"Why would you ever want to stop making people laugh?"
Winner of the 2 Emmys, 3 Grammies, the Mark Twain Prize For Humor, and the Peabody Award, Bob Newhart's trademark "one-sided telephone conversations" are so well known, that he is the one man in America who could conduct his own interview.
In the 1950s, comedy was Uncle Milty doing one-liners—his own or perhaps Henny Youngman's. But the early 1960s
Comedy talents like Mort Sahl, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, the Smothers Brothers, Lenny Bruce, Jonathan Winters and Shelly Berman were changing the genera from a comic telling jokes, to an entertainer relating
stories and yarns. Comedy was changing. Meanwhile, Bob Newhart was working in Chicago as a part time accountant.
beginning to carve out their piece of the American economic dream, Bob Newhart wanted something different. His life long love of comedy, inspired in part by Algonquin Round Table humorist Robert Benchley, made him wonder if he too could create a career in the humor industry.
Coming from a stable Chicago household, having attended St. Ignatius High School, and from Loyola University in 1952—not a classic platform for ground-breaking comedy—Newhart found himself working for the unemployment department of Illinois, where he immediately notice a problem. He was being paid $65 a week and had to come to work every day while the claimants got $50 a week, but only had to come in once a week.
Trying to augment his income, Newhart began writing and performing comedy bits with his pal, advertising copywriter, Ed Gallagher. They recorded their routines on acetate and sent them to one hundred radio stations. Unfortunately only three stations responded. As an accountant Newhart soon realized that it cost more to make the routines than they were being paid. Gallagher took an advertising job offer in New York, leaving Newhart to continue on his own (the same year that Pete Best left the Beatles).
Newhart faced serious ups and downs (mostly downs) including a man in the street interview segment for WBKB television in Chicago, until major disk jockey and television personality, Dan Sorkin, used his connections in Hollywood to send some of Newhart's tapes to Warner Brothers Records.
Warner Brothers immediately contacted Newhart with plans to record his next nightclub show. The problem was, Newhart had never worked a night club. He also didn't have enough material for an album. Warner Brothers enlisted agent Tweet Hogan who booked Bob's first standup comedy job at The Tidelands Inn in Huston, Texas. The result was "The Button-own Mind of Bob Newhart."
Newhart's monologues, involving an average man trying to deal with our brave new world, were an instant hit. His first two albums earned two gold records and three Grammy Awards.
By 1962 Newhart's third album was released and his new television variety show "The Bob Newhart Show" on NBC was on its way to winning an Emmy for outstanding achievement in humor and a Peabody for television excellence.
With bookings nationally, a television show, a movie deal, and comedy albums turning to gold Bob met and married Ginny Quinn and they began their family.
Performing with other entertainers like Smothers Brothers, Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett, Dean Martin, Johny Carson, the list goes on, Newhart continued his upward path to success.
Tommy Smothers compared Bob Newhart to a straight man. "great straight men are the ultimate listeners." But Newhart, with his one-sided dialogues was perhaps the best. He was on stage entertaining the audience by listening to and setting up straight lines for a comedian who was only there in the audience's imagination. Smothers called Newhart, "A one-man comedy team." Basically doing a doubles routine with just one guy.
David Hyde Pierce (from Frazier) said Newhart caused his audience to imagine what was being said on the other side.
And who does Bob Newhart pick for a best friend? Who does "Mr. Nice Guy," "the last sane man in America," pick as his best pal? Don Rickles!
Remembering Newhart's first night club job, recording "The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart" before a live audience in Texas, Tom Poston once asked, "were you frightened?" to which Newhart answered, "Do you mean, still?"
Bob Newhart's records have blown Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and everyone else off the charts. The only Elvis Presley album that outsold Newhart was Blue Hawaii. Newhart's albums outperformed every record recorded by the Beatles in the 60's (and there's just one of him).
As Peter Bonners, who played Jerry the dentist on The Bob Newhart Show, said, "Newhart seemed to step into the crown as King of Comedy, overnight."
Bob Newhart went from being an unknown to staring on the Ed Sullivan show in just months. His Grammies included "album of the year," and "best new artist,"
Many of Newhart's comedy routines are still classics, like: The Grace L. Ferguson Airline and Storm Door Company.
Fred Willard recalled seeing Newhart for the first time at Carnegie Hall. Newhart walked on stage, looked at the audience, and said, "Well, at least they can't take this away from me." Willard later remembered thinking, "How tough a business is this?"
Suzanne Pleshette called Bob Newhart a skilled actor. Portraying the every-man image is deceptive. "People really don't see the skill Bob brings."
Perhaps taking his a from Jack Benny, Bob Newhart surrounded himself with beloved and talented actors like Susan Pleshette, Tom Poston (George Utley), and Bill Dailey (Howard Borden).
Jack Benny had, "Your money or your life." Babe Ruth "called his shot." Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. And Bob Newhart had the last episode of Newhart. the last episode of Newhart's eight-year series Newhart is one of the greatest moments in television comedy history.
The last scene of the series, Newhart, begins with Bob getting hit in the head with A golf ball and passing out. Waking in a dimly lit room, he turns on the light and, begins telling about the incredible dream he has had. In the dream he was managing an inn in Vermont, with an heiress working as his maid, a confused handy man, three woodsmen (but only one talked). And just when the audience couldn't take it any longer, Newhart's television wife sat up and turned on a light. But it was not his wife from Newhart. Instead it was his wife Emily (the ever radiant Suzanne Pleshette) from The Bob Newhart Show, telling him, "Go back to sleep Bob."
"I was an innkeeper in this crazy little town in Vermont," Bob continued.
"I'm happy for you, goodnight," Emily replied
"Nothing made sense in this place, the housekeeper was an heiress, her husband talked an alliteration, the handyman kept missing the point of things. Then, there were these three woodsman, but only one of them talked."
"That settles it, no more Japanese food before we go to bed."
"And I was married to this beautiful blonde," Bob added.
"Go back to sleep, Bob," Emily repeats.
Newhart turns off his light, but Emily immediately turns it on again.
"Whattaya mean, beautiful blonde."
"Go to sleep, Emily," Bob says. . . "You know, you really should wear more sweaters."
The episode as actually kept secret from the cast, crew and media.
But who came up with the idea? You'll need to listen to Bob Newhart's interview on the Horace J. Digby Report to find out.
Newhart has made hundreds of television appearances and is still going strong. He hosted "The Tonight Show Starring Johny Carson" 87 times, appeared on "The Dean Martin Show" 24 times, and on "The Ed Sullivan Show" 8 times. He has had four television shows of his own, appeared in several motion pictures . . . and now Bob Newhart appears on The Horace J. Digby Report.
Newhart was nominated again in 2007 for a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for the audio version of his book, "I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This!".
The book is on sale where ever fine books are sold, including Newhart's website along with his albums, at www.Bobnewhart.com.
Citizens of Chicago have erected a statue in Bob Newhart's honor, memorializing his role as psychologist, Dr. Robert Hartley, from "The Bob Newhart Show." Bob's friend Don Rickles claims real purpose of the statue is to distract pigeons from other people.
Bob Newhart's cites as one of his major inspirations, American humorist and writer Robert Benchley. Dan Martin of the comedy team Rowan and Martin said Newhart is not a standup comic as such, not a joke teller, but a humorist, comparing Newhart's work to Mark Twain and Robert Benchley. "I can remember riding the street cars in Detroit on my way to school, laughing out loud at something Robert Benchley had said, but before there was Benchley, there was Mark Twain." "Bob Newhart is a Humorist, I guess Dave Barry would be like that. I'm not sure. But there are damn few of them," Martin said.
If you would like to learn more about Bob Newhart and his incredible career, the first place to go is his new book, "I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This!" for Hyperion Press, New York. You can get your copy where ever fine books are sold, including Bob's website, www.bobnewhart.com. Bob' comedy albums and CDs are also this website.
Records, movies, television, standup comedy, books CDs, videos, and now back on television again as Morty Finkelstein, Terry Hatcher's stepfather on "Desperate Housewives." Bob Newhart plays perhaps the only character on that show who maintains a successful romantic relationship.