whistle stopping

Jonathan Winters

Jonathan Harshman Winters III (born November 11, 1925) is an American comedian and actor.


Early life

Winters was born in Bellbrook, Ohio, the son of Alice Kilgore (née Rodgers), a radio personality, and Jonathan Harshman Winters II, an investment broker. He is a descendant of Valentine Winters, founder of the Winters National Bank in Dayton, Ohio (now part of JPMorgan Chase). Winters has described his father as an alcoholic who had trouble holding down a job. When he was seven, his parents separated, and Winters' mother took him to Springfield, Ohio to live with his maternal grandmother. He has a striking facial resemblance to Lucchese crime family boss Carmine Tramunti.

After attending private boarding school at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana, Winters enlisted in the Marines at age 17 and served in the South Pacific during World War II. After his discharge, he studied cartooning at Dayton Art Institute, where he met Eileen Schauder, whom he married in 1948.


He 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. After promising his wife that he would return to Dayton if he did not make it in a year, and with $56.36 in his pocket, he moved to New York City, staying with friends in Greenwich Village. After obtaining Martin Goodman as his agent, he began stand-up routines in various New York nightclubs. His big break occurred (with the revised name of Jonathan) when he worked for Alistair Cooke on the CBS Sunday morning show Omnibus. In 1957, he performed in the first color television show, a 15-minute routine sponsored by Tums.

As a stand-up comic with a madcap wildness, Winters recorded many classic comedy albums for the Verve Records label, starting in 1960. Probably the best-known of his characters from this period is Maude Frickert, the seemingly sweet old lady with the barbed tongue. He was a favorite of Jack Paar and appeared frequently on his television programs. In addition, he would often appear on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, usually in the guise of some character. Carson often did not know what Winters had planned and usually had to tease out the character's back story through the course of the interview.

Winters has appeared in nearly 50 movies and several television shows, including particularly notable roles in the film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and in the dual roles of Henry Glenworthy and his dark, scheming brother, the Rev. Wilbur Glenworthy, in the film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One. Fellow comedians who starred with him in "Mad World," such as Arnold Stang, claimed that in the long periods while they waited between scenes, Winters would entertain them for hours in their trailer by becoming any character that they would suggest to him.

On television, in the late sixties, he appeared as a regular (along with Woody Allen and Jo Anne Worley) on the Saturday morning children's program Hot Dog. In the seventies, he appeared in his own show, The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters (1972–74). Winters has also done some dramatic work, as evidenced in The Twilight Zone episode "A Game of Pool" (episode #3.5, 13 October, 1961). He recorded Ogden Nash's The Carnival of the Animals poems to Camille Saint-Saëns' classical opus. He also made an appearance on a Dean Martin Comedy Roast. Winters appeared on ABC's The American Sportsman, hosted by Grits Gresham, who took celebrities on hunting, fishing, or shooting trips to exotic places around the world.

In the fourth and last season of the sci-fi-based TV comedy Mork & Mindy, Jonathan Winters (one of Robin Williams' idols) was brought in as Mork & Mindy's child, Mearth. Due to the different Orkan physiology, Mork laid an egg, which grew and hatched into the much older Winters. It had been previously explained that Orkans aged "backwards," thus explaining Mearth's appearance and that of his teacher, Miss Geespot (portrayed by then-11-year-old actress Luanne). Mork's infant son Mearth in Mork & Mindy was created in hopes of improving ratings and as an attempt to capitalize on Williams' comedic talents. Winters had previously guest starred in Season 3, Episode 18 as Dave McConnell, Mindy's Uncle. Although Robin Williams calls Jonathan Winters his greatest influence, the idea of Mearth didn't work, and the show was soon canceled, in 1982.

It was shortly after this, in 1987, that Jonathan was featured in NFL Films' The NFL TV Follies.

In 1991-1992 he was on Davis Rules, a sitcom that lasted two seasons(25 episodes). He played Gunny Davis, an eccentric grandfather that was helping raise his grandchildren after his son had lost his wife. In addition to his live action roles, he was also a guest star on The New Scooby-Doo Movies as a sweet old lady who was really the villain, and was the narrator in Frosty Returns. Winters had also earlier appeared as himself on an episode of Scooby-Doo, where the Scooby Gang was looking forward to his promised performance as Maude Frickert. Along with numerous roles in Scooby-Doo, Winters also provided the voice for the thief in The Thief and the Cobbler (Miramax version).

From 1959 to 1964, Winters' voice could be heard in a series of popular television commercials for Utica Club beer. In the ads, he provided the voices of talking beer steins, named "Shultz and Dooley." Later, he became a spokesman for Hefty brand trash bags—for whom he appeared as a dapper garbageman known for collecting "gahr-bahj," as well as Maude Frickert and other characters.

Later years

In 1999, Winters was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. He now lives near Santa Barbara, California, and is often seen browsing and hamming to the crowd at the antique show on the Ventura County fairgrounds. He often entertains the tellers and other workers whenever he visits his local bank to make a deposit or withdrawal. He spends time painting, and has been presented in one-man shows of his art. In 1997, he published Winters' Tales: Stories and Observations for the Unusual. Other writings have followed, and he is said to be working on his autobiography.

In June 2008, Winters was presented with the TV Land Pioneer Award by his friend Robin Williams.

Personal life

In his "Archive of American Television Interviews," Winters reported that he suffered a nervous breakdown and spent eight months in a private mental hospital in the late 1950s. Although he was not given a diagnosis while in the hospital, he was later diagnosed with manic depression (known today as bipolar disorder). The comedian referred to this incident obliquely in his stand-up act, most famously on his 1960 comedy album The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters. During his classic "flying saucer" routine, Winters casually mentions that if he wasn't careful, the authorities might put him back in the "rubber room," referring to the institution; most audience members were no doubt unaware that the comedian was talking about a real-life event.


  • Down to Earth (1960)
  • The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters (1960; reissued in 2003)
  • Here's Jonathan (1961)
  • Another Day, Another World (1962)
  • Humor Seen through the Eyes of Jonathan Winters (1962)
  • Jonathan Winters' Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1964)
  • Whistle Stopping with Jonathan Winters (1964)
  • Jonathan Winters... Wings it! (1969)
  • Stuff 'n Nonsense (1969)
  • Answers Your Telephone (1988)
  • Finally Captured (1988)
  • Into the '90s (1990)
  • Jonathan Winters is Terminator 3 (1992)
  • Crank(y) Calls (2000)
  • Outpatients (2000)
  • Paul Bunyan (2001)
  • Old Folks (2006)
  • The Underground Tapes (2007)

See also


External links

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