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  1. This is from my blog, The Classic Film Connection. I originally posted it on September 6th (the day after Bob’s 92nd birthday). While it’s mostly about his work in television, I also cover what I feel are his most notable film roles. I’d love to know your thoughts and favorites, too - so I thought it was still message board relevant. 🙂 Bob Newhart: The Introvert’s Hero I’m a day late – but I’d like to dedicate this post as a birthday wish / tribute to the first person who showed me it’s OK to be an introvert… Several years ago, I landed my first real, grown-up, full-time job: a leadership position, in which I was responsible for overseeing multiple programs involving large groups of people. I also worked as part of a team of fellow leaders – all of whom were extroverted to a large degree. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Eventually, in our staff meetings, I began to hear never-ending choruses proclaiming how different I was. (The refrain usually began with, “You’re so quiet!” – and variations of that theme went on from there.) While I’ve often felt different, I never thought of myself as quiet – and I certainly didn’t equate quiet with bad. A supervisor re-introduced me to the terms introvert and extrovert (concepts I hadn’t heard since college) – although he would say “introvert” with such disdain, it sounded like a curse. And it was hard not to take on the idea that my introverted nature made me inferior – especially when that was so often, and so strongly, implied. It was harder still to lead and to do my job well when I felt undercut as a person. Enter Bob Newhart. In the midst of my personal crisis, I discovered The Bob Newhart Show by accident. (I remember I had quickly picked up dinner – and I was so hungry, I flipped on the TV and turned to a classic station, not caring what was on.) The episode I landed on charmed me, which led me to seek out the beginning of the series. Minutes into episode 1, I realized why I was drawn to this show: he was me. I was watching a male, middle-aged version of myself. He talked like me (I even stammer somewhat), thought like me, and functioned as I did in a work group, at home, and as a leader. He was the first true introvert I’d ever seen on screen, and the connection was strong. It was my first step in embracing who I am. And this connection grew even stronger when I researched the man himself and realized he was much more than the “name” of the show. Sure, it wasn’t all on him – there were directors, writers, and producers working together to make the magic happen – but major decisions required HIS approval. There was no mistake as to whose show this was – in title, on camera, and behind the scenes. That’s not to say he was dictatorial. The cast and crew largely seemed to function like a happy family. Everyone had a part to play, but in terms of taking on personal responsibility for the show’s success, Bob was certainly the leader of the team. In fact, the Name / Star / Silent Creative Glue role suited him so well, he repeated it over and over again (with the hugely successful Newhart, then Bob, followed by George & Leo – although I’m not sure how much behind-the-scenes involvement he had in the last one). This inspired me. I bought books on the power of introverts and being an introverted leader, I carried myself with enough confidence at work to at least not feel compelled to cave and change myself just to fit in – and I watched as much of The Bob Newhart Show as I could get my hands on. It was my go-to, especially when I felt misunderstood. I made it through all six seasons in no time – and I still come back to it regularly. Of course, the television shows came as a result of the mark he’d already made as a significant presence in stand-up comedy. His debut album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, became a bestseller. It reached #1 on the Billboard charts – and remains the 20th best-selling comedy album of all time. His rise was meteoric. In a recent interview with WGN News, he relays that Button-Down Mind was recorded during his first-ever nightclub appearance (which was booked for the sole purpose of recording the album!). After its success, he says, “every day was New Year’s”. He appeared often on The Dean Martin Showand The Ed Sullivan Show, and hosted his own variety show (the very first, and Peabody Award-winning, The Bob Newhart Show) – which propelled him to his legendary phase as a sitcom star. I have no doubt the chief reason he garnered so much positive attention so fast (aside from the obvious fact that he is, indeed, very funny and clever) is because he was different. He was quiet. He was thoughtful. He fumbled for words. He listened. (Heck, his most well-known stand-up shtick revolves around his side of telephone conversations!) He was an introvert. His unwavering resolve to stay true to himself rewarded him with a remarkable career – and I venture to say it’s a large part of why he’s 92 (as of September 5th) and, if the WGN News interview from about 8 months ago I referenced earlier is any indication, still going strong. You can watch it here. (It’s delightful, by the way. His button-down mind is still as sharp as a tack!) The cinematic side of his career is less illustrious, but there are notable highlights: – His telephone act was brilliantly worked into his character for his first film role – a featured part in a lesser-known war picture, Hell is for Heroes (1962), starring Steve McQueen. – His perfectly over-the-top performance in Norman Lear’s comical satire, Cold Turkey(1971), deserves more attention. (In his long career, Bob has occasionally played the exact opposite of his well-known personality – always in a crazed, lampooning fashion that’s a perfect spoof of extreme extroversion…See evidence above.) – He achieved Disney immortality (and was perfectly cast) as Bernard the Mouse in the animated classics, The Rescuers (1977) and The Rescuers Down Under (1990). – And who can forget lovable Papa Elf, in the holiday hit, Elf (2003)? (Again, perfectly cast!) But his performances extend beyond the realms of comedy and family fun. There’s his early role in “How To Get Rid of Your Wife”, an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour – which I haven’t seen yet, but hope to soon, as I’ve recently learned the entire series is available on Peacock. Granted, from what I’ve read, it does seem to be a comically-tinted episode – but there has to be some seriousness and suspense to it, because a) it’s Alfred Hitchcock, and b) THIS Bob Newhart is most certainly up to something and is decidedly NOT being funny: And there’s his three-episode stint on ER, of which I’ve only seen the first, because ER is generally too much for me anyway – plus I’ve read spoilers and know what happens. (Besides, my heart is still recovering from his appearance on NCIS.) But I do want to see it. I think comedians can make the best dramatic actors, so I love to watch when one steps out and tries. And it’s not like I don’t have the opportunity, since all of ER is on Hulu…I will watch it. I will. I’ll steel myself, and I will. (Now that I’ve put it in writing, I have to follow through.) Regardless of who or in what genre he plays, all of Bob’s characters share this uniquely personal touch that springs from him being so firmly and assuredly grounded in himself. And if you’re an introvert who, like me, needs to feel represented, seen, and understood – seek out The Bob Newhart Show. It’s very ‘70s, but it makes for excellent therapy. (*And all 6 seasons are now on Hulu!*) It’s funny. Entertainment is supposed to be just that – entertaining. And as such, I guess it’s not designed to truly be taken seriously. But occasionally, something or someone you see on screen can impact you in a life-changing way: like one character in a sitcom entirely redefining how you value yourself. That goes so far beyond mere entertainment. It’s the power of art – and the power of someone unwaveringly and uncompromisingly showing up in the world as himself. So, if you’ll indulge me a moment while I send this personal message out into cyberspace: Hi, Bob. Happy 92nd birthday. Thanks for being this introvert’s hero. *** So, what do you think? What are your favorite Bob Newhart moments? And whose work goes beyond entertainment for you? Also, are there any fellow introverts out there? (Feel free to comment here, of course - and, if you’d like to receive notification when I post something new on my blog, go here to subscribe via email or follow me on WordPress. I’d love to connect with you there, too!)
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