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Grammy Museum Opens Comedian Series with Bob Newhart

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Wednesday, March 10, 2010, at 06:04PM
Hi Bob Ed Fuentes

On Tuesday evening, Bob Newhart became the first comedian to be featured in the Grammy Museum's "An Evening With . . ." series.

Displaying his trademark stammer -- more comedian's timing device than personal quirk -- Bob Newhart played the Grammy Museum Sound Stage on Tuesday evening, partly to honor his 50th Anniversary as a performer, but mostly to just have a few laughs.

It would be close to impossible to find a better choice for the first comedian to be interviewed in the museum's comedy series, reasoned Bob Santelli, the museum's Executive Director and the evening's moderator.

Early in his career, Newhart found himself with the chance to record a live album--despite never having worked a night club stage before, he recalled. Warner Bros found a venue and set up equipment to record his first shows; one the first evening, then two the next day. On the first night, the comedian was stuck with a drunk heckler repeating her one line review of his act, all during his act. It almost inspired a title. “We thought of naming the album ‘You’re full of crap,’” said Newhart.

Instead, the album was named "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart” and it won Album of the Year in 1960. That same year, he was awarded Best New Artist, and his second release, “Button-Down Mind Strikes Back,” won Best Comedy Performance - Spoken Word.

That launched a long career of performing live and guesting on variety shows and films. After his own brief variety show on NBC that, according to Newhart, "won a Peabody, an Emmy Nomination, and a pink slip,” he began the role he may be best known for; Dr. Bob Hartley on “The Bob Newhart show” (1972-1978).

Then he played Dick Loudon in “Newhart” (1982-1990), a series with a finale that is considered television lore. The final episode closed with Newhart waking up as Dr. Bob Hartley to tell his wife, Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) about his bad dream: “I was an innkeeper in this crazy little town in Vermont.”

Recalling the campaign it took to keep the ending a secret from the tabloids, Newhart added that during the final taping the audience caught on as soon as the lights came on. “They started applauding the set,” he said.

Newhart offered some personal artifacts to the Grammy Museum archives. A copy of "Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart," a telephone prop, a script from his two television series and a beige sweater that Newhart joked could have been from either show.

During a question-and-answer segment, Newhart was asked what it would take to have him host the Oscars. “A gun,” he quipped, adding how difficult a show that is, having to play to a live industry audience and a television audience.

Newhart also made time to point out two members of the audience: actor Jack Riley, who played Elliot Carlin in The Bob Newhart Show, and actor John Voldstad, who was the silent blond backwoodsman known as “Second Darryl” in “Newhart."

He ended the night with a brief set, revisiting his bit with a Submarine Commander meeting troops who are planning a mutiny. At one point, the comedian did a quick take to the side as if in a conversation with an unseen messenger. It was a very subtle moment that showed the title of comedian is as deceptive as his stutter. Newhart is really an minimalist actor, writing his character in the best traditions of one-man theater.


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