Newhart in 2002
|Birth name||George Robert Newhart|
September 5, 1929 |
Oak Park, Illinois, U.S.
|Medium||Stand-up, film, television|
|Subject(s)||American culture, American politics|
|Influences||Jack Benny, Robert Benchley, H. Allen Smith, James Thurber, Max Shulman, Shelley Berman|
|Influenced||Ellen DeGeneres, Lewis Black, Norm Macdonald, David Steinberg, Ray Romano, Tom Rhodes, Conan O'Brien, Jay Leno, Chris Rush, Jim Parsons|
|Spouse||Virginia Quinn (m. 1963)|
George Robert "Bob" Newhart (born September 5, 1929) is an American stand-up comedian and actor. Noted for his deadpan and slightly stammering delivery, Newhart came to prominence in the 1960s when his album of comedic monologues The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart was a worldwide bestseller and reached number one on the Billboard pop album chart—it remains the 20th best-selling comedy album in history. The follow-up album, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back! was also a massive success, and the two albums held the Billboard number one and number two spots simultaneously.
Newhart later went into acting, starring in two long-running and award-winning situation comedies, first as psychologist Dr. Robert "Bob" Hartley on the 1970s sitcom The Bob Newhart Show and then as innkeeper Dick Loudon on the 1980s sitcom Newhart. He also had two short-lived sitcoms in the nineties titled Bob and George and Leo. Newhart also appeared in film roles such as Major Major in Catch-22 and Papa Elf in Elf. He provided the voice of Bernard in the Walt Disney animated films The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under. In 2004 he played the library head Judson in The Librarian, a character which continued in 2014 to the TV series The Librarians. In 2013, Newhart made his first of four guest appearances on The Big Bang Theory, for which he received his first Primetime Emmy Award on September 15, 2013.
On February 20, 2015, Newhart was honored with the Publicists of the International Cinematographers Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.
Newhart was born on September 5, 1929, in Oak Park, Illinois. His parents were George David Newhart (1899–1986), a part-owner of a plumbing and heating-supply business, and Julia Pauline (née Burns; 1901–1991), a housewife. His mother was of Irish descent and his father had Irish, German, and English ancestry. One of his grandmothers was from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. Newhart has three sisters: Virginia, Mary Joan (a nun, who taught at the all-girls Carmel High School in Mundelein, Illinois), and Pauline.
Newhart was educated at Roman Catholic schools in the Chicago area, including St. Catherine of Siena grammar school in Oak Park, and attended St. Ignatius College Prep (high school), graduating in 1947. He then enrolled at Loyola University of Chicago from which he graduated in 1952 with a bachelor's degree in business management.
Newhart was drafted into the United States Army and served in the United States during the Korean War as a personnel manager until being discharged in 1954. Newhart briefly attended Loyola University Chicago School of Law but did not complete a degree, in part, he says, because he was asked to behave unethically during an internship.
After the war, Newhart got a job as an accountant for United States Gypsum. He later said that his motto, "That's close enough", and his habit of adjusting petty cash imbalances with his own money shows he did not have the temperament to be an accountant. He also said he was a clerk in the unemployment office who made $55 a week, but who quit upon learning unemployment benefits were $45 a week and he "only had to come in to the office one day a week to collect it."
In 1958, Newhart became an advertising copywriter for Fred A. Niles, a major independent film and television producer in Chicago. It was here that he and a co-worker would entertain each other with long telephone calls about absurd scenarios, which they would later record and send to radio stations as audition tapes. When his co-worker ended his participation, Newhart continued the recordings alone, developing the shtick which was to serve him well for decades. In addition to his various stand-up bits, he incorporated that shtick into his television series at appropriate times. The auditions led to his first recording contract. A disc jockey at a radio station - Dan Sorkin, who later became the announcer-sidekick on his NBC series — introduced Newhart to the head of talent at Warner Bros. Records, which signed him in 1959—only a year after the label was formed—based solely on those recordings. He expanded his material into a stand-up routine which he began to perform at nightclubs.
Newhart became famous mostly on the strength of his audio releases, in which he became the world's first solo "straight man". Newhart's routine was to portray one end of a conversation (usually a phone call), playing the comedic straight man and implying what the other person was saying.
His 1960 comedy album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, was the first comedy album to make #1 on the Billboard charts. Button Down Mind received the 1961 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The album peaked at #2 in the UK Albums Chart. Newhart also won Best New Artist.
Newhart told a 2005 interviewer for PBS's American Masters that his favorite stand-up routine is "Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue", which appears on this album. In the routine, a slick promoter has to deal with the reluctance of the eccentric President to agree to efforts to boost his image. The routine was suggested to Newhart by Chicago TV director and future comedian Bill Daily, who would be Newhart's castmate on the 1970s The Bob Newhart Show for CBS. Newhart became known for using an intentional stammer, in service to his unique combination of politeness and disbelief at what he was supposedly hearing. Newhart has used the delivery throughout his career.
The follow-up album, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back, was released six months later and won Best Comedy Performance - Spoken Word that same year. Subsequent comedy albums include Behind the Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart (1961), The Button-Down Mind on TV (1962), Bob Newhart Faces Bob Newhart (1964), The Windmills Are Weakening (1965), This Is It (1967), Best of Bob Newhart (1971), and Very Funny Bob Newhart (1973). Years later he released Bob Newhart Off the Record (1992), The Button-Down Concert (1997) and Something Like This (2001), an anthology of his 1960s Warner Bros. albums.
On December 10, 2015, it was revealed by publicist and comedy album collector Jeff Abraham that a "lost" Newhart track from 1965 about Paul Revere existed on a one-of-a-kind acetate, which he owns. The track made its world premiere on episode 163 of the Comedy On Vinyl podcast.
Newhart's success in stand-up led to his own NBC variety show in 1961, The Bob Newhart Show. The show lasted only a single season, but earned Newhart a Primetime Emmy Award nomination and a Peabody Award. The Peabody Board cited him as:
... a person whose gentle satire and wry and irreverent wit waft a breath of fresh and bracing air through the stale and stuffy electronic corridors. A merry marauder, who looks less like St. George than a choirboy, Newhart has wounded, if not slain, many of the dragons that stalk our society. In a troubled and apprehensive world, Newhart has proved once again that laughter is the best medicine.
In the mid-1960s, Newhart appeared on The Dean Martin Show 24 times, and on The Ed Sullivan Show eight times. He appeared in a 1963 episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "How to Get Rid of Your Wife", and on The Judy Garland Show. Newhart guest-hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 87 times, and hosted Saturday Night Live twice, 15 years apart (1980 and 1995).
In addition to stand-up comedy, Newhart became a dedicated character actor. That led to other series such as: Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Captain Nice, 2 episodes of Insight, and It's Garry Shandling's Show. He reprised his role as Dr. Bob Hartley on Murphy Brown and appeared as himself on The Simpsons, and as a retired forensic pathologist on NCIS.
Newhart guest-starred on three episodes of ER, for which he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, as well as on Desperate Housewives (see below in "Other appearances") and a role on NCIS as Ducky's mentor and predecessor who, it was discovered, had Alzheimer's Disease. In 2013 he also appeared on Committed and appeared in an episode of the sixth season of The Big Bang Theory, for which he was awarded a Primetime Emmy Award, and subsequent episodes of its seventh season.
Primarily a television star, Newhart has been in a number of popular films, beginning with the 1962 war story Hell Is for Heroes starring Steve McQueen. In 1968, he played an annoying software specialist in the film Hot Millions, starring Peter Ustinov and Maggie Smith. His films have ranged from 1970's Alan Jay Lerner musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, the 1971 Norman Lear comedy Cold Turkey, the Mike Nichols-directed war satire Catch 22, the Walt Disney animated feature The Rescuers in 1977 along with its sequel The Rescuers Down Under in 1990, to the 2003 Will Ferrell holiday comedy Elf.
In 2011 he made a cameo appearance as a sadistic, but appreciative CEO at the end of the film Horrible Bosses'
The Bob Newhart Show
Newhart's most notable exposure on television came from two long-running programs that centered on him. In 1972, soon after Newhart guest-starred on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, he was approached by his agent and his managers, producer Grant Tinker and actress Mary Tyler Moore (the husband/wife team who founded MTM Enterprises), to work on a pilot series called The Bob Newhart Show, to be written by Davis and Music. He was very interested in the starring role of dry psychologist Bob Hartley, with Suzanne Pleshette playing his wry loving wife, Emily, and Bill Daily as neighbor and friend Howard Borden.
The Bob Newhart Show faced heavy competition from the beginning, launching at the same time as the popular shows M*A*S*H, Maude, Sanford And Son, and The Waltons. Nevertheless, it was an immediate hit. The show eventually referenced what made Newhart's name in the first place. Apart from the first few episodes, it used an opening-credits sequence featuring Newhart answering a telephone in his office. According to co-star Marcia Wallace, the entire cast got along well, and Newhart became close friends with both Wallace and co-star Suzanne Pleshette.
The cast also included unfamiliar actors: Marcia Wallace as Bob's wisecracking, man-chasing receptionist, Carol Kester; Peter Bonerz as orthodontist Jerry Robinson, whose offices were on the same floor as Newhart's Hartley; Jack Riley as Elliot Carlin, the most misanthropic among members of Dr. Hartley's most frequently seen group therapy sessions; legendary character actor and voice artist, John Fiedler (the voice of Piglet); Florida Friebus (once the mother on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) as another group member; and, scattered over two seasons, Pat Finley as Hartley's sister, Ellen, a love interest for Howard Borden. Future Newhart regular Tom Poston had a briefly recurring role as Cliff Murdock; veteran stage actor Barnard Hughes appeared as Hartley's father for three episodes spread over two seasons, and studio film veteran Martha Scott appeared in several episodes as Hartley's mother. Actress Teri Garr appeared twice in the 1973-74 season.
By 1977, the show was suffering lackluster ratings and Newhart wanted to end it, but was under contract to do one more season. The show's writers tried to rework the sitcom by adding a pregnancy, but Newhart objected: "I told the creators I didn't want any children, because I didn't want it to be a show about 'How stupid Daddy is, but we love him so much, let's get him out of the trouble he's gotten himself into'." Nevertheless, the staff wrote an episode that they hoped would change Newhart's mind. Newhart read the script and he agreed it was very funny. He then asked, "Who are you going to get to play Bob?" Coincidentally, Newhart's wife gave birth to their daughter Jenny late in the year, which caused him to miss several episodes.
In the last episode of the fifth season, not only was Bob's wife, Emily, pregnant, but his receptionist, Carol, too. In the first show of the sixth season, Bob revealed his dream of the pregnancies and that neither Emily nor Carol were really pregnant.
Marcia Wallace spoke of Newhart's amiable nature on set: "He's very low key, and he didn't want to cause trouble. I had a dog that I used to bring to the set by the name of Maggie. And whenever there was a line that Bob didn't like—he didn't want to complain too much—so, he'd go over, get down on his hands and knees, and repeat the line to the dog, who invariably yawned; and he'd say, 'See, I told you it's not funny!'" Wallace has also commented on the show's lack of Emmy recognition: "People think we were nominated for many an Emmy, people presume we won Emmys, all of us, and certainly Bob, and certainly the show. Nope, never!"
Newhart finally discontinued the sitcom in 1978 after six seasons and 142 episodes. Wallace said of its ending, "It was much crying and sobbing. It was so sad. We really did get along. We really had great times together." Of Newhart's other long-running sitcom, Newhart, Wallace said, "But some of the other great comedic talents who had a brilliant show, when they tried to do it twice, it didn't always work. And that's what... but like Bob, as far as I'm concerned, Bob is like the Fred Astaire of comics. He just makes it look so easy, and he's not as in-your-face as some might be. And so, you just kind of take it for granted, how extraordinarily funny and how he wears well." She was later reunited with Newhart twice, once in a reprise of her role as Carol on Murphy Brown in 1994, and on an episode of Newhart's short-lived sitcom, George & Leo, in 1997.
By 1982, Newhart was interested in a new sitcom. After he had discussions with Barry Kemp and CBS, the show Newhart was created, in which Newhart played Vermont innkeeper Dick Loudon. Familiar actress Mary Frann was cast as his wife, Joanna Loudon. Jennifer Holmes was originally cast as Leslie Vanderkellen, but left after the first season, and unfamiliar prime-time actress and former daytime soap star (who had been a fan of Newhart's since she was 21), Julia Duffy joined the cast as Dick's inn maid and spoiled rich girl, Stephanie Vanderkellen. Unfamiliar, struggling actor Peter Scolari (who had been a fan of Newhart's since he was 17) was also cast as Dick's manipulative TV producer, Michael Harris, in six of the eight seasons. Well known actor Tom Poston played the role of handyman George Utley on "Newhart", earning three Primetime Emmy Award nominations as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1984, 1986 and 1987. Like The Bob Newhart Show, Newhart was an immediate hit, and like the show before it, it was also nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards, but failed to win any. During the time Newhart was working on the show, in 1985, his smoking habits finally caught up to him, and he was taken to the emergency room for secondary polycythemia. The doctors ordered him to stop smoking.
In 1987, ratings began to drop. Newhart ended in 1990 after eight seasons and 182 episodes. The last episode ended with a scene in which Newhart wakes up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette, who had played Emily, his wife from The Bob Newhart Show. He realizes (in a satire of a famous plot element in the television series Dallas a few years earlier) that the entire eight-year Newhart series had been a single nightmare of Dr. Bob Hartley's, provoked by "eating too much Japanese food before going to bed." Recalling Mary Frann's buxom figure, Bob closes the segment and the series by telling Emily, "You really should wear more sweaters" before the typical closing notes of the old Bob Newhart Show theme played over the fadeout. The twist ending was later chosen by TV Guide as the best finale in television history.
Other TV series
In 1992, Newhart returned to television with a series called Bob, about a cartoonist. An ensemble cast included Lisa Kudrow, but the show did not develop a strong audience and was canceled shortly after the start of its second season, despite good critical reviews. (On The Tonight Show following the cancellation, Newhart famously joked he had now done shows called The Bob Newhart Show, Newhart and Bob so his next show was going to be called The.)
Other TV appearances
- The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, episode "How To Get Rid Of Your Wife" (1963)
- The Entertainers (regular performer in 1964)
- Thursday's Game (1974) (made-for-TV film)
- Marathon (1980)
- Ladies and Gentlemen... Bob Newhart (1980)
- Ladies and Gentlemen... Bob Newhart Part II (1981)
- The Entertainers (1991)
- The Simpsons, season 7: "Bart the Fink" (1996)
- The Sports Pages (2001) (made-for-TV film)
- MADtv (Season 6, 2001), playing a psychiatrist who yells "Stop it!" in a skit.
- The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (2004)
- The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines (2006)
- The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice (2008)
- NCIS, season 8: "Recruited" (2011)
- Five, Dr. Roth (2011)
- The Big Bang Theory, season 6: "The Proton Resurgence" (2013)
- The Big Bang Theory, season 7: "The Proton Displacement" (2013)
- The Big Bang Theory, season 7: "The Proton Transmogrification" (2014)
- The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, final episode (2014)
- Hot in Cleveland, season 6 (series finale): "Vegas Baby/I Hate Goodbyes" (2015)
- The Big Bang Theory, season 9: "The Opening Night Excitation" (2015)
In 1995, a 65-year-old Newhart was approached by the Showtime cable network to do his very first comedy special in his 35-year career. His special Off The Record consisted of him doing material from his first and second albums in front of a live audience in Pasadena, California. In 2003, Newhart guest-starred on three episodes of ER in a rare dramatic role that earned him an Primetime Emmy Award nomination, his first in nearly 20 years. In 2005, he began a recurring role in Desperate Housewives as Morty, the on-again/off-again boyfriend of Sophie (Lesley Ann Warren), Susan Mayer's (Teri Hatcher) mother. In 2009, he received another Primetime Emmy Award nomination for reprising his role as Judson in The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice.
On August 27, 2006, at the 58th Primetime Emmy Awards, hosted by Conan O'Brien, Newhart was placed in a supposedly airtight glass prison that contained three hours of air. If the Emmys went over the time of three hours, he would die. This gag was an acknowledgment of the common frustration that award shows usually run on past their allotted time (which is usually three hours). Newhart "survived" his containment to help O'Brien present the award for Outstanding Comedy Series (which went to The Office).
During an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Newhart made a comedic cameo with members of ABC's show Lost lampooning an alternate ending to the series finale. In 2011, Newhart appeared in a small but pivotal role as a doctor in Lifetime's anthology film on breast cancer Five. And, in 2013, he made a guest appearance on The Big Bang Theory as the aged Professor Proton (Arthur Jeffries), a former science TV show host turned children's party entertainer, for which he won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series, his first Emmy Award. It marked the first Emmy in Newhart's entire career. At that year's Emmy ceremony, Newhart appeared as a presenter with Theory star Jim Parsons and received an unexpected standing ovation.
On December 19, 2014, Newhart made a surprise appearance on the final episode of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson where he was revealed to be the person inside Secretariat, Ferguson's on-set pantomime horse. The show then ended with a scene parodying the Newhart series finale, with Ferguson and Drew Carey reprising their roles from The Drew Carey Show. In June 2015, Newhart appeared on another series finale, the final episode of Hot in Cleveland playing the father in law of Joy Scroggs (Jane Leeves). It marked a reunion with one time co-star Betty White who had been a cast member during the second season of Bob 23 years earlier. The finale ends with their characters getting married.
Personal comedic style
Newhart is known for his deadpan delivery and a slight stammer which he incorporated early on into the persona around which he built a successful career. On his TV shows, although he got his share of funny lines, he worked often in the Jack Benny tradition of being the "straight man" while the sometimes rather bizarre cast members surrounding him got the laughs.
Several of his routines involve hearing one half of a conversation as he speaks to someone over the phone. In a bit called King Kong, a rookie security guard at the Empire State Building seeks guidance as to how to deal with an ape who is "between 18 to 19 stories high, depending on whether there's a 13th floor or not." He assures his boss he has looked in the guards manual "under 'ape' and 'ape's toes'." Other famous routines include "The Driving Instructor," "The Mrs. Grace L. Ferguson Airline (and Storm Door Company)', "Introducing Tobacco to Civilization," "Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue," "Defusing a Bomb" (in which an uneasy police chief tries to walk a new and nervous patrolman through defusing a live shell discovered on a beach), "The Retirement Party," "Ledge Psychology," "The Khrushchev Landing Rehearsal," and "A Friend With a Dog."
In a 2012 podcast interview with Marc Maron, comedian Shelley Berman accused Newhart of plagiarizing his improvisational telephone routine style, describing it as a "very special technique that couldn't really be imitated. It could be stolen. And it was." When asked by Maron if it was done maliciously, Berman replied, "Maliciously? He wouldn't do it maliciously. Nobody does that. But he did it to make a living. And he became a star." Berman later added, "I thought it was a rotten thing to do. I thought the agents who sold him - I thought they were just as guilty as everybody else. But, my God, to go into a town and do my show, and the critics saying that I borrowed some stuff from Newhart..."
In interviews, Newhart has never taken credit for originating the telephone concept, which he has noted was done earlier by Berman and Nichols and May, and earlier than that by George Jessel in his well-known sketch "Hello Mama", and even earlier in the 1913 recording "Cohen on the Telephone"; and would later be done by Lily Tomlin and Ellen Degeneres as well.
On September 20, 2006, Hyperion Books released Newhart's first book, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This. The book is primarily a memoir, but features comic bits by Newhart as well. Transcripts of many of Newhart's classic routines are woven in with the rest of the text. As actor David Hyde Pierce notes, "The only difference between Bob Newhart on stage and Bob Newhart offstage – is that there is no stage."
In addition to his Peabody Award and several Primetime Emmy Award nominations, Newhart's recognitions include:
- Three Grammy awards in 1961: Best New Artist, Album of the Year for The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart (the first comedy record to be honored as Album of the Year), and Best Comedy Performance (Spoken Word) for The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back!.
- In 1993, Newhart was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.
- In 1996, Newhart was ranked # 17 on TV Guide's "50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time" list.
- In 1998, Billboard magazine recognized Newhart's first album as #20 on their list of most popular albums of the past 40 years, and the only comedy album on the list.
- On January 6, 1999 Newhart received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6381 Hollywood Boulevard for his contribution to television.
- In 2002, Newhart won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
- In 2004, Newhart was named #14 on "Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time".
- On July 27, 2004, American cable television network TV Land unveiled a life-sized statue of Newhart on the Magnificent Mile in his native Chicago, depicting Dr. Robert Hartley from The Bob Newhart Show. The statues depict Dr. Hartley sitting in his therapy practice chair with a pencil held between his hands, and a patients' sofa next to him. After an initial temporary installation in front of 430 North Michigan Avenue, the building used for exterior establishing shots of Hartley's office, the bronze set is now permanently located in the sculpture park in front of Chicago's Navy Pier entertainment complex. Visitors routinely sit on the couch and pose for photographs as Bob's patients.
- On October 17, 2012, Loyola University Chicago honored him by naming their new theatre, The Newhart Family Theatre.
- On September 15, 2013, Newhart won his first Primetime Emmy Award, for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series, for his portrayal of Professor Proton (Arthur Jeffries) on The Big Bang Theory.
Newhart was introduced by Buddy Hackett to Virginia "Ginnie" Quinn, the daughter of character actor Bill Quinn. They were married on January 12, 1963. The couple have four children (Robert, Timothy, Jennifer and Courtney), and nine grandchildren. They are Roman Catholic and raised their children as such. He is a member of the Good Shepherd Parish and the Catholic Motion Picture Guild in Beverly Hills, California.
Newhart was an early home computer hobbyist, purchasing the Commodore PET after its 1977 introduction. He wrote in 2001, "Later, I moved up to the 64 KB model and thought that was silly because it was more memory than I would ever possibly need."
- Hell Is for Heroes (1962) — a World War II drama with a comedic monologue by Newhart
- Hot Millions (1968)
- On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)
- Catch-22 (1970)
- Cold Turkey (1971)
- The Rescuers (1977) (voice)
- Little Miss Marker (1980)
- First Family (1980)
- The Rescuers Down Under (1990) (voice)
- In & Out (1997)
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie (1998) (voice of Leonard the polar bear)
- Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003)
- Elf (2003)
- The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (2004)
- The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines (2006)
- The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice (2008)
- Horrible Bosses (2011) (cameo)
- The Big Bang Theory (2013) (Arthur Jeffries/Professor Proton) 4 episodes
- The Librarians - TV Series (2014)
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After 55 years of standup, albums and TV shows, the comedian continues to entertain
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