Bob Newhart's unique comedic style has crossed all generational lines through every medium of entertainment. From hitting the top of the record charts with his debut album in 1960 to lending his distinctive voice to a Disney animated film, to his three hit television series The Bob Newhart Show, Newhart and Bob, Bob Newhart is one of our country's finest comics. His seven comedy albums have sold more than 3 million copies. With his dry wit and wry smile, he continues to bring warmth and laughter to generations of fans.
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Who is perhaps the only man in the world to talk to himself on the phone without people looking at him strangely? Not only that, he has become a household name to two generations. You got it right if you said Bob Newhart. Known the world over for his two long running television shows, Bob's real start came in standup comedy, yes -- talking to himself on the telephone.
It began when Bob, after Army service, worked as an accountant and an advertising copywriter. He was also performing in a theatrical stock company (his real love) in his hometown, Chicago.
During this time, Bob and a friend at the ad agency, Ed Gallagher, used to amuse themselves by making long, antic phone calls to each other, which they recorded as audition tapes for comedy jobs. When Gallagher decided to drop out and opted, instead, for an advertising career, Bob simply "picked up the slack," as he puts it, and thus was born his famous one-man, two-way telephone conversations.
In 1959, he was introduced by a Chicago disc jockey to the head of talent at Warner Bros. Records, George Avakian, who immediately signed him to a contract. Thus was born "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart," which became the first comedy album to go to number 1 on the charts. He was an immediate sell out in comedy concerts, nightclubs and theater stages all over America.
Seven more albums followed, each extremely successful, selling in the millions. In fact, his album sales records, set in the 1960's, actually stood unbroken until 1993! (And typical of Bob, he didn't even know he had set the record for having the Number 1 and Number 2 albums for more than eight months, until someone accidentally told him the record had been broken.)
So the television networks, always in need of the biggest possible audiences, looked to Bob Newhart to supply them. But could he act? Until Bob's first series, comedians had been invited on television either to do their old nightclub routines on variety shows like "The Ed Sullivan Show" or, if given their own series, like Milton Berle, to do the routines they had done from burlesque days onward. Indeed, Bob's own first series was on NBC, a variety program called "The Bob Newhart Show." It was a prestigious hit, winning both an Emmy and the Peabody Award, perhaps the most coveted award in television.
Such was the skyrocketing popularity of Bob Newhart, actor and stand-up comedian, that he was also cast in a number of motion pictures, with some of the biggest film stars in Hollywood: "Hell Is For Heroes" with Steve McQueen, "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever" with Barbara Streisand, "Catch 22" with Jon Voigt, "Little Miss Marker" with Walter Matthau, "Hot Millions" with Peter Ustinov, "Cold Turkey" with Dick Van Dyke, "Thursday's Game" with Gene Wilder and "First Family" with Gilda Radner. So famous was his voice and style of delivery, that he was selected to become the cartoon voice of Bernard the Mouse in two films, "The Rescuers" and "The Rescuers Down Under."
"The Bob Newhart Show" debuted in 1972, on CBS, marking the beginning of a seven-year run. It co-starred Suzanne Pleshette as Bob's wife, Emily, and one of the finest casts of feature players on television, according to television critics and historians to this day. But by 1978, Bob felt it was time to move on to new projects.
He missed live, standup performances, for which he didn't have much time with the rigors of a weekly series and film roles during the hiatus months. He toured for nearly two years, when television got him back into a new series with a new format.
In 1982, he returned to CBS with "Newhart", playing a New York, do-it-yourself book author turned Vermont Innkeeper. Again, surrounded by an ensemble of quirky characters (another trademark of Bob Newhart's television career), ending only against the wishes of the network, but because Bob felt it was better to put the show to rest while it was at its peak. Television fans remember the final episode of "Newhart", in which he "awoke" in his old bedroom (from "The Bob Newhart Show") with his "wife", Suzanne Pleshette, next to him, proclaiming he had had the strangest dream! Critics and fans alike have called this the single best and most surprising episode in television comedy history.
Among Bob's favorite honors are his selection as Grand Marshall of the 102nd Tournament of Roses Parade, joining 101 other world famous leaders, stars and politicians and other world notables, and his induction into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 1993.
Bob and his wife, Virginia, live in Bel Air. They have four children, Rob, Tim, Jennifer and Courtney. An avid golfer, Bob spends as much time as he can on the links, but he has less and less hours for his sports pastime with his continuing tours of comedy concerts.
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