Funny Man (Woman, Child)
April 11, 2013: The world loses a great improvisational comedian. Jonathan Harshman Winters III was born in Bellbrook, Ohio on November 11, 1925. His family was relatively wealthy when he was born. Valentine Winters founded Winters National Bank and his grandfather ran it. The bank collapsed during the Great Depression and was sold and is now part of JPMorgan Chase. When Jonathan was seven, his parents divorced and he his mother sent him to Springfield, Ohio to live with her mother. He spent much of his time playing alone in his room where he entertained himself by making strange sound effects which would later become an integral part of his stage presence. He quit high school to join the US Marine Corps during World War II and served two and a half years in the Pacific Theater. He came home and enrolled in college. He married Eileen Schauder on September 11, 1948.
Jonathon lost his watch and couldn’t afford to buy another one. His wife saw a promotion for a talent contest and the first prize was a watch so she told her husband to “go down and win it.” She was confident he would win; he did. This win led to a disk jockey job where his sole task was to introduce songs and give weather reports. His ad libs, sound effects, and effervescent personality took over the show. He was becoming a comedian. He performed as Johnny Winters for two and a half years at WBNS-TV and quit in 1953 when they would not give him a requested $5 raise. He promised his wife he would return to Dayton, Ohio in a year if he didn’t make it in New York City and he got his first national TV performance in 1954 on Chance of a Lifetime.
In 1956, he made TV history when RCA broadcast the first public demonstration of color videotape on The Jonathan Winters Show. He was able to appear as two characters bantering back and forth and created the “video stunt”. During this time he invented some of his most memorable personalities. Maude Frickert was a seemingly sweet old lady but her barbed wit was often a counterpoint to her gray hair and apron. He also used his sound effects talent to impersonate famous people and went so far as to prank Jack Paar, pretending to be US President Kennedy.
He recorded several iconic comedy albums as well as some serious reading of literature. All this did not keep him from acting and he was in more than 50 movies as well as all his television appearances. He had two roles in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and would entertain the other actors for hours as they waited between scenes. He continued working for both the large and small screen and was awarded many times for his performances. In 2004 he was placed at #18 for Comedy Central’s list of the 100 greatest stand-ups of all time. He died of natural causes on this day at the age of 87.
I couldn’t wait for success, so I went ahead without it.
Well, the most terrible fear that anybody should have is not war, is not a disease, not cancer or heart problems or food poisoning – it’s a man or a woman without a sense of humor.
Something I’ll always remember – when I was a kid, I shook hands with Orville Wright. Forty years later, I shook hands with Neil Armstrong. The guy that invented the airplane and the guy that walked on the moon. In a lifetime, that’s kinda wild when you think about it.
I’ve done for the most part pretty much what I intended – I ended up doing comedy, writing and painting. I’ve had a ball. And as I get older, I just become an older kid. – all from Jonathan Winters
First he was my idol, then he was my mentor and amazing friend. I’ll miss him huge. He was my Comedy Buddha. Long live the Buddha. – Robin Williams
Also on this day: Coming to America – In 1890, Ellis Island becomes the national immigration center.
Civil Rights Act – In 1968, President Johnson signed the bill into law.
Elks – In 1876, the Elks were organized.
Joe, Not John – In 1890, the Elephant Man died.