Bob Newhart, a Living Ledgend
OrganizerJuly 7, 2019 at 7:48 pm
Bob Newhart is an American actor and stand-up comedian. His comedic style involves deadpan delivery of dialogue, a slight stammer when talking, and comedic monologues. He has cited earlier comedians George Gobel (1919-1991), Ray Goulding (1920-1990), and Bob Elliott (1923-2016) as his main influences in developing his comedy style.
In 1929, Newhart was born in a hospital, located in Oak Park, Illinois. His parents were George David Newhart (1900-1985) and his wife Julia Pauline Burns (1900-1994). George was the son of an American father and a Canadian mother and had both German and Irish ancestry. He claimed maternal descent from the O’Conor family of Connacht. Julia was an Irish-American. George had partial ownership in a plumbing and heating-supply business, which was the main source of income for the Newhart family.
Bob Newhart was raised in the vicinity Chicago, and attended a number of local Roman Catholic schools: first the St. Catherine of Siena Grammar School in Oak Park, then St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago. He graduated the prep school (equivalent to a high school) in 1947 and then enrolled at the Loyola University Chicago. He graduated in 1952, with a bachelor’s degree in business management.
Shortly after graduating from the university, Newhart was drafted into the United States Army. He served as a personnel manager for the Army during the Korean War (1950-1953). He was honorably discharged in 1954, during the post-war demobilization of the American armed forces. He attempted to continue his studies and enrolled in the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. However, he never completed his degree, quitting a required internship because his employer had demanded “unethical” behavior from him.
Newhart briefly worked as an accountant for the USG Corporation (United States Gypsum Corporation), a Chicago-based company which manufactures construction materials. He quit after regularly facing trouble in “adjusting petty cash imbalances”. He then proceeded to work as a clerk for various employers, but found himself struggling financially.
In 1958, Newhart was hired as an advertising copywriter for a Chicago-based production company. To entertain himself, he started exchanging “long telephone calls about absurd scenarios” with a friendly co-worker. The 29-year-old Newhart had the idea to try his hand as a comedian and developed a comedy routine based on the telephone calls. He recorded his routine into audition tapes, and send them to radio stations. His routine was met favorably. In 1959, Newhart started performing as a stand-up comedian in nightclubs and signed a contract with a new record company which was seeking to recruit some talent. The company was Warner Bros. Records (established in 1958), a subsidiary of the film studio Warner Bros.
Newhart became famous primarily through his audio releases. His comedy album “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart” (1960) became the first comedy album to make number one on the Billboard charts and earned him the 1961 Grammy Award for Best New Artist.
This success opened to him new career opportunities, in television and film. NBC offered him his own variety television show, the short-lived “The Bob Newhart Show” (October 1961-June, 1962). The show won the 1962 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series but was canceled anyway. It had won the award while facing four other candidates: “The Andy Griffith Show”, “Car 54, Where Are You?”, “Hazel”, and “The Red Skelton Show”. Each of them managed to outlast the award-winning show.
In 1962, Newhart made his film debut in the war film “Hell Is for Heroes”. Newhart played the character James Driscoll, an Army company clerk who broadcasts misleading radio messages to the enemy lines during World War II. As essentially comic role in an otherwise dramatic film.
Newhart appeared frequently as a guest star in television over the subsequent years but had relatively few film roles. He appeared in the caper story “Hot Millions” (1968), the reincarnation-themed fantasy film “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” (1970), the war film “Catch-22” (1970), and the tobacco-smoking-themed satirical film “Cold Turkey” (1971).
From 1972 to 1978, Newhart starred in the hit sitcom “The Bob Newhart Show”. He played the character Robert “Bob” Hartley, Ph.D. (Newhart), a Chicago psychologist who is surrounded by eccentric patients, work colleagues, friends, and family members. Hartley was effectively the “straight man” to the wacky characters surrounding him.
In 1977, Newhart voiced Bernard, the male lead in the animated film “The Rescuers” (1977). The film features the Rescue Aid Society, an international mouse organization, with its headquarters located in New York City. Bernard is not initially one of its members but works as their janitor. When Miss Bianca, Hungary’s representative in the organization, has to choose a partner for her first field mission, she impulsively chooses Bernard over the other available agents. Part of the success of the film is based on the contrast between the two partners, the adventurous, brave, but rather an impulsive Bianca, and the overly cautious, shy, and reluctant hero Bernard. “The Rescuers” earned worldwide gross rentals of 48 million dollars at the box office during its initial release, and had a total lifetime worldwide gross of 169 million dollars through subsequent re-releases.
In 1980, Newhart appeared in two live-action films, the comedy-drama “Little Miss Marker”, and the political comedy “First Family”. The first features Newhart as a member of a gangster-run gambling operation. The gangsters are surprised when a client uses his 6-year-old daughter as collateral for a bet, and more surprised when the client commits suicide. The film deals with jaded criminals who develop parental feelings for the orphan girl. The other film was a more cynical comedy, with Newhart as an inept President of the United States. The main plot deals with President tolerating the kidnapping of American citizens by a fictional African country, because the country offers some valuable resources in exchange for their new American slaves.
From 1982 to 1990, Newhart starred in a second hit sitcom, called simply “Newhart”. He played the character Dick Loudon, a Vermont-based innkeeper who finds himself surrounded by strange employees, neighbors, and competitors. The show had a famous ending where the entire series is “revealed” to be a dream of Robert Hartley, Newhart’s character from his first sitcom.
In 1990, Newhart returned to the role of Bernard, in the sequel film “The Rescuers Down Under”. Early in the film, Bernard is preparing a marriage proposal for Miss Bianca, but his plans are derailed when they are both sent to Australia for an urgent mission. The duo is partnered with Australian agent Jake, and Bernard is frustrated with when Jake competes with him for Bianca’s affections. At the end of the mission, Bernard finally makes his marriage proposal, unwilling to let orders for further missions to interfere with his plans to marry the woman he loves. The film only earned 47.4 million dollars at the worldwide box office and became Walt Disney Animation Studio’s least successful theatrical animated film of the 1990s.
From 1992 to 1993, Newhart starred in his third sitcom, called simply “Bob”. He played the character Bob McKay, a veteran comic book writer, and artist from the 1950s. Having long retired into obscurity, McKay is hired by a corporation to produce a revival of his classic character, the superhero “Mad-Dog”. The first season introduced a large cast of eccentric co-workers. The second season dismissed most of these characters and had McKay serving as the President of a company producing greeting cards. The series suffered from low ratings and was canceled at the end of its second season. Only 33 episodes were produced.
From 1997 to 1998, Newhart starred in his fourth sitcom “George & Leo”. He played the character George Stoody, a bookstore owner who finds himself offering hospitality to a professional magician and part-time criminal, who recently robbed a Mafia-owned casino. The humor was based on the strong contrast between the two men, but the series failed to find an audience.
Newhart returned to theatrical films with the romantic comedy “In & Out” (1997). He had roles in the animated film “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie” (1998), the comedy “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde” (2003), and the Christmas film “Elf” (2003). From 2004 to 2008, Newhart played the major character Judson in three television films of “The Librarian” fantasy franchise. The franchise features a mystical library, which hides numerous magical and technological artifacts from various historical eras. A series of librarians have to guard the library and its contents from criminal organizations with sinister designs. Judson is the mentor who trains the current librarian after the previous one was killed in action. The series hinted that Judson was older than he looked, and he was eventually revealed to be the original librarian. He was nearly immortal and had trained succeeding librarians for centuries.
In 2011, Newhart played a small role in the black comedy “Horrible Bosses”, playing the character of sadistic CEO Louis Sherman. Sherman is described as a “Twisted Old Fuck”, who keeps people locked in his trunk.
In 2013, Newhart started playing the recurring character Arthur Jeffries (stage name “Professor Proton”) in the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” (2007-). Arthur was a scientist who decades ago served as the host of a science show aimed at children, inspiring series co-protagonists Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper to start science careers of their own. Leonard and Sheldon, now professional physicists with academic careers, eventually get to meet their childhood idol. Arthur’s scientific career ended in disgrace, his television days are long over, and he has been reduced to earning a meager living as a party entertainer.
The role of Arthur Jeffries won Newhart his first Primetime Emmy Award. The character dynamic between Arthur and Sheldon was popular, as Sheldon continued to idolize Arthur, while Arthur found his “student” to be insufferable. Following the character’s physical death, Newhart has continued to appear in the series as Arthur Jeffries’ ghost. He appears to Sheldon at various points to offer him advice, serving as a mentor figure. Sheldon views Arthur as his version of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
By 2018, Newhart was 89-years-old. Yet he continues tirelessly appearing in more television projects. And he continues to entertain new generations of fans.
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