Smothers in 2011
|Birth name||Thomas Bolyn Smothers III|
|Born||February 2, 1937|
New York City, New York, US
|Occupation(s)||Comedian, musician, composer, actor|
|Years active||1959–2010, 2019|
|Associated acts||Smothers Brothers, Plastic Ono Band|
Thomas Bolyn Smothers III (born February 2, 1937) is an American comedian, composer and musician, best known as half of the musical comedy duo the Smothers Brothers, alongside his younger brother Dick.
Smothers was born in 1937 at the Fort Jay army post hospital on Governors Island in New York City, the son of Ruth (née Remick), a homemaker; and Major Thomas B. Smothers, an army officer who died a POW in April 1945. After moving to California, he graduated from Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, California. He was a competitive unicyclist, and a state champion gymnast in the parallel bars. Smothers later attended San José State University, then known as San José State College. At SJSC, Smothers participated both in gymnastics and pole vault for the track team.
The Smothers Brothers initially wanted to be folk musicians. Tom did not feel that he was good enough to be a professional musician, but he was funny enough to do comedy. The two began adding comedy bits to their act.
It was a series of performances when we started out as a duet in Aspen. I did all the introductions. I'd just make up stuff for every song. And Dickie said, "Why don't you try repeating some of that stuff?" I said, "I don't know." I didn't know that you could repeat the stuff. And I started repeating it and Dickie would say, "That's wrong." And pretty soon he'd say, "That's wrong, you're stupid." It sort of became an argument.
The Smothers Brothers next appeared on the CBS sitcom The Smothers Brothers Show from 1965 to 1966. Tom felt that the show did not play to the brothers' strengths and wanted creative control over their next venture.
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and aftermath
Tom Smothers negotiated creative control over their next CBS show, a variety show entitled The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967. The documentary Smothered describes how the brothers (particularly Tom) fought CBS censors to sneak in references to religion, recreational drugs, sex, and the Vietnam War. Smothers is widely quoted as saying: "The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen." The brothers' oppositional politics led to their show's demise, with David Steinberg later claiming "The most innovative variety show on television shut down because of political pressure". During the same years, Tom wrote and recorded mainstream songs, such as "Can't Help Falling in Love with You." Tom has since stated, "When the Smothers Brothers came on the air we had no political point of view or social consciousness, it just evolved as the show was on the air."
Rock and Roll
Smothers introduced some musical acts at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. As he became more politically active, he befriended similarly inclined celebrities like John Lennon. In 1969, Smothers played guitar on Lennon's recording of his single "Give Peace a Chance" (his name was mentioned in the song as well). The song was written and performed during Lennon's 'Bed-In' honeymoon on June 1, 1969, in Room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Smothers can be seen in the hotel room in the documentary film Imagine.
After the show was canceled, Tom became more strident in his politics.
I lost perspective, my sense of humour. I became a poster boy for the First Amendment, freedom of speech, and I started buying into it. It was about three years when I was deadly serious about everything.... I'm still politically active, I'm still angry, but I've got it in the right position now.
In the 1970s, Smothers chided popular comedian Bill Cosby for not taking a stand on political issues of the day such as civil rights.
At the time I was very volatile, and thought everyone should take a stand. I guess I said something that really pissed him [off]. For a couple years after that, I'd say, 'Hiya Bill, how ya doing?' and he wouldn't shake hands with me – you know, like, 'Fuck off."
Tom Smothers's politics are in marked contrast to those of his brother Richard, who is a conservative. Tom stated in 2006 that the duo's real-life political and philosophical differences were a key part of their ability to maintain their act for as long as they did.
In motion pictures, Tom Smothers portrayed corporate-executive-turned-tap-dancing-magician Donald Beeman in one of Brian De Palma's earlier films, Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972). He also played a banker in Silver Bears. He later portrayed Spike in Serial (1980).
In 1973, he voiced Ted E. Bear (Theodore Edward Bear) in the DePatie-Freleng NBC animated Christmas special The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas. Ten years later, he voiced Ted E. Bear again for its Halloween sequel The Great Bear Scare.
In 1980 Smothers starred in the film There Goes the Bride. In 1982 he played with an ensemble cast in Pandemonium in which he was a brave Canadian Mountie chasing down a serial killer at a cheerleader camp. He also voiced one of the characters in the cartoon Christmas movie Precious Moments: Timmy's Special Delivery in 1993.
To augment their act in recent years, "Yo-Yo Man" became part of their shows. Tom Smothers had created the mostly non-speaking character in the late '60s, a comedic performer of tricks using a yo-yo. The term "Yo-Yo Man" is registered in his name. In their 2008 tour, Yo-Yo Man was listed as the group's opening act.
In 2008, during the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards, Smothers was awarded a special Emmy. In 1968, when he was head writer of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the writing staff was awarded the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedic Series. Smothers had refused to let his name be on the list of writers nominated for the Emmy, because he felt his name was too volatile. The award at the 2008 ceremony was presented by Steve Martin, who was once a writer on the program.
On May 6, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union's Sonoma County chapter honored Smothers with its Jack Green Civil Liberties Award for his work against television censorship and for speaking out for peace and civil liberties.
Tom and Dick Smothers reunited in 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour's abrupt cancellation.
Smothers is the owner of Remick Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma County, California, with his wife Marcy Carriker and two children, Bo (born 1991), and Riley Rose (born 1996). He also has a son, Thomas Bolyn Smothers IV (Tom Jr.), from his first marriage, and one grandson, Phoenix Parrish-Smothers. There is a Smothers sister—Sherry—born September 1941, in Pasadena, California.
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