Jonathan Winters

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Jonathan Winters

Born

11/11/1925, Dayton, Ohio, U.S.A.

Died

4/11/2013

Birth Name

Jonathan Harshman Winters III

Gender

Male
  • Jonathan Winters
9.3
out of 10
User Rating
18 votes

Biography

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The son and grandson of midwestern bankers, Jonathan Winters spent most of his childhood with his divorced mother, a Springfield, Ohio radio personality. At an early age, he developed a facility for imitating movie sound effects, which matured into a talent for mimicry and improvisation. After serving with…more

Credits

Trivia and Quotes

  • Trivia

    • Jack Paar, who launched Jonathan Winters' career through a series of appearances on his talk show in the mid-1950s, said of him: "If you were to ask me the funniest twenty-five people I've ever known, I'd say, 'Here they are-- Jonathan Winters.'"

    • Along with Paul Anka, Muhammad Ali, Johnny Carson, Paul Williams, Sammy Davis Jr., Groucho Marx, and Henry Winkler, Jonathan Winters served as honorary pallbearer at the funeral of Freddie Prinze.

    • Eleven was Jonathan Winters' lucky number.

    • Upon request, Jonathan painted a picture for his best friend, John B. Smith, in less than an hour. Winters presented him with a beautiful painting of a Polynesian girl holding a brilliant bouquet of flowers in her hands. The painting was inscribed, "To Jimmie. When she drops the flowers, you'll see the damndest pair of pearl handles you've ever seen! Jonathan Winters, 1960."

    • Jonathan Winters always disliked the TV talk show format, with the exception of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He occasionally agreed to appear on it because he liked Johnny Carson, who always visited with him in his dressing room before taping, and because the show was taped about two miles from his home.

    • When Jonathan Winters phoned his children, he was able to completely fool them into believing he was someone other than their father.

    • Jonathan Winters helped inspire the improvisation of comedian Robin Williams, who he briefly worked with in the ABC sitcom Mork and Mindy during the late 70s.

    • Robin Williams, the Marx Brothers, and Saturday Night Live alumni Mike Myers and Dana Carvey were among Jonathan Winters' favorite comedians. He was also partial to the early 90s FOX comedy/variety series In Living Color.

    • Although Jonathan Winters didn't speak Italian, during the filming of his 1969 movie Viva Max! in Rome, Italy, he mastered the Roman accent instantly. The locals thought he was speaking Italian, until they listened closely.

    • While living in Mamaroneck, New York during the 60s, Jonathan Winters found solace in the attic of his suburban home, where he would retire to ponder, write, and paint. The room was decorated with paper-mâché birds suspended from the ceiling.

    • During the 80s, Jonathan Winters was the commercial spokesperson for Hefty brand garbage bags, in which he played a garbageman dressed to the nines in a spiffy white suit.

    • Jonathan Winters' last major nightclub appearance was in 1972 as the big-room headliner at the Hilton International in Las Vegas. Winters, who would be following Elvis Presley's stint there, attended Presley's final show. Elvis interrupted his act to give Jonathan nearly fifteen minutes' worth of accolades, and declared Mad, Mad World, which featured Winters, to be his favorite film. He also indicated the scene in which Jonathan wrecks a filling station was the funniest thing he had even seen. After the performance, Winters was invited back to Presley's dressing room, where Elvis greeted him wearing an Oriental mask as a funny and unexpected tribute to him. Jonathan and Elvis hit it off and visited for about an hour before saying their good-byes.

    • Over the years, Jonathan Winters' long-time friend, Jim B. Smith, saved all of his three thousand-some telephone messages from Jonathan, publishing a selection from the collection in a book titled Jonathan Winters... After the Beep (1989).

    • Jonathan Winters suffered from insomnia.

    • In the early 60s, Jackie Gleason telephoned Jonathan Winters to pitch a new television series idea in which Buddy Hackett and Winters would work along side of him. When Jonathan proposed the show be called The Three Little Pigs, Gleason hung up on him.

    • In a hysterical tribute at the sixth Annual TV Land Awards presentation (June 2008), fellow comedian, friend and his ultimate devotee Robin Williams presented Jonathan Winters with the TV Land Pioneer Award, that of which honors performers who have distinguished themselves by pushing back the frontiers of the media, bringing true originality to the world of entertainment.

    • Encouraged by his wife, Jonathan Winters entered a talent contest, where he wowed the audience and walked away with a gig as a disc jockey, a position that jump-started his career on a radio station (WING) in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio (1949). The rotund comedian was supposed to merely introduce the records and announce the temperature, but ever so gradually, his irrepressible ad-libs and improvisations took over the show.

    • Jonathan Winters was awarded the 1991 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his portrayal of Randy Quaid's eccentric father in the ABC sitcom Davis Rules.

    • Jonathan Winters made his film acting debut in Stanley Kramer's 1963 comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

    • In 1976, Jonathan wrote and hosted the NBC special Jonathan Winters Presents 200 Years of American Humor.

    • In 1985, Jonathan Winters was cast as Humpty Dumpty in the CBS miniseries adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.

    • Jonathan Winters earned a 2003 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor In A Comedy Series for his role in the ABC sitcom Life with Bonnie, an award that ultimately went to Gene Wilder (Will and Grace, NBC).

    • Jonathan Winters' signature can be viewed HERE.

    • In order to escape a disruptive homelife, Jonathan Winters enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at age seventeen and spent two years serving in the South Pacific. After World War II, he enrolled in Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio), and then transferred to the Dayton Art Institute (Dayton, Ohio), where he studied cartooning. Alongside his successful comedy career, Winters was also an accomplished abstract artist.

    • In the early 1950s, Winters moved to NYC where he could better exploit his comedic talents. He shone in local comedy clubs and early live TV where his expressive, moon-shaped face and abilities for zany mimicry and adept characterizations became increasingly popular.

    • In 1954, Winters was cast as a regular on the comedy-variety series And Here's the Show (NBC) and went on to become nearly a permanent fixture on many TV shows that propelled his antics (which included characters like the ribald old lady, Maude Frickert, and the quack psychiatrist, Dr. Bellenhoffer) into unsuspecting American living rooms.

    • Jonathan Winters was the only son of banker father John Harshman Winters II and radio personality mother Alice Kilgore (nee Rodgers).

    • Jonathan Winters was a self-proclaimed "student of history" with an interest in antiques that came naturally; he collected items of antiquity from around the world.

    • Jonathan Winters' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, awarded to him for his contributions in television, is located at 6290 Hollywood Boulevard.

    • Jonathan Winters' career was unaccountably shadowed by two highly publicized nervous breakdowns, the result of an undiagnosed bipolar disorder exacerbated by alcohol and caffeine. Since the early 1960s, Winters was on lithium and did not not suffer any manic-depressive episodes. Yet, because he was one of the first celebrities to "go public" with his problems, he was stigmatized and, even some 40 years later, his "problems" were still mentioned in articles and profiles.

    • From the mid-50s on, Jonathan Winters was showcased in over ten comedy specials and series with his name attached (e.g., The Jonathan Winters Special - NBC, 1964 and The Jonathan Winters Show - CBS, 1967-69) and appeared in dozens of comedy programs hosted by fellow comedians Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Steve Allen.

    • Jonathan Winters began comedy routines and acting while studying at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. He was also a local radio personality on WING (mornings, 6 to 8) in Dayton, Ohio and at WIZE in Springfield, Ohio. He performed as Johnny Winters on WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio for two years, quitting the station in 1953 when they refused him a $5.00 raise.

    • Jonathan Winters is said to bear a striking resemblance to New York mobster Carmine "Mr. Gribbs" Tramunti, who was the titular head of the Lucchese crime family from 1967 to 1974.

    • Jonathan Winters had a three-minute cameo in Penelope (1966), a misguided comedy directed by Arthur Hiller and starring Natalie Wood.

    • Jonathan Winters attended private boarding school Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana. During his senior year, he dropped out to enlist in the military, after which he enrolled in Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio in 1946. He later transferred to the Dayton Art Institute in Dayton Ohio, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (1950), and met Eileen Schauder, whom he married in 1948.

    • Jonathan Winters was a descendant of Valentine Winters (Catherine Harshman), who was the founder of the Winters National Bank (now the J.P. Morgan Chase Bank).

    • Jonathan Winters made ten comedy recordings. Although all of them were nominated for Grammy Awards, Winters only took home the prize once: Crank Calls won him the award for Best Spoken Comedy Album in 1995 at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards.

    • This said of Jonathan Winters by comedian Robin Williams: "Jonathan's the source for me, the guy that made it all possible. He's the Smithsonian, all these riffs he stores up. Just sit back and watch him. He's a force of energy. Comedy would be more closed off without him."

    • Jonathan Winters was the 1999 recipient of the Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, America's foremost award for humor, which is presented by The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to an individual who has made a significant contribution to American humor. The presentation is made during a live taping at The Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, DC, at which time the honoree is also celebrated by his peers.

    • When it came to performing, Jonathan Winters preferred "street scenes" and doing on-the-spot improvisations.

    • Jonathan Winters was once described by talk-show host Jack Paar as "pound for pound, the funniest man alive."

    • Jonathan Winters' love of fishing had its perks: his fascination with bait shop clientele aided in the development of some of his early comedy routines.

    • Jonathan Winters' wife of sixty years, Eileen, died at the age of 84 after a 20-year battle with breast cancer (January 11, 2009).

    • Jonathan Winters stood 5'10" tall.

  • Quotes

    • Jonathan Winters: (being interviewed by 'U.S. News') I've done for the most part pretty much what I intended â€" I ended up doing comedy, writing and painting. I've had a ball. And as I get older, I just become an older kid.

    • Jonathan Winters: Just going through life is surviving. Going crosstown.

    • Jonathan Winters: In doing comedy, I've always had the most fun when I was improvising. And that's the way it has been with art, too. All of my paintings come right out of my head, off the wall thoughts that, with the help of acylics, I've transferred to canvas. I go down to my studio, turn on the radio --you've got to have music!-- and let my mind wander. I let myself get lost; for me, painting has always been a great place to hide.

    • Jonathan Winters: A lot of people have been through a hell of a lot more than I have, and they deserve a laugh and if I can bring a laugh to 'em and show 'em some of my problems without getting too heavy, ya know what I mean? I think– I'm an overly sensitive guy, I'm not a crybaby. Larry King [Larry King Live] asked me to come on his show one day and he said, 'I understand you're manic depressive,' and I said, 'Yeah, not only am I that, but just a couple of days ago, they labeled me bipolar. I haven't been to the Arctic or Antarctic, so I don't know what's going on there.'

    • Jonathan Winters: (regarding the mental breakdowns he suffered early in his comedic career) This is something I've never quite shaken. There are bigger stars than me with all kinds of coke problems, sauce problems, guys that are married four, five times. Then they put them in picture after picture. Why should I have to go through my life auditioning and proving I'm sane?

    • Jonathan Winters: Throughout my life, I've been gratified that I've been able to keep the child in me alive and inspire others.

    • Jonathan Winters: God is in my head, but the devil is in my pants.

    • Jonathan Winters: I couldn't wait for success, so I went on ahead without it.

    • Jonathan Winters: Nothing is impossible. Some things are just less likely than others.

    • Jonathan Winters: If your ship doesn't come in, swim out to it!

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