The Untold Truth Of Bob Newhart

Bob Newhart has been one of the most beloved comedians in America since he launched his career in the 1960s, making a name for himself with his unique stammering style.

The iconic comic was born in 1929 and grew up during the Great Depression in Illinois. As he shared in his autobiography "I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This," Newhart was raised Catholic alongside his three sisters and named after his father George, although he always went by his middle name, Robert. George had worked for a plumbing contractor before losing his job in the economic turmoil of the 1930s, when he stopped driving his car "because he couldn't afford the gasoline."

According to Esquire, Newhart "wasn't the class clown" during his school days. "I wasn't that obvious," the comedian revealed. "There would be a circle of guys, and they're watching the class clown. And I'm standing in the back, and I turn to the guy next to me and I say something funny to him, and he starts to laugh. And the guy next to him says, 'What did he say?'" Keep reading to find out more about how Newhart developed his comedic skills and became a showbiz legend.

He was in the Army during the Korean War

After Bob Newhart graduated college, he was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. As he revealed in "I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This," the comedian managed to talk his way out of being sent overseas and traveled around military bases on the West Coast instead. In a 2005 interview with Today, Newhart recalled how he would drive around Los Angeles with his friends while stationed in California. "We would drive west on Sunset Boulevard and look at all the big houses and wonder who was living there," he observed. "Now I'm in one of them."

His time in the Army inspired one of his first-ever comedy routines, "The Cruise of the U.S.S. Codfish," which Newhart would later perform on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The act satirized how inefficient a large organization like the Navy or the Army could be, showing that even an incompetent dimwit like Newhart's character could be promoted through the ranks. He also revisited the Army by playing Major Major in "Catch-22," per The New York Times, which offered another surreal take on the Army's shortcomings.

Bob Newhart worked in accounting and advertising until he was nearly 30

Despite his long and celebrated career, Bob Newhart didn't find his way to comedy straight away.

According to Today, he started out in accounting and advertising, where Newhart and his co-worker Ed Gallagher passed the time by recording comedy scenes that they sent to radio stations across America. "To keep from going out of my mind, I'd call Ed, and we'd do improv routines over the phone," Newhart told the Tampa Bay Times. "He'd interview me and play the straight man. It was a poor man's Bob and Ray.

"Then he said, "Why don't we try to sell this to some radio stations?' It was Ed's idea," the comedian continued, recalling how they had to "wait until everyone went home" so that they could secretly use the company's recording studios. "We taped four or five routines and sent them out to more than a hundred radio stations." And as Newhart joked to NPR, his accounting turned out to be terrible: the two men were spending more on postage than they were being paid for the tapes.

When he was almost 30, however, Newhart's hard work eventually paid off and he was signed to Warner Bros. Records.

Bob Newhart had an unexpected friendship with Don Rickles

Despite their very different comedic styles, one of Bob Newhart's closest friends was the legendary insult comic Don Rickles.

"Don was great, we had a great time," Newhart recalled in an interview with Forbes. "We traveled together. If Don thought he'd offended anyone in the audience he'd feel terrible." The two men remained very close over the years, going for family holidays and tours together, despite Rickles offending Newhart's wife to her face when they first met.

At the Sahara hotel in Las Vegas, the couple sat in the front row to watch Rickles perform. Although Newhart had tried to warn his wife about the comedian's reputation for harsh quips, she wasn't prepared when Rickles announced: "The stammering idiot from Chicago is in the audience with his hooker wife from New Jersey."

After Rickles died in April 2017, Newhart paid tribute to his sensitive side in The Hollywood Reporter. "He was called The Merchant of Venom, but the truth was he was just the kindest man," Newhart revealed, adding that the comic "didn't have a mean bone in his body" and that "it was an honor to be picked on by him."

His first album beat Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Elvis

Comedians don't often achieve huge success with their albums, but Bob Newhart's debut was such a smash hit that he left musical legends in the dust.

"The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart" featured his classic routines like "Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue," in which the president's press agent spoke to him before the Gettysburg Address. "It just exploded," Newhart told NPR in 2007. "It just took off beyond anyone's, especially my expectations. And it still is — according to Billboard — the 20th best-selling album of all time."

Not only did the record sell, it also won Best Album at the 1960 Grammys. The nominees for that year included Nat King Cole, Harry Belafonte, and Ol' Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. "I got to know Frank," Newhart later told CBS. "My stammer is getting even worse as I discuss it! I don't think Frank was thrilled that a stand-up comic beat out his album."

The comedian worked clean because it was 'harder'

According to The New York Times, Bob Newhart was sometimes called a "sick comic" in the early days because of his association with controversial comics like Lenny Bruce and the scandal caused by his Abraham Lincoln riff. This might seem ironic, given that his comedy was always notable for his lack of profanity. As Newhart explained to Forbes, he chose to work clean because it was "harder."

"I talked to Jerry Seinfeld about it and it's like, when you do a show, and you haven't had to resort to that, you feel pretty good about yourself," Newhart observed, reflecting on his ability to appeal to all ages with his routines. "You made the people laugh, they had a great time but at the same time, I understand. I'm not offended by (language) because if it is indigenous to the material you're doing, I don't find it offensive."

One example of a crude comedian who he admired was his old friend, Richard Pryor, who Newhart called "the greatest comedian in the past 50 years." According to Newhart, he was never offended by Pryor's use of language because it "was essential to what he was doing."

He didn't fake his stammer

Bob Newhart's most defining characteristic is his stammer, which he has used to his advantage over the years. The comedian delivers all of his jokes and routines in a dry and deadpan speaking style, but his stammer itself isn't part of the performance.

"Well, 80% of what I am is what they see," he told WBUR News, clarifying that he never faked his speech impediment. "I stammer — as you realize; it's not something I affect. It's the way I talk." Newhart also specifically noted that he did not stutter, he stammered — which, in his words, is "the highest form of being a stutterer," adding, "At least I think so, though there's no medical evidence."

In his memoir, Newhart joked that stammerers think of themselves as "very bright," per NPR. "My own private theory is that stammerers have so many ideas swirling around their brains at once that they can't get them all out," he continued. The comedian also revealed that a producer on his first sitcom, "The Bob Newhart Show," tried to get him to cut the stammering out in order to stop the show's episodes from being too long.

"No," Newhart reportedly told the executive. "That stammer bought me a house in Beverly Hills."

Bob Newhart has been married to his wife for 58 years

Bob Newhart and Ginnie Quinn have one of Hollywood's most enduring marriages, with a track record of over five decades. And as he told People, their first date was set up by a fellow showbiz legend: the actor and comedian Buddy Hackett.

"Well, we're both Catholic. She's three-quarters Irish. I'm three-quarters Irish," Newhart explained, recalling why Hackett thought they would be a good match. "Buddy said, 'I've got a girl for you. She's going with another guy, but I don't think he's right for her, so I'm going to fix you up on a blind date. You'll meet her and you'll date and you'll get married." The comedian also predicted that Newhart and Quinn would have children so that they could name one of them "Buddy."

Although they did prove Hackett right by getting married in 1963, the couple named their four children Robert, Timothy, Courtney, and Jennifer instead. And they're still going strong nearly six decades years later, as CBS pointed out. Newhart explained that the key to their successful marriage is laughter. "There's something about laughter, and the longevity of a marriage," he added.

In fact, Ginnie came up with the shocking finale of 'Newhart'

In 1990, the sitcom "Newhart" created one of the most memorable TV moments of all time. 

In the very last minutes of the show, which featured Bob Newhart playing the character Dick Loudon, almost 30 million viewers were shocked when the comedian was filmed waking up in bed next to his former sitcom wife, played by Suzanne Pleshette, per Entertainment Weekly. "Honey, wake up, you won't believe the dream I just had," Newhart said to Pleshette, who had previously starred opposite him in "The Bob Newhart Show" — revealing that all eight seasons of "Newhart" were actually a dream of his earlier character Dr. Bob Hartley.

The twist ending had actually been suggested by Newhart's wife Ginnie at a holiday party, as he revealed years later. "Without missing a beat, she said, 'You ought to end it with a dream sequence where you wake up in bed with Suzy,'" Newhart recollected, adding that Pleshette was on board immediately. "She loved the idea. She said, 'I'll be there in a New York minute!'"

"To me, it was the ultimate wink-wink, nudge-nudge kind of thing," the comedian continued, insisting that "the audience was in on the joke." Rolling Stone and TV Guide have ranked it one of the best sitcom finales of all time.

He guest-hosted Johnny Carson's show 87 times

Bob Newhart and Johnny Carson were lifelong friends, and the comedian was always a welcome presence on "The Tonight Show." Per his autobiography, "I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This," Newhart even stood in as a guest host 87 times.

As he revealed in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Newhart first met Carson at a fundraiser held by Buddy Hackett. They formed an instant connection and the comedian soon found himself the target of Carson's love of pranks. After preparing a whole round of interview questions, the host would suddenly spring an unexpected topic on Newhart out of the blue, like "Do you ski?"

As he told People, he got his own back once when Carson was interviewing a particularly boring author. "I look at Johnny's face and he's just like, 'How soon can I get out of this?'" Newhart recalled. "So, every time he'd look away, I told Ed, 'Move the minute hand back.' And he'd move it back five minutes."

The comedian quit smoking in 1985 after a medical emergency

Like most entertainers, Bob Newhart spent the 1950s and '60s with a cigarette in his hand. Despite pointing out the absurdity of the tobacco industry in his classic sketch "Introducing Tobacco to Civilization," which he performed for John F. Kennedy in 1962, Newhart was always a committed smoker.

As he revealed in his autobiography "I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This," however, the comedian had to quit after a near-death experience. "My realization about the evils of nicotine came one summer day in 1985 when I developed a nosebleed that just wouldn't stop," Newhart recalled, sharing how he was rushed to the hospital in Miami. This incident led to the sitcom legend finding out that he had developed secondary polycythemia from a lifetime of smoking.

The condition meant that his body was producing too many red blood cells, putting his life in danger. As Newhart noted, his doctor warned that he could have died if he hadn't made it to the hospital in time. Spooked by his brush with death, the comedian used nicotine patches to quit. "So I've stopped smoking, but I still drink," Newhart offered in "I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This," adding, "And I'm a pretty good drunk, too."

He won over a new generation with 'Elf'

As Bob Newhart himself has admitted, the 2003 Christmas film "Elf" helped introduce him to a lot of his younger fans.

"I would say half my mail is 'Elf,'" the comedian told Forbes, reflecting on the popularity of the Will Ferrell vehicle. "It is, it really is." When he first came across the script, Newhart enthused about the "wonderful story" to his wife, telling her that it was sure to be a "perennial" holiday favorite. "I just see this as a 'Miracle on 34th Street,' every Christmas they're going to be playing this because it has such a wonderful theme.' And that's exactly what happened," he observed.

"Will really did an incredible job," Newhart added, praising Ferrell's ability to win over audiences. "He brings so much charm to it that people cheered for him." The comedian also complimented Jon Favreau's direction, explaining that "Jon was a wonderful director because he understood comedians."

Newhart's role as Papa Elf won him a lot of praise, especially from the younger generations. "That is a wonderful thing, to be part of kids' enjoyment of the Christmas season," he told The Hollywood Reporter.

He requested a live audience on 'The Big Bang Theory'

Bob Newhart returned to the world of sitcoms with a guest role on "The Big Bang Theory" that won the comedian his first Emmy award in 2013, per Entertainment Weekly.

As he told The Hollywood Reporter, Newhart first met the show's creator, Chuck Lorre, back when he was recording "Newhart" and Lorre was working on "Roseanne" at the same studio lot. After years of promising to work together, Lorre eventually offered the comedian a guest spot on his latest smash hit. "I said, "I really like 'Big Bang.' I like the writing on it. I love the cast and I still have my [comedy] fastball. It is more like 42 mph now. I still know how to do that." And I missed it," Newhart admitted.

He had one condition before signing on to "The Big Bang Theory," however. "The only request I made was that [my portion] had to be done in front of the live audience," the sitcom legend explained, adding that he was used to the energy of a real audience thanks to his "shows and background in stand-up." Lorre agreed to give him a live audience and Newhart's appearance as Professor Proton, a childhood idol of the main characters, became an instant fan favorite.

Bob Newhart is a millionaire and a philanthropist who's not slowing down

Bob Newhart is worth $65 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth, and his philanthropic efforts include raising over $350,000 for the National Children's Cancer Society, per Ladue News

As he told Forbes, however, Newhart has no plans to stop and rest on his laurels now. "I fell in love with the sound of laughter 61 years ago," the comedian explained, adding that he wanted to keep experiencing that rush. "It's one of the great sounds in the world, I'm serious. I think it's true. The mail I get, you become part of people's lives. ... It's just great to make people laugh."

As he once told Billy Crystal during a game of golf, Newhart feels "responsible" when it comes to his comedy. "If you can do it, there's kind of an obligation to keep doing it. If you can make people laugh, there aren't that many people who can do it," he declared.