dejected, Luther begins to walk home. Then he suddenly hears the old organ playing the creepy music again. Courageously, he re-enters the mansion and discovers his friend Mr. Kelsey (Liam Redmond), the newspaper's janitor, playing the organ. Kelsey, the former gardener for the Simmons family, confesses to being responsible for the mysterious happenings Heggs witnessed (including playing the organ remotely from an additional "tuning" keyboard located under the pipes). He tells Luther that Herkie, the overzealous police officer and acting security guard, kept him from entering the house earlier to help Luther confirm his story for the judge, jury and interested parties. Upon hearing a scream, they both descend the secret staircase to find Nicholas Simmons holding Alma captive. Kelsey confronts Simmons for killing his aunt and uncle for their fortune and leaving Kelsey's pruning shears behind to frame him (Kelsey had removed them before the police arrived to avoid being implicated in the murder). Simmons' planned demolition of the house was an effort to destroy the hidden staircase that would ruin his alibi. Luther rescues Alma by knocking Simmons out from behind, with a full body lunge ("made my whole body a weapon").

We then cut to a scene where Simmons is now arrested and tied to a chair. Kelsey explains the details to the police chief and other persons (who have now returned to the mansion), and the case is closed. Alma takes Luther's hand, grateful for his heroic act in saving her. Then we cut to the final scene, where Heggs marries Alma at a small ceremony. At the end, the wedding's organ music suddenly changes to the spooky organ music of the Simmons' mansion. Everyone turns to see the small organ's keys moving by themselves, hinting that there really is a ghost after all.


Production notes[edit]

This film was produced by Universal Studios, which produced countless classic horror films. Knotts was best known at the time of the film's production for his Emmy Award-winning five seasons on the sitcom The Andy Griffith Show as small town deputy sheriff Barney Fife. Andy Griffith, Knotts' costar on "The Andy Griffith Show", suggested expanding on an episode from the television show involving a deserted house (the old Rimshaw house in the episode "Haunted House" aired Oct. 1963) in which Barney, Gomer, and Andy retrieve a baseball of Opie and his friend from the house. Another Andy Griffith Show connection is a small role played by Hal Smith, who had a recurring role on the show. Knotts left the television show at the end of the 1964–65 season in order to pursue a film career. He had already starred in The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). Knotts' popularity prompted a multiple-movie deal with Universal, starting with this movie, and followed by The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), and The Love God (1970) (as well as several others, including The Apple Dumpling Gang). The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was directed by Alan Rafkin with a screenplay by Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum; all three men had been associated with the success of The Andy Griffith Show. Several players from the television show also appear in the film including Lurene Tuttle, Burt Mustin, Hal Smith, and Hope Summers. Viewers will also recognize several actors and actresses who had appeared or were then appearing on other sitcoms of the time. The movie boasts one of the largest collection of character actors/actresses assembled in a single movie.

Universal contract star Joan Staley was known by Alan Rafkin from their work together in Broadside. Normally a blond, she had to wear a dark wig because the producers felt she was "too sexy" as a blonde (she was actually Playboy's "Miss November" 1958, but was photographed very modestly, being only partially nude) and the part called for a brunette. She wore the same wig previously worn by Claudia Cardinale in Blindfold.[2] Al Checco, Knotts' Army-days comedy partner, had an uncredited appearance in the film.

The "Simmons Mansion," a three-story Second-Empire Victorian house, stands on Colonial Street on the Universal Studios lot in California and was built for the 1946 film So Goes My Love. It appeared as the Dowd house in the 1950 film Harvey, and, with several alterations to the architecture, served as the home of Gabrielle Solis in Desperate Housewives (2004 - 2012).[3] But according to horror movie host Svengoolie (aka Rich Koz, who featured The Ghost and Mr. Chicken in his 2012-2013 season on the ME TV broadcast network), the mansion was also the home of the Munsters. The popular but short-lived 1964-66 TV sitcom, and the related 1966 movie, Munster Go Home, were both produced by Universal Studios.

Knotts personally called the Bon Ami company president to get permission to mention the cleaning product's name in one of the film's running gags.[citation needed]

Home media[edit]

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was released on VHS on April 30, 1996.[citation needed] Universal released the film on DVD September 2, 2003 and again on January 9, 2007.


On July 12, 2005, Percepto released the soundtrack on Compact Disc. Composer Vic Mizzy used the old tune Mr. Ghost Goes to Town as his main theme. Mizzy's haunted house organ theme also appeared in the 1967 film Games.

CD cover art
  1. Gaseous Globe
  2. Main Title
  3. Luther Has a Scoop
  4. Laugh's on Luther
  5. Bashful One
  6. Kelsey's Tale
  7. Twenty Years Ago
  8. Super S'Luther
  9. Clock Watchers
  10. Oh, Chute
  11. Rickety Tik Phono
  12. Creepy Jeepers
  13. Haunted Organ
  14. Hero to the
  15. Hero's Picnic
  16. Picnic Table
  17. Speech Is Over
  18. Alma Matters
  19. Back to the Mansion
  20. Chick-Napped
  21. Plucky Chicken
  22. Wedding & Finale
  23. When in Southern California, Visit Universal City Studios (promotional tag)

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ p.62 Lisanti, Tom Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema: Interviews with 20 Actresses from Biker, Beach, and Elvis Movies McFarland, 2001
  3. ^ [1] The Studio – Colonial Street

External links[edit]