A few days ago, on The Facebook, a friend posed the question: Was there ever a sitcom greater than Cheers? Always free with my opinions, I answered: Newhart, and he commented: “Which one?”. He had a point. Bob Newhart starred as Chicago psychologist Dr. Robert Hartley in the brilliant The Bob Newhart Show during the 1970s and then as Vermont innkeeper Dick Loudon on the demented, surreal 1980s series Newhart; both shows are comedy classics.
George Robert Newhart, who celebrates his 89th birthday this week, is a stand-up comic and an actor, noted for his delicious deadpan and slightly stammering delivery. Newhart became famous in 1960 when his album of comedic monologues, The Button-Down Mind Of Bob Newhart, became a worldwide bestseller and reached Number One on the Billboard Pop album chart; it remains one of the bestselling comedy albums in history. The album is referenced in a major way on Amazon’s delightful, surprising The Marvelous Mrs. Maizel.
When I was growing up, all my friends parents all had a copy of the album, and so did mine. There were adult cocktail parties where the album would be played to rapt and attention punctuated by big laughs. I would sometimes be the bartender, and I knew at six-years-old that I was already sophisticated enough to get the humor, after all, I had my own copies of An Evening With Mike Nichols And Elaine May (1960) and 2000 Years With Carl Reiner And Mel Brooks (1961).
The follow-up album, The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back! (1961) was also a huge success, and the two albums held the Billboard Number One and Number Two spots simultaneously. Seven bestselling albums followed.
Newhart has been acting in films and television for an astonishing 50 years. He is a semi-regular on The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon as Professor Proton, for which he received his first Emmy Award in 2013, after seven nominations. In June 2015, Newhart appeared on the final episode of Hot In Cleveland, which marked a reunion with his one time co-star Betty White who had been a cast member during the second season of the short-lived sitcom Bob 23-years earlier. The finale ends with their characters getting married.
You can see his influence in the comedy of Lily Tomlin, Ellen DeGeneres, Judd Apatow and many others.