Bob Newhart vividly remembers his first professional appearance in Chicago. It was a late night local show, following Jack Paar, and it should have been a fertile audience for his brand of comedy.
“It didn’t quite hold the Paar audience,” he said. “If you put your head outside you’d hear an audible click of television sets going off across Chicago.”
But the audience soon found Newhart in a big way. His comedy album, “The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart” rocketed to number one in 1960, followed by a sequel, “The Button Down Mind Strikes Back,” which found its own way up the charts so fast, Newhart soon held the number one and two positions on the Billboard Hot 100---a record which stood for decades.
“It was like the longest anyone had the first and second album on the Billboard charts,” he said. “That was beaten by Guns ‘N Roses-----at least it went to a friend!”
Newhart, of course, would go on to a celebrated career which included two of the most famous sitcoms in television history. He earned a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, even a statue in Chicago. He appeared in films including Disney’s “The Rescuers” and a spot as Will Ferrell’s dad in “Elf”. Recently, he had a recurring role on “The Big Bang Theory”, which earned him a primetime Emmy.
But it all started at St. Ignatius High School where he graduated in 1947---an institution where he joked standards are now so high, he might have a tough time getting in. His three sisters, one a Catholic Nun, still live in Chicago.
The now-87 year old Newhart returned to Chicago to headline the Salvation Army’s annual Civic Luncheon, where it was announced the Army will soon build a sprawling new “Shield of Hope” Center in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, a rapid-response facility to combat homelessness.
Newhart and the Army seemed to be a perfect fit. After all, his gentle and ironic humor has never been mean-spirited. Agreeing that now continues to be a great time to be in comedy, he reminded NBC5 of an ancient Chinese proverb.
“May you live in interesting times---I think you have to have a sense of humor to survive,” he said. “Babies, six or seven months old---they need to laugh! So don’t lose your sense of humor, you’re going to need it!”