“Briotainment’s Living Legends” for July 2016
In a regular segment here at Briotainment, we’re hoping to give credit where credit is due to some of the most incredibly talented people we are fortunate to still have with us today.
Bob Newhart was born in September of 1929 in Illinois. That part of his story is important, because he never forgot his state. He attended Loyola University Chicago and then served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. When he returned home, he worked as a copy editor.
His standup routine became a known noted act in the 1960s when his comedy albums started moving up the Billboard chart, “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart” eventually sealed the number one spot, where it remains the 20th all-time best seller in comedy album history. He followed up with “The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back!” and became “The Beatles of comedy,” with the number one and two Billboard albums, simultaneously.
Newhart’s first hit television show, “The Bob Newhart Show” on CBS (MTM Enterprises) was an incredibly funny cast surrounding Bob, a psychologist living in an apartment with his wife, Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) in Illinois. Every character Newhart plays on television required an inept sidekick. In this case, it was his neighbor, Howard (Bill Daily), who you’ll recognize from “I Dream of Jeannie.”
The show still airs on MeTV on Sunday nights (check local listings). His character stammers and has moments of perfectly timed awkward silence that will make you realize that sometimes blank space is funnier than a million words. The deadpan, dry humor is exactly what made me love him. I immediately got it, even as a child. Everyone on the show loved Bob, but took advantage of his easy, push-over nature, because they knew Bob never pushed back. The show had an incredible 142 episode run from 1972 to 1978.
Newhart then went into his second successful television run, like he was born to play the role, on the series, “Newhart” on CBS. I’ll be quite honest, this was my favorite show as I was growing up. I had loved Tom Poston’s character on Mork and Mindy as their neighbor, so when I saw he was the handyman at the Stratford Inn, somewhere in Vermont, I was already hooked. Newhart played Dick Loudon, married to Joanna (Mary Frann). The show ran from 1982 to 1990.
The amazing transformation of the show from a good sitcom to an amazing sitcom took place when Julia Duffy and Peter Scolari were added to the cast as Michael and Stephanie. Newhart’s interactions with this attention starved couple, perfectly exemplifying the 1980’s culture of excess, greed and vanity, made for some of the greatest comedy of that, or any decade.
While his previous show had an amazing run, “Newhart” lasted a full 184 episodes, with the last being perhaps the most memorable of any sitcom’s finale. Newhart can be found twice every weeknight on Antenna TV (check local listings).
Bob didn’t leave acting. He continued with a couple of short-lived sitcoms in the 90’s, but found a different kind of outlet with the same stammering style in the holiday movie, “ELF,” in the role of Papa Elf, now a Christmas classic that has to be viewed every year, along with “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story.” He continues his work, even today, on “The Big Bang Theory” as a voice in Sheldon’s head. I’m fairly confident that’s how Sheldon views every character on the show, though.
Outside of his incredible body of work, Newhart has been married to his bride, Virginia Quinn, since 1963. He’s carried on the tradition of Jack Benny’s self-belittling persona and stone faced comedy, influencing an entire generation of comedy greats after, including Norm MacDonald, Conan O’Brien and Ellen DeGeneres.
Though it’s not mentioned in most of his bios, he is charitable, interacts and corresponds with people who write and is one of the nicest and funniest people you’ll ever want to encounter.
He’s won a Primetime Emmy Award for his work on “The Big Bang Theory” in 2013 and in 2015, proving that The Emmys are a complete crock, since Newhart has only won a single one and it took them 55 years to give it to him in a supporting role. He was honored with the “Publicists of the International Cinematographers Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Let’s celebrate Bob Newhart! His career is one of the most impressive we’ll ever see, spanning seven decades.