There is no other comedian that rivals Bob Newhart. He got his start as a stand-up in the ‘60s and made history when his debut album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, became the first comedy album to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts. It also won for Album of the Year at the 1961 Grammy Awards, as did Bob Newhart himself, when he was named Best New Artist.
“I was an accountant and I’d watch the ‘Sullivan Show,’” Bob Newhart shared with AXS during the special April 26 event held in his honor at The Paley Center in Beverly Hills. “I’d watch, especially for the comedians. I wouldn’t as much laugh as I would study them. And wonder, ‘Oh, I see what he did.’ I kind of went to school on comedians on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and I learned from the good ones.”
As Newhart attributes his start in comedy to the greats who came before him, there are plenty out there now who have the legendary comedian to thank for their own career. Some of which are his former cast members. In his long list of credits spanning 60 years, one of his most iconic roles was playing Dick Loudon on the show “Newhart.” The series ran from 1982-1990 and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award just about every year it was on the air.
On April 26, The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills welcomed some of the “Newhart” cast members to honor their funny and fearless leader, in front of a room full of fans, family and longtime friends. Julia Duffy, who starred alongside Newhart as Stephanie Vanderkellen on the show, tells AXS that those years spent on the set felt like a party every day. “Being around his timing was fantastic,” Duffy said of Newhart. “He didn’t give advice much at all but when he had an idea or said something then I really listened; because he really didn’t do that all the time. We made each other laugh very hard.”
Laughter was a key element to the success of the show and, as Newhart explained, it wasn’t just a way to build a camaraderie between the actors. The fact that they taped in front of a live studio audience was an essential part of figuring out which jokes worked and which ones didn’t; like in the case of Larry, his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl.
William Sanderson, who played Larry, was on hand at the event and praised Bob Newhart for being such an eloquent storyteller. “There are so many lessons he taught me,” Sanderson said. “The way he treated the crew; they had great mutual respect. The biggest lesson I learned during my time on the show is about the power of comedy. You can take an egocentric person, and if you can make them laugh, it changes them.”
Throughout the many changes over the years, in television and in comedy, one thing that remains the same is the unmistakable style of Bob Newhart. Known for his stammering delivery and his wry sense of humor, his sheer talent and authenticity have seen him through so many groundbreaking achievements. Some of which include: a variety show, four television series, nearly 90 occasions as guest host of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” a Grammy, an Emmy, a Golden Globe and countless other appearances in popular movies and TV shows.
While the legendary comedian assured AXS there would be no “Newhart” revival, especially considering the passing of two main cast members, Tom Poston and Mary Frann, he did ponder where he would envision his character today. “A very old man,” he joked.
After the red carpet, Bob Newhart joined Entertainment Weekly’s Lynette Rice on stage, along with Julia Duffy and William Sanderson. Although Peter Scolari was unable to attend, he sent a heartfelt (and hilarious) message via video with warm regards.
The rest of the evening was highlighted with scenes from the series, which were personally selected by Mr. Bob Newhart, and pulled from the renowned Paley Archive. Conversations on stage illuminated more about the beginning of “Newhart” coming off of a successful run from its predecessor “The Bob Newhart Show” (where he starred alongside Suzanne Pleshette) to the iconic ending of the famed “Newhart” series. To this day, it is considered to be one of the greatest finales in sitcom television history. Bob Newhart credits his wife, Ginny, for coming up with the idea.
“They pulled the floater away and revealed the bedroom set from ‘The Bob Newhart Show’ and the audience began to applaud,” the comedian recalled. “They were applauding the bedroom set. They didn’t know Suzie [Pleshette] was in bed or I was in bed. I always thought of it as a ‘Monty Python’ kind of moment. We knew the audience, they knew us. It was kind of a ‘wink wink, nudge nudge,’ and that’s how people took it.”
Bob Newhart closed out the night, sharing one more special memory with the crowd; one which involved his best friend, and fellow comedy legend, Don Rickles, who sadly passed away just last year. In the audience was his wife, Barbara Rickles. Also in attendance was Dick Martin’s wife, Dolly. Dick Martin directed 33 episodes of “Newhart” and is, of course, known for “Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.” Mr. Newhart then recognized others sitting among the crowd, calling out to Steve Lawrence (of Steve and Eydie), the original “Hollywood Squares” host Peter Marshall and “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek.
In Bob Newhart’s own words, "We had a great time. It was wonderful. It’s cliché to say it but it was a family.”
For those who didn’t get to see “Newhart” the first time around, you can catch the complete first season, which is now available to stream on Hulu.