Friday, April 15, 2011

Video: 1964 Jonathan Winters Special

What's the secret to great comedy?


It's 1963 and Jonathan Winters' first network comedy special had its initial table reading in New York City. Jonathan, the writers (including Pat McCormick), guest star Art Carney and producer George Schlatter all felt it was shaping up.

But, unknown to them, bad timing was in the air -- to say the least.

"We left the reading," says Schaltter, "and found out that Kennedy had been shot."

The people were stunned. The script was thrown out. Nothing was funny. Everyone retired to bars to think. Production shut down for a week.

When taping was set to begin, there was no script, there had been no rehearsals.

At the YouTube link below, producer George Schlatter reminiscences about the troubled show, titled "A Wild Winters Night." He talks about how Winters and Carney were given a table full of every prop they could find and they were taped for 90 minutes, doing improv bits.

If you are a Netflix member, you can watch "A Winters Night" for yourself by streaming the entire 1964 program, as it aired, complete with commercials. Link here. (I think that the New Christy Minstrels songs were cut, thus the 36 minute running time. Oh, and despite the Netflix title of Jonathan Winters: Rare & Riotous, it really is "A Wild Winters Night.")

There is a specific reference at the end of the program to Charles Schulz and his bestseller HAPPINESS IS A WARM PUPPY. The camera pans to a chair with stuffed animal versions Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy and other PEANUTS characters. Continuing the pan, Jonathan Winters is revealed, looking at us. Winters becomes serious, talking to the camera. We cut to a series of still photos of the comedian, his wife and kids as Winters' in voiceover talks about the importance of family.

Perhaps the concept was to add some heart or tack on a parting message.

Perhaps the message is that with love we will be all right ... no matter how sobering the timing.

Hat tip to Roy Edroso for the still photo.

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