CHICAGO—One of Chicago's biggest stars and legendary entertainers is celebrating 50 years in show business. As WGN Entertainment reporter Dean Richards reports, at age 82, "Chicago's Very Own" Bob Newhart may be better than ever!
"Thank you- Thank you very much." It's old home week for Bob Newhart, performing this night for a sold out crowd at the Chicago Theatre. "You can't imagine what its like walking on stage." His wife Ginnie told us he doesn't get too "up tight" anymore, except for this night. "I was nervous for him because this is like a big dream for him." Fellow Chicago comedian Jeff Garlin had never met Bob Newhart, and was downright giddy! "I'm talking to Bob Newhart. That's unbelievable. It's Bob Newhart." Bob Newhart came to Chicago for three days of non-stop adoration. "Welcome to Loyola." He was interviewed by students at Loyola's downtown campus where he earned an accounting degree and attended law school. The entire student body at St. Ignatius went wild when their most famous alum joined their homecoming rally. "Today, I'm honored to introduce Mr. Bob Newhart," and Illinois Broadcasters Association President Dennis Lyle welcomed Newhart into their Hall of Fame. "He is just a genuine talented comedic genius he really is." While best known for his hit sit-coms in the 70's and 80's, Bob's star was born in the late 50's at the very first Chicago Emmy awards. Newhart told a few jokes. And with the help of top T.V. anchorman Alex Dreier and radio friends Dan Sorkin and Wally Phillips, he landed a Warner Brothers deal for a comedy album. Newhart says his first attempt at recording it before a live audience, failed! "And we have a drunken woman in the front row. And I start doing the routine and she says, "That's a bunch of crap. That's a bunch of crap. She said it all the way through. She was clearer than I was." The album, "The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart" was successfully recorded the next night and instantly went to number one on the Billboard chart. It won Grammys in 1960 for best new artist and album of the year. "Usually you spend ten to twenty years in the trenches and say boy if I ever hit it, this is what I'm gonna do. I didn't have that opportunity. I was all of a sudden it was how many Sullivan shows you want to do?" Much of his material came from his west side roots... and from his many jobs *before show biz. This comedy bit is from a performance in Pasadena, California in 1995. "I was once worked for the Illinois State Unemployment Compensation Board. And we got $60 a week and the claimants at that time got $55. And they only had to come in one day a week." His most famous bits involve one-sided phone conversations and have stood the test of time...- like this call between Abe Lincoln and a P.R. executive. "You changed four score and seven to '87. I understand it means the same thing Abe. See that's meant to be a grabber Abe. We test marketed that in Erie Abe and they flipped over it." There's his world famous driving instructor. "DON'T DON'T PULL OUT!!! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to shout at you Miss Webb. Just there was a cement truck." And of course his submarine commander, "Some of you know these routines by heart. But, it throws me off to watch your lips move along with mine as I'm doing it." Maureen Schulman is a Newhart superfan and owns most of Newhart's comedy albums. "He's just hysterical and he makes ordinary things seem really funny so that attracted me to it." Back on stage at the Chicago Theatre Bob says, "I think it's great to come back to Chicago." Now, 50 years later, those bits are still getting big laughs. And he hasn't forgotten those friends from the Austin neighborhood like Joseph O'Brien. "We were on the same corner. Everybody in the city has a corner and our corner was Austin and Madison." And his college friend Jim Sheeran who came to the show. "We spent about 5 years together at Loyola and he's the same guy today as he was then just a wonderful guy." He's also inspired today's top comedians. In fact Jeff Garlin says he might have quit the business if not for something Bob Newhart said on C-SPAN. "Years ago I was having some trouble with my act and audiences and I thought about quitting. And he said if you're funny, you have a responsibility to perform and make people laugh and I didn't quit because of that." Bob's sister Ginny who lives in Naperville has always looked up to her big brother. "He's kept his head on straight. That's not easy to do in the business that he's in." Deans asks Bob, "how do you hope people will remember Bob Newhart? "On the tombstone I think I'd like to have, "that's the way you do it, right?"
Newhart's comedy record, "The Button Down mind of Bob Newhart" is in the Library of Congress alongside Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech" and FDR's "Day that will live in infamy."
Click here for Bob's website. http://www.bobnewhart.com/