Most comedians are misfits. While growing up they are usually rebels or social outcasts of one kind or another... Not so with Bob Newhart. His early year appear, at least on the surface, to be full of the same experiences as those of any ordinary middle-class fellow. By his late twenties it might have seemed a safe bet that Newhart had finally settled down to a humdrum life as an accountant with a Chicago firm...Sorensen, page 15:
Not even Newhart understands why he didn't fit into the mold of most of his contemporaries [among comedians]. "Sometimes I wonder how I ever got to be a comic," says Newhart. "I didn't come from a broken home... I wasn't an odd-looking kid that everybody made fun of, so I'm not battling ridicule directed at me back at others in self-defense--which is usually the way a comic gets would up."
Bob Newhart was born on September 5, 1929, and he was christened George Robert Newhart. (His father was also named George, so in order to avoid confusion at home, the boy was always called Bob.) Bob has three sisters--Virginia, Mary Joan and Pauline; Mary Joan is a nun who has taught at a Chicago high school. His father was part-owner of a plumbing and heating-supply business. Bob's mother, Pauline, was a housewife. He grew up in this fairly typical middle-American family, and they lived on the far West Side of Chicago. Bob describes his family as warm and close-knit and says his childhood was "neither more nor less hilarious than anyone else's."
[page 12] Jack Spatafora, who knew Bob Newhart well throughout the 1950s, says, "Yes, Bob came from a very atypical background for a comedian--a quiet, middle-class, Irish-Catholic family in the suburban areas of Chicago. . . . Bob's life was always fairly comfortable, never rich or anything, but he never had to go through any real suffering. So as a result his humor is much gentler, much less angry and less full of a sense of being out to change the world than many of the other comedians."
Newhart was educated at Catholic schools in the Chicago area, and this background played an important role in forming his character. His early schooling was fairly strict and rigid--even holding hands with a girl in public was considered a little risque. ("I'm just now getting out of that guilt bag," explains Newhart.) So it's not surprising that Bob developed into a polite, well-behaved young man. He was not one to be found pulling pranks or telling dirty stories.
Says Jack White, who first met Newhart when they were about twelve years old, "We both went to St. Catherine's Grammar School, St. Ignatius High School, and Loyola University. . . . There weren't too many fellows from our neighborhood who traveled to the center of the city to go to St. Ignatius, and that's how I got to know him--we both went back and forth on the streetcars."
After graduating from St. Ignatius High School [a Catholic high school] in 1947, Newhart enrolled in classes at Loyola University in Chicago [a Catholic university]. He majored in accounting, and when he received his diploma in 1952, he was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Science in commerce.Sorensen, page 30:
Not everybody recognized Newhart's talents as quickly as Sorkin, Hogan, and Quinlain had. Spatafora remembers one of the first evenings on which Newhart tried out his routines. "Before Bob did his first record he wasn't beg enough to get into the important nightclubs. He tried out bits and pieces of some of his monologues at parties and on those tapes with Ed Gallagher. . . . He also tried out some of his early stuff at local amateur performances, like at some of the local churches. I recall going to one of those performances at a church, and Bob did some funny, funny stuff--but it was all in Bob's usual droll, straight-faced style. I remember the audience just sort of sat on their hands because they didn't quite understand it. They were waiting for balloons to burst or pratfalls to happen. And Bob just didn't do those things. He was a little ahead of the local Chicago market."Sorensen, page 48:
Suddenly, with the success of his first album [Button-Down Mind], Newhart's whole way of life had become very different. Here he had been an unassuming, cola-drinking, church-going young accountant, just a face in the crowd, and now big-time Hollywood agents were courting his favors. Newspaper columnists were trying to figure out how to label him. His salary jumped from $200 to $5,000 a week. It was almost enough to make his head spin.Sorensen, page 55:
"Everything happened too quickly," Newhart says. "Every month it was something new. I was on 'The Garry Moore Show.' I was on 'The Ted Sullivan Show.' If I turned or shut my eye for a moment, my salary soared."
...Yet in spite of all his strange new experiences and feelings, Newhart managed to handle his newfound status very well. He didn't allow becoming a celebrity to change his level-headed approach to life. Perhaps this was due to his solid upbringing. Or because he didn't become famous until he was over thirty and mature enough to deal with success. At any rate, he never became another burned-out remnant of the sixties the way so many other entertainers did.
By early 1961 Newhart had become the most talked-about comedian in the country. If there were still doubts about his new status, they were certainly dismissed when the Grammy awards for 1960 were handed out. The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart was given the award for being the "album of the year," The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back was given the Grammy for "best comedy performance," and Newhart was voted the "best new artist of the year."Bob Newhart was already a successful comedian when he met Virginia Quinn in 1961. He was so successful, in fact, that he had little time for dating and rarely met marriageable women, although he was interested in marriage. Buddy Hackett introduced him to the woman who would become his wife. Sorensen, page 74:
Bob and Ginny soon decided... that they appreciated each other too much to let each other go. They found that they had many qualities in common and that they also complimented each other in many important ways... But, Ginny admits, she had her doubts about the relationship right up until their marriage in 1963. "Bob was always so sure, but when I walked down the aisle at St. Victor's Church I was so nervous that my veil was shaking. My father whispered, 'Sweetheart, I can still get you out of this.' But I've never regretted our marriage one minute, not even when I blast out Bob's closet, or he teases me about what he calls my Planned Activity Time--or when he complains that the house is so neat it looks as though we're expecting real estate brokers to come through."Sorensen, pages 76-77:
Those who know the Newharts say that their marriage seems to be a very good one. Suzanne Pleshette [Newhart's co-star on his sitcom] says that 'Ginny is so right for Bob. What they both are today is the result . . . of years of loving and living, and many of his attractive qualities are those that have flowered in his marriage to Ginny."Sorensen, page 78:
And Mary Tyler Moore says, "I have often seen Bob and Ginny on the tennis courts at the club we all belong too--and, you know, you can't help liking a man who so obviously loves his wife."
Soon after their marriage, Bob and Ginny bought a lovely house in Beverly Hills, where they planned to begin raising a family. They've since had four children--Robert, twenty-four; Timothy, twenty-one; Jennifer, seventeen; and Courtney, ten. Because Bob and Ginny each grew up in strict Catholic households, they have brought up their children as Catholics, too--but with a difference. "We don't want the children to have the fears that were instilled in us," explains Ginny.
The Newhart household has always been very child-centered, with toys scattered around, pets in evidence, and a playhouse built next to the paddleball court.
Ginny describes Bob as a devoted father, although she admits that "at first Bob couldn't bring himself to discipline the children. And in those days he was away so much on club dates that I finally had to explain that I needed his help when he was home. . . . Later, he was fine with the boys, but I have to face it, he'll never discipline Jennifer or Courtney. . . . When somebody once asked him how he'll react when her [Jennifer's] boy friends start coming around, he said, 'Jennifer is going to be a wealthy spinster.'"
...The Newharts have never gone in for much socializing, though they do attend an occasional Hollywood function. They tend to prefer a small group of friends they are very familiar with. Bob especially enjoys the company of other comedians, such as Dick Martin, Buddy Hackett, and Don Rickles.
"I love the guy," says [Don] Rickles [who is Bob Newhart's best friend]. "He's Mr. America in a crowd. Charlie Everybody, the American flag with a ribbon tied around him. Not Jewish, not Italian. I'm different. I don't live and relive everything I do onstage. I come from a Jewish family where men kissed. Shook up Bob. I remember the first time I embraced him. It was like holding on to an ice cake."