Mentioning yesterday that the character William Holden played in Sunset Boulevard was a screenwriter from Dayton, Ohio triggered in my mind an actor/comedian with Dayton ties, Jonathan Winters. Winters was born in Bellbrook, Ohio, raised in Springfield, Ohio and went to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio (where Paul Newman also attended) where he studied acting and began developing his humor. He also studied cartooning at the Dayton Art Institute and became a local radio personality at WING-AM in 1949.
His stay at WING was short lived because he had a tendency to go off-script and in an interview in 2000 Winter’s explained, “I had to have some fun while I was there. Consequently, I was asked to leave. I remember the exact words: ‘Do the time. Do the temperature. And put on Nat King Cole.’” He then spent a few years in radio at a station in Columbus, Ohio.
He eventually would move to New York and became a stand-up comedian. He found great success on TV even having his own TV shows The Jonathan Winters Show and The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters. He also recorded many comedy albums and Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time listed Winters at #18. His wacky, off-the-wall humor greatly influenced Robin Williams. Over the years Winters has appeared in over 50 films and in 1999 he was honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
In a day and age of reality TV programs and news filled with an unmarried woman having octuplets one wonders that if Jonathan Winters was starting his career today what he would have to do to be considered wacky and off-the-wall.
“Now the freaks are on television, the freaks are in the movies. And it’s no longer the sideshow, it’s the whole show. The colorful circus and the clowns and the elephants, for all intents and purposes, are gone, and we’re dealing only with the freaks.”
Update 3/28/08; So it turns out that my aunt worked at WING in Dayton when Winters was starting out on the radio and he had a thing called the breakfast club there where they would record before a live audience. And sometime while my mom was a student at Fairview High School in Dayton she did a couple skits at the breakfast club with Jonathan Winters.
Now I am working on a script that takes place in a retirement home, wouldn’t it be something….