When I was growing up in the 1950s, my late father worked such long hours that he and I didn’t spend that much time together. But two passions he passed on to me were his love of baseball and comedy.
At age 45 I reluctantly came to the realization that I probably wasn’t going to make it in professional baseball, whereas I’m hoping the jury is still out on the comedy part. Speaking of which, I vividly remember my dad having me join him as we watched the comic genius of Jonathan Winters. (For those young unfortunates who didn’t see Winters in his heyday go to YouTube ASAP and type Jonathan Winters.)
Winters comes to mind because award-winning talk show host John Kerwin, in celebrating his 100th show, garnered the enormous privilege of interviewing Winters, 86, at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif. Remarkably, Jonathan is as sharp as ever and Kerwin’s relaxed style allowed Winters to free associate, leaving me wishing the interview had run even longer.
A few years ago I first wrote about Kerwin’s show when he filmed before a live audience in Santa Monica in the tiniest of studios. Now, completing his 10th season, the amiable and inventive Kerwin has moved to much fancier digs at the JLTV (Jewish Life Television) studios in the Valley. (Fancy, schmancy.) Actually the show and the sets have evolved beautifully over the years.
When I learned Kerwin’s 100th show milestone would include an interview of Winters, a comic hero of mine (and millions more, including Robin Williams), I jumped at the chance of chronicling the event in my column.
Curiously enough, Winters’ career began in 1948 as a result of a lost wristwatch. This was only months after his marriage to Eileen Winters. (They would be married 60 years!) Eileen read about a talent contest in which first prize was … a wristwatch! She encouraged Jonathan to “go down and win it.” He did and the rest, as they say, is comedy history. In 1991 Winters won an Emmy and in 1999, honoring his remarkable body of work, Winters was awarded the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Kerwin was kind enough to give me a sneak preview of the show and Winters was a pure delight. He reprised some of his old characters, (including Maude Frickert) and did some delicious improv bits. It took me back to when Winters starred on the biggest talk shows of the era, hosted by Jack Parr, Steve Allen and Johnny Carson. Winters also starred in numerous movie classics such as “The Russians Are Coming,” “It’s a Mad, Mad World,” “Moon Over Parador,” and, my personal favorite, “The Loved One.”
It’s amazing how brilliant Winters’ humor was (and is), all without the use of four-letter words or blue material. That said, to Kerwin’s question if he still thinks about women, Winters joked, “God is in my mind and the devil’s in my pants.”
Also very funny on the Kerwin 100th show is the exceedingly attractive Brandi Glanville from “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” But, in all fairness, following Winters is a tough act, even for someone with gorgeous legs. I remember when I was still in junior high sneaking out of bed after my parents went to sleep and tip-toeing into the den to watch Winters (at very low volume) on the “Jack Paar Show.”
On one occasion, Winters came on stage dressed as a Spanish bullfighter and stayed in character throughout the show. Even as other guests came out, and Winters moved down the couch, he remained “the bullfighter.” Paar finally said, “Johnny, you can stop now,” to which Winters replied in his Castilian accent, “Who eees this Juanny you speak of?”
Spontaneous and funny in his own right, Kerwin is also an excellent interviewer, a rare talent these days. He also thinks on his feet as evidenced on his very first show in 2001 when his guest canceled at the last minute. In hilarious comedic form, John hurriedly purchased a volleyball and dressed it up to interview Wilson from the then popular “Castaway” film starring Tom Hanks. The interview was a hit and it’s that kind of playful humor that makes Kerwin popular with viewers.
As for the two passions I inherited from my dad, in baseball, this upcoming year it’s tough to know how the Dodgers will do. As for comedy, I can’t help but wish my father were still around so he could watch “The John Kerwin Show” and see Winters one more time.
The 100th “John Kerwin Show” airs Monday, March 26 and can be seen in Santa Monica on Direct TV, channel 336, and Time Warner, channel 177. Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.