April 12, 2013

Goodbye to Jonathan Winters.

"Mr. Winters did much of his best work in nightclubs, but he hated life on the road. In 1959 he suffered a nervous breakdown onstage at the Hungry I in San Francisco and briefly spent time in a mental hospital. Two years later he suffered another collapse, and soon after that he quit nightclubs for good. Between 1960 and 1964 he recorded his most-requested monologues for Verve on a series of albums, notably 'The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters,' 'Here’s Jonathan' and 'Jonathan Winters: Down to Earth.'"

I remember seeing these albums in my parents record collection — in there with all the Julie London and Ray Coniff Singers — and I don't remember any other comedy albums. I remember trying to grasp the idea of a "nervous breakdown" and the relationship between comedy and inner pain.

Here are  "The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters,” “Here’s Jonathan” and "Jonathan Winters: Down to Earth."

Jonathan Winters was  — as I understood it, possibly wrongly — the greatest of all comic geniuses, but we only ever got to see a small part of what he might have done, and the greatness and the denial of the whole were part of a single phenomenon, something about his mind. From the first link:
“Mother and dad didn’t understand me; I didn’t understand them,” he told Jim Lehrer on “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer” in 1999. “So consequently it was a strange kind of arrangement.” Alone in his room, he would create characters and interview himself.

The family’s fortunes collapsed with the Depression. The Winters National Bank failed, and Jonathan’s parents divorced. His mother took him to Springfield, where she did factory work but eventually became the host of a women’s program on a local radio station. Her son continued talking to himself and developed a repertory of strange sound effects.
He studied art and married an art student when he was 23. They were married for 60 years, until she died. His entry into show business came at the urging of his wife, who pushed him to enter a talent contest, which he won and which led to a morning radio show, on which he created characters and interviewed himself.

45 comments:

President-Mom-Jeans said...

How dare you bring up his mental problems?

You are worse than that mean old McConnell and that poor victimized Judd.

Ugly Ann, ugly.

SteveR said...

I can't possibly claim he was the "greatest" or "best" comedian but he was damn funny. I remember, as a preteen, his appearances on the Dean Martin Show in particular.

rehajm said...

His rapid wit would beat Robin Williams' in a foot race any day.

madAsHell said...

until she did

...until she did....what??

Typo or spelling error? I don't care.

Consider it a compliment that so many appreciate every little word you post!!

DADvocate said...

The great Jonathon Winters when Jimmy Durante kicked the bucket.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h57UR-oIE_g

You can argue about who's the greatest, funniest, etc. But, Winters always belongs in the conversation. God bless.

LarsPorsena said...

"..Jonathan Winters was — as I understood it, possibly wrongly — the greatest of all comic geniuses.."

Yep, he was incredible. Just thinking about him brings a smile to my face.

bagoh20 said...

Our house, being low brow had "Rusty Warren: Knockers Up!" - 1960, which my parents listened to, and I didn't understand.

Then we got Bill Cosby "Wonderfulness" - 1965, which my friends and I used the cover photo of as inspiration to build a go cart, which led to much pain and bleeding among us. We all loved the Cosby record, and his next one too "Revenge" -1966. We would listen over and over.

Then a little older we got into the Cheech and Chong records and thus moved into the high-brow era.

CWJ said...

rehajm,

Pretty much my thought as well. I love them both, and consider Robin Williams something of a direct descendant of Winters. I wonder if Williams has ever acknowledged the debt he owes Winters or noticed the similarity?

BTW, my parents also had "The buttoned down mind of Bob Newhart", and a Shelley Berman album the name of which escapes me. Both wonderful.

bagoh20 said...

So my childhood was immersed in diversity: Ginger, Black, Latino, Chinese. Then I went to school and found out I was a racists and didn't like other people. I never recovered, and I am still a racist, but I'm taking medication for it.

I Callahan said...

We all loved the Cosby record, and his next one too "Revenge" -1966.

Oh Junior Barnes!! You Gunky!!

madAsHell said...

Years ago, after I learned of his mental health issues, I always wondered if we were laughing at him, or with him.

I always hoped it was the latter.

I Callahan said...

but I'm taking medication for it.

Don't let New York's gun board know about this. They'll come and take them from you.

CWJ said...

Bagoh20,

My folks also had Rusty Warren "Knockers Up," and "Wonderfulness" was the first comedy album I bought on my own.

LarsPorsena said...

This best represents what he was capable of ..
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwWDa1xPTPA

Inga said...

PMJ.

Speaking of insanity, what drives a creature like him?

Crazy, simply nuts, but not as entertaining as Winters by a long shot.

Titus said...

I remember him as Mork's baby.

CWJ said...

Titus, if Winters played Mork's baby, that pretty much nails down acknowledgement of the Winters-Williams comic patrimony.

Robert Cook said...

"His rapid wit would beat Robin Williams' in a foot race any day."

"I wonder if Williams has ever acknowledged the debt he owes Winters or noticed the similarity?"


Yes, Robin Williams has acknowledged Winters as a brilliant predecessor and inspiration, and himself a great fan of Winters. As noted, they worked together early in Williams' career and later in Winters'.

Jeff Teal said...

I remember that Robi Williams especially wanted Jonathan to play thepart .JW, Red Skelton , Bill Dana, Bill Cosby,Bob Hope and so many more made my youth so bearable.But so many pay the price for their genius.

Seeing Red said...

No one could touch Winters in wit & response. Not even Williams.

sydney said...

Jonathon Winters and Robin Williams riffing together. They play off each other beautifully.

Astro said...

He was brilliant in 'Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World'.


@ madashell ... Did?? I'm guessing 'Died'. A typo. '...married 60 years, until she died.'

Temujin said...

One of the all-time greats, period. Along with Sid Caesar, maybe the two best-ever- at improve.

Rusty said...

SteveR said...
I can't possibly claim he was the "greatest" or "best" comedian but he was damn funny.

Naw. He was pretty much wet your pants laughing funny. Not a lot of comedians can do that.

GrandpaMark said...

Rusty Warren?" It's part of my body and I will wash it as fast as I want"

Red Fox "We know what you are, now we're just haggling over the price"

Richard Pryor'The waters cold"
"yeah, and it's deep too"

Bob Newhart "Don't fffence me in"

Robin Williams(as Elmer Fudd) "..when you kiss me-

Slappy White? "...one o'clock, no cuckoo .....2 o'clock, still no cuckoo.....3 o'clock, cuckoo comes out...'Say, Baby, What time is it?'"

Cheech and Chong "Who is it?"
"Dave"
"Dave's not here"



SteveR said...

Naw. He was pretty much wet your pants laughing funny. Not a lot of comedians can do that

He was just a bit before my time to say with first hand experience but I'm very open to the judgement of others on the matter

edutcher said...

Never a big fan of his, but he had a nice turn in "Moon Over Parador".

PS I had all of Cosby's albums on Warners, but his first 4, the last of which was "Wonderfulness" were his best.

William said...

He was the comedian that the comedians of his era considered the most inventive and original. What was truly unique about his comedy was that for the most part it was apolitical. I think he did Nixon a few times, but his jokes were not generally directed against Republicans. That's what made his talent so original. He could find things other than Repblicans to make fun of.

Ann Althouse said...

"...until she did....what?? Typo or spelling error? I don't care."

Oh, no!

Until she died.

madAsHell said...

Did?? I'm guessing 'Died'. A typo.

Yes, I know.

I think my spelling nazi irritated our hostess a couple of weeks ago. There was even a thread discussing typos, and spelling errors.

I should just smile, and move along.

ndspinelli said...

A comedic genius. I have an aunt who suffered from schizophrenia and was helped immensely @ the Institute of Living in Hartford, Ct. This great improv comedian was also treated @ The Institute of Living and credits it w/ saving his life decades back.

ndspinelli said...

Robin Williams is the first to admit he is a student of Winters and Winters is the master. I saw both of them on Letterman once and Williams was humble and deferential to Winters, and Winters was uncomfortable w/ the praise.

Brent said...

One of his characters was Piggy Bladder, football coach for the State Teachers’ Animal Husbandry Institute for the Blind.

Read that out loud. Go ahead. I dare ya.

Sam L. said...

I remember lieing on the floor watching Godfrey Cambridge on the Jack Paar show, and laughing so hard my cheeks and abdominal muscles hurt.

Winters was amazing.

Michael K said...

He was a neighbor of a friend of mine who lived in Bel Air about 25 years ago. He came to a party one night and was a thoroughly nice guy. Lots of comedians are weird in person but he wasn't.

ken in sc said...

Jack Parr, the water closet joke, I remember it. I was just a kid. My mom worked until 10. I could stay up until she came home.

ken in sc said...

Yes, I remember Jonathan Winters well. He deserves being remembered well.

phx said...

I thought he was a wonderful cop in The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

"We've got to get organized!"

SteveBrooklineMA said...

I know him best from the Twilight Zone: A Game of Pool.

I thought he was very, very good in a purely dramatic role.

edutcher said...

Not on the same radar as Jonathan Winters, but, if you remember the Jackie Kennedy White House, you'll hear a bell ring at the mention of Maria Tallchief, who also died today.

Courtesy of our own Irene.

They're really going in bunches now, aren't they?

Bob R said...

Like Althouse, I had always HEARD that Winters was a great comic genius - from other comics. I found the stuff I could see on TV to be funny, but a little tame. When you are depending on a Dean Martin special for "the good stuff" that's a stretch.

furious_a said...

Mr. Winters made even watching commercials fun. RIP.

caplight45 said...

I remember watching him on the Jack Parr Tonight Show with my Dad laughing so you couldn't hear the TV.

Jonathan Winters was the precursor to Robin Williams.

caplight45 said...

Sorry Nick, didn't see your post till after I posted mine. You got it right.

traditionalguy said...

Peculiar people easily identified with Winter's adept mind and verbal artistry. He connected to some at a deep level but only seemed silly to many others...and he seemed to understood that.