Jonathan Winters, one of America’s most well-known comedians, had a six-decade career and was dubbed “the funniest guy alive pound for pound.” He returned to civilian life after serving in the Marine Corps after WWII, desperate to find work. After winning a talent competition, he got his big break as a comedian. It resulted in numerous television assignments for him. He began his career as Johnny Winters and later had his own NBC show, ‘The Jonathan Winters Show.’ He held the distinction of being the first to include color video cassettes into his show. He was a close friend of Jack Paar’s and frequently appeared on ‘The Tonight Show’ during Paar’s tenure as host. When Johnny Carson took over as host, he continued to perform on the show. He also appeared on ‘The Dean Martin Show,’ ‘The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast,’ ‘The Andy Williams Show,’ ‘The Steve Allen Show,’ and ‘The Garry Moore Show,’ among others. His impersonations of John Wayne, Cary Grant, and President John F. Kennedy are still renowned. The figure of Maude Frickert, an elderly lady who appears in his routines, is also remarkable. He influenced comedians such as Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, and Jim Carrey, and he was admired by Robin Williams.
Childhood and Adolescence
Jonathan Winters was born on November 11, 1925, in Bellbrook, Ohio, to radio personality Alice Kilgore Rodgers and insurance salesman turned stock trader Jonathan Harshman Winters II. His mother divorced his alcoholic father when he was seven years old.
Alice’s mother relocated the mother and son to Springfield, Ohio. He found refuge in the company of the fictitious people he created in his room, where he was a weak student.
During his senior year at Springfield High School, he dropped out. During WWII, he was a member of the United States Marine Corps’ Pacific operation.
He went to Kenyon College after coming home. He eventually transferred to Dayton Art Institute, where he took a cartooning course. He was a Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity member.
Winters began doing stand-up comedy routines while a student at Kenyon College. He presented many local programs for Columbus’s WBNS-TV from 1950 and 1953, but departed after the station refused to give him a salary.
He relocated to New York, where, after misplacing his wristwatch, his wife encouraged him to enter a talent contest in which the winner would receive a wristwatch; he won the contest.
Following his victory in the competition, he began to receive more television work. In 1954, he played Johnny Winters in the Broadway revue ‘Almanac’ and on the television series ‘Chance of a Lifetime’.
He began presenting the NBC television series “The Jonathan Winters Show” in 1956. That year, this event broadcasted the first public demonstration of color videotape.
Between 1959 and 1964, he was the voice of two talking beer mugs, Shultz and Dooley, in a television commercial for Utica Club beer. He has appeared in commercials for the Hefty garbage bag company.
For Verve Records, he produced a number of comedy albums. Maude Frickert, an elderly woman whose behavior was extravagant and inappropriate of a woman her age, was one of his 1960s characters.
Between 1957 to 1962, he was a regular on Jack Paar’s ‘The Tonight Show.’ On the broadcast, he even pretended to be President John F. Kennedy over the phone as a joke.
He remained a part of ‘The Tonight Show’ after Johnny Carson took over as host. During a pretend interview, he would appear disguised as a character, forcing Carson to guess who he was.
He appeared on ‘The Dean Martin Show,’ ‘The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast,’ ‘The Andy Williams Show,’ ‘The Steve Allen Show,’ ‘The Garry Moore Show,’ and ‘The Hollywood Squares’ on a regular basis throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
He was debuted as Mearth, Mork and Mindy’s child, in the last season of the sci-fi comedy program ‘Mork and Mindy’ in 1981. His attendance on the show did not help the show’s ratings.
He dubbed for a number of television and film characters in the 1980s. He voiced Grandpa Smurf in the film ‘Smurf,’ Bigelow in the film ‘Pound Puppies,’ and Yogi in the animated series Yogi’s Treasure Hunt.
He plays Wainwright Barth, a serious cop and uncle of the protagonist Lamont Cranston (‘The Shadow’), played by Alec Baldwin, in the 1994 superhero picture ‘The Shadow.’
He guest appeared as a writer with numerous personalities on the ABC television sitcom ‘Life with Bonnie’ from 2002 to 2004, for which he was nominated for an Emmy award.
He voiced Papa Smurf in ‘The Smurf’ and starred in the films ‘The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle’ and ‘The Smurf’ in the new century. ‘The Smurfs 2’ was his most recent film, released in 2013.
Winters received a Golden Globe nod for his appearance in the 1963 comedy picture ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,’ about a group of strangers’ mad pursuit for $350,000 in stolen cash.
In the sitcom ‘Davis Rules,’ he played Gunny Davis, a widowed father aiding his son in raising his children. In 1991, he earned an Emmy Award for the performance.
Awards of Jonathan Winters
In 1991, he earned a Primetime Emmy for his supporting part in ‘Davis Rules,’ and for ‘Jonathan Winters and His Traveling Road Show,’ he was named the American Comedy Award’s Funniest Male Performer in a TV Special.
Winters was nominated for 11 Grammy Awards. In 1996, he received two Grammys for his contributions to an adaption of ‘The Little Prince’: Best Album for Children and Best Spoken Comedy Album for ‘Crank(y) Calls.’
His contribution to television, particularly comedy, was recognized by Hollywood. He was honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for television on February 8, 1960, at 6290 Hollywood Blvd.
Personal History and Legacy
In 1948, Jonathan Winters married Eileen Schauder. She died after a 20-year battle with breast cancer.
His children, Jay and Lucinda, survive him. He died on April 11, 2013 in California.
Jonathan Winters Net Worth
This talented abstract painter was an American comedian. His works are collected in the book ‘Hang Ups.’ He was also a talented writer, having published ‘Winters Tales,’ a collection of short stories.
This comic was twice voluntarily institutionalized and treated for bipolar disorder and nervous breakdowns; he then returned to make it a topic of his standup acts.