Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jonathan Winters

Jonathan Winters with Robin Williams on The Tonight Show

“If you were to ask me the funniest 25 people I’ve ever known, I’d say, ‘Here they are — Jonathan Winters’." - Jack Paar, host of The Tonight Show from 1957 to 1962

"As a kid, I always wanted to be lots of things," Winters said. "I was a Walter Mitty type. I wanted to be in the French Foreign Legion, a detective, a doctor, a test pilot with a scarf, a fisherman who hauled in a tremendous marlin after a 12-hour fight." - Jonathan Winters

Picture Legend
1. Mr Jonathan Winters
2. A very young Jonathan
3. One of his paintings
4. Jonathan with Eileen in 1969
5. Early nightclub ad
6. Early television appearance
7. "The Twilight Zone" with Jack Klugman
8. With Phil Silvers in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"
9. On "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson
10. With Robin Williams and Pam Dawber from "Mork and Mindy"
11. With the Duke
12. With Phyllis Diller
13. With Sarah Silverman
14. Grandpa Smurf
15. Star
16. At home

   My apologies for the scarcity of posts lately. This was and is due to technical difficulties... for example, I need a new computer. Right now everything on my monitor is tinted green, and other difficulties. This should be rectified, hopefully, Tuesday morning.
   Recent developments dictate that regular updates continue, such as the subject of this post, the passing of the much beloved comedian Jonathan Winters.
   I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank the lovely Mary and Karin of the AIA/LA (American Institute of Architects ( )) committee for giving me some nice cupcakes yesterday (and probably the tastiest hamburger I've ever eaten. "Uuuumm, now that's one tasty burger!").
   I was deeply saddened to discover the news of Mr. Winters' death, as I, throughout my life, always enjoyed every contact I ever had with him, either through television, or films, or the two times I saw him in public. He had always been there for me and countless millions, making people laugh, and for a little while forget their own problems. He certainly had a unique sense of humor, which consequently inspired other aspiring comedians, such as Robin Williams and Jim Carry. Not everybody could do what he could do. Take a look at this clip for instance:
   I suppose you could classify his style as improvisational, which many comedians and actors train at while learning their craft, but few can actually do, or at least as successfully as Jonathan.      The only amount of solace one can muster up at this time is to observe that he did have a long, and as far as I'm aware, very fulfilling life. He was 87 years old when he died.
   Jonathan Harshman Winters III (technically I could anoint myself Richard Ruprecht Joyce II, as my father's middle name was Richard... I guess not) was born at a very, very early age on November 11th, 1925, in Dayton, Ohio, home of industrially produced polonium for use in the triggers of early atomic bombs, including those dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thanks to our good friends at Monsanto. His mom, Alice Kilgore, would become a radio personality, the host of a women’s program on a local radio station in Springfield, where she and her son would eventually move, and his dad, Jonathan Harshman Winters II, was an investment banker, along with his grandfather, a frustrated comedian, who owned the Winters National Bank, which according to my sources (elves), is now part of JPMorgan Chase (figures).
   "Mother and Dad didn’t understand me; I didn’t understand them," he told Jim Lehrer on PBS' "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" in 1999. "So consequently it was a strange kind of arrangement." He would create characters and interview himself, while alone in his room.
   When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, it hit the Winters' family hard. The bank failed, Jonathan's dad began drinking and his parents separated, Alice taking her son to live with her mom in Springfield. He was seven at the time. Alice would remarry and begin her radio career.
   Jonathan would quit high school during his senior year and enlist in the Marines (Jar Heads), due to that little conflict going on in Europe and the Pacific known as World War II. He served as a gunner on the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard in the Pacific (it seems a little odd to me that a Marine would do that on an aircraft carrier. Usually the Navy have their own people who do that kind of thing, but the elves tell me it's true).
   When the United States dropped those atomic bombs ending the war, Jonathan returned to Ohio and completed high school, and then entered the Kenyon College and the Dayton Art Institute, the goal being to become a political cartoonist. His interest in art remained with him for his entire life, as he painted throughout it. An example is posted above.
   He met the love of his life, Eileen Schauder, also an art student, in 1948, and married a month later, remaining married until she passed in January of 2009, about 61 years by my reckoning.
   The young couple struggled, Jonathan's cartoonist ambitions going nowhere. Some say, certainly not me, he owed his eventual success to a broken wristwatch that he couldn't afford to replace. Eileen urged him to enter a local talent contest, the grand prize being, as chance would have it, a brand new wristwatch. Jonathan won (of course), after which  he was hired as a morning disc jockey at WING, where he would invent his own guests, because he couldn't get any real ones, and he had the ability to play different characters who he would have conversations with, just as Phil Hendrie does today right here in L.A. ( ).
   "I'd make up people like Dr. Hardbody of the Atomic Energy Commission, or an Englishman whose blimp had crash-landed in Dayton."
   In 1951 he got work at a Columbus television station, worked there for two years and a half years before quitting because his bosses wouldn't give him a raise, and made the decision to pack up and head off to New York with the idea of breaking into radio. He promised Eileen that if he didn't make it in a year he'd come back and sell farm equipment, and with $56.46 in his pocket he took off, living with friends in Greenwich Village, where all of the hippies lived.
   He broke into small parts in television instead of radio, and learned the craft of stand up comedy in nightclubs, a job that he found lucrative, that he was good at and suited for, at least as far as his talent was concerned, but he hated the long times away from home, and it would eventually take it's toll. In 1959 he suffered a nervous breakdown on stage in San Francisco and was hospitalized in a mental hospital briefly. Two years later it happened again, and soon he quit working nightclubs altogether. He has the distinction of being one of the first so-called celebrities to mention mental illness pertaining to himself, publicly as a part of his act.
   After acquiring an agent he soon began to get steady work. His earliest television appearance was in 1954 on "Chance of a Lifetime" hosted by Dennis James on the DuMont Television Network, where Jonathan appeared as "Johnny Winters." The show was a forerunner to "American Idol."
    His big break came when Alistair Cooke (who would later become the host of "Masterpiece Theater," on PBS) hired Jonathan to work with him on "Omnibus" an educational television series created by the Ford Foundation.
   Jonathan was a pioneer voice work actor, playing both voices for a pair of talking beer steins for Utica Club Beer, the first beer officially sold after Prohibition.
   In 1956, he stared on his own weekly TV variety series, "The Jonathan Winters Show" a fifteen minute program airing on NBC from October 1956 to June 1957. The program is notable for broadcasting the first public demonstration of color videotape. It was sponsored by Tums... yes, the antacid, it's been around since 1930.
   In 1961 Jonathan stepped out of type in a dramatic role playing "Fats" Brown, (a take off I suppose, of Jackie Gleason's  "Minnesota Fats" character in the film "The Hustler"), a ghostly pool player in "The Twilight Zone" episode "A Game of Pool" co-staring Jack Klugman, of "The Odd Couple," and "Qunicy, M.E." fame (Quincy being a forerunner of the CSI programs).
   Two years later he appeared with my mom in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," along with a whole bunch of other people, including my very favorite American actor of all time, Spencer Tracy, in his second to last film.
   My mom you ask? Yes indeed. She was an extra in this scene from the film:
   Here's a scene featuring Jonathan:
   Jonathan appeared in more than 50 movies, appeared on 23 comedy albums, wrote a collection of short stories entitled "Winters Tales," and made one bazillion and twenty three television appearances, including "The Tonight Show," with both Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, "The Steve Allen Show," "Mork and Mindy," and "Davis Rules," for witch he won an Emmy for his supporting role. He also won the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which ain't no small thang.
   Unlike those he influenced, like Robin Williams and Jim Carry, success as a television host or recurring lead, or as a lead actor in films, eluded him. I believe this is due to his physicality, being an average looking, slightly rotund man, but I may be wrong. My God, Don Knotts and John Candy had successful film careers. Perhaps it was due to the fact that his popularity was due to his improvisational style of ad lib comedy, which in itself does not lend itself to the job of leading man roles in TV and films. Take that away from him and Jonathan was like a fish out of water, not being able to sustain himself as well as Williams and Carry have managed.
   Some have said that he was more influential than successful (which is actually more appealing to me... as Aqualung once said, "I didn't mind if they groomed me for success, yuck!"), but Jonathan did alright for himself and Eileen, his two children, Jonathan Winters IV, of Camarillo, CA, known as Jay, a contractor, and his daughter Lucinda, of Santa Barbara, CA, a talent scout for films, and his many grandchildren. He lived in Montecito for Christ's Sake! That's where Oprah lives.
   And that's where I saw him one time. I don't remember why I was there. I was living in nearby Carpinteria, but I did see him buying a bottle of wine in a grocery store in Montecito. He looked good and well.
   That was the last time I saw him. The first was on my turf, in North Hollywood, CA, at a location shoot for "The Andy Griffith Show," at a Little League baseball playing field when I was just a lad. I assume he was a guest on the show although it's not listed on his IMDB credits, but I believe he addressed the crowd at one point over a PA system. I don't remember why.
   After voicing Grandpa Smurf on "The Smurfs" (1986–89) and Papa Smurf in "The Smurfs" (2011 film), Jonathan's final feature film was "The Smurfs 2," this year, and which will be dedicated in his memory.
   He has his very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood. It's located at 6290 Hollywood Blvd., right at the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine... where the hippies live.
   Robin Williams took the news of Jonathan's death hard and is currently on a mad drunken binge, but before he got started he managed to post this: "First he was my idol, then he was my mentor and amazing friend. I'll miss him huge. He was my Comedy Buddha. Long live the Buddha."

On the Jack Paar Show

   Thanks goes to William Grimes of the New York Times, Wikipedia, the IMDB, the Internet, and the elves for source material.

No comments:

Post a Comment