Bob Newhart

Bob Newhart Biography

Comedian, Television Actor, Actor (1929–)
A low-key satirist, Bob Newhart starred in a series of sitcoms, including The Bob Newhart Show, Newhart and Bob.


Born on September 5, 1929, in Illinois, Bob Newhart was an accountant at the age of 30, who created monologues as a diversion from his everyday life. He became famous with his best-selling recording of his first nightclub engagement, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, which was released in 1960. A dry-toned satirist, Newhart starred in the television sitcoms The Bob Newhart Show, Newhart and Bob.

Early Life

Television actor and comedian Bob Newhart was born George Robert Newhart on September 5, 1929, in Oak Park, Illinois. One of four children, Newhart was born to George David Newhart and Julia Pauline Burns. Newhart picked up the name Bob while in high school. The commonly used phrase "Let George do it" prompted Newhart to change his name. Eventually he thought, "Maybe I'll go by Bob," and thus the nickname was born.

After high school, Newhart attended Loyola University Chicago and graduated with an undergraduate degree in business management in 1952. Shortly after, he was drafted into the military. Newhart served in the Army from 1952 to 1954, fighting in the Korean War. Upon his return, Newhart worked as an accountant and advertising copy editor in Chicago while also occasionally performing in a local theatrical stock company and writing comedy sketches for the radio.

While working at the ad agency, Newhart and co-worker Ed Gallagher would make extended, random phone calls to each other throughout the workday. They eventually decided to record the phone calls and use them as audition tapes for comedy work. Gallagher began concentrating more on his job at the agency, while Newhart continued doing the phone calls on his own, a bit that would eventually become a staple of his stand-up act. In 1959, a disc jockey in Chicago heard his material and introduced Newhart to the head of talent at Warner Bros. Records, who signed the 30-year-old accountant to a contract based on his recordings.

'The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart'

The year after he was signed by Warner Bros., Newhart released his first album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. Although the album was a collection of Newhart's first performances ever as a stand-up comedian, the record company's gamble on the untested performer proved to be worth the risk. Audiences appreciated Newhart's unique form of storytelling, which merged the comedian's down-to-earth sensibility with absurd situations.

A huge success, Button-Down Mind was the first comedy album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard chart, even beating out Elvis Presley and the cast album of The Sound of Music. The album earned not only impressive sales but also high praise from critics, and garnered Newhart a Grammy Award for Album of the Year and another for Best New Artist. Newhart released another comedy album the same year, entitled The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back! For his sophomore album, he received another Grammy, this time for Best Comedy Performance - Spoken Word.

Bob Newjart in 2010 Photo Photo by Mark Sullivan/WireImage

Bob Newhart in Los Angeles in 2010. (Photo by Mark Sullivan/WireImage)

Film and Television Career

In the 1960s, Newhart began to branch from just being a strong voice in comedy; with several television performances he became a prominent face in comedy too. In the fall of 1961, he was given a television variety show, aptly titled The Bob Newhart Variety Show (1961-62). Critics praised the series for successfully translating the comedy on Newhart's albums to the small screen—it was awarded a Peabody Award in 1961 and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Humor in 1962—but the show didn't get high enough ratings to keep it on the air for more than one season.

It may have been Newhart's first attempt at leading a television show, but it definitely wasn't his last. But before he made his re-emergence in television, Newhart made his film debut the same year that his variety show was canceled. He had a supporting role in the film Hell Is for Heroes. He began to prioritize films and television roles over nightclub performances and appeared in a series of films in the late 1960s and '70s, including Hot Millions (1968), Catch-22 (1970) and Cold Turkey (1971), before he got his second television series.

'The Bob Newhart Show'

Instead of the variety show format he had worked in previously, The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78) was a sitcom on CBS that featured Newhart as a psychologist in Chicago. The show was well-received by audiences, possibly because of the traditional essence of the series during a time when other television programs were becoming more controversial. With an all-star cast and Newhart at the helm, the sitcom lasted six seasons before the cast and crew decided to end the series.

Bob Newhart Photo by CBS via Getty Images

Szanne Pleshette as Emily Hartley and Bob Newhart as Robert (Bob) Hartley in The Bob Newhart Show. (Photo: CBS via Getty Images)

Newhart took a hiatus from television for four years, then returned with yet another popular sitcom, simply named Newhart (1982-90). With another all-star cast behind him, Newhart's new lead role got the actor and the series several Emmy nominations. After the show's conclusion, Newhart came back to television with the series Bob in 1992, but the series only lasted one season. In 2013, he made an appearance on the popular series The Big Bang Theory, for which he surprisingly received his first Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.

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