Jonathan Winters brought color to TV and humor to the world

Winters finds the big WWith the passing Thursday and public announcement yesterday of classic movie and TV comedian Jonathan Winters, we thought we’d post a few clips of some our favorite bits of his unique humor. In countless interviews Robin Williams counted Winters as his comedic inspiration, both men at the top of the world of improvisation.  Born in Dayton, Ohio in 1925, Winters went on to serve in the Marines in World War II.  His first TV appearance was on Chance of a Lifetime in 1954, and his 15-minute variety show The Jonathan Winters Show on October 23, 1956, sponsored by Tums for RCA on the NBC network included the first color video ever to appear on television.  That’s right, it was Jonathan Winters who brought color to the TV-viewing world. 


Every generation who watched TV encountered Winters in some way.  He led the second generation of modern American comedic actors, following The Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy.  He was known by some as the Hefty garbage man and by others for his recurring bit as Maude Frickert.  Like many comedians in his and later generations, he released many comedy albums on LPs.  In 1961 Winters first entered the world of sci-fi TV in The Twilight Zone episode “A Game of Pool” with Jack Klugman.  He appeared in more than 50 movies and guest starred and starred on many TV shows in his 60 years as an actor, including repeated appearances in every major variety and talk show over the years. 

Grandpa_Smurf voiced by Winters

His key role as a dopey but loveable truck driver stuck riding a little girl’s bicycle and the finder of the big “dubya” in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World may be his most memorable role.  He was a guest star in The Muppet Show in 1980, a perfect venue for Winters’ zany talent.  In the last season of Mork & Mindy, Winters joined Robin Williams’ cast as Mork’s son Mearth.  he was a regular on Hee-Haw in the 1980s and voiced the role of Grandpa Smurf in the animated TV series The Smurfs from 1986-1990.  In 1994 he played Lamont Cranston’s tough guy uncle opposite Adam Baldwin in the retro-superhero flick The Shadow.  In 1999, Winters received the coveted Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Winters Klugman in Twilight Zone

His last role was to co-star in Big Finish, a film in pre-production scheduled for release in late 2014.  It was to follow the residents of a show business retirement facility, and also star Tim Conway, Garrett Morris, Jerry Lewis and Bob Newhart.  It’s not known whether Winters filmed his part of the movie.

Here are some key scenes from Jonathan Winters in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World taking on his nemesis played by Phil Silvers:

And here are excerpts from Winters on The Muppet Show:

Finally, Winters as Mork’s son Mearth in Mork & Mindy:

C.J. Bunce

One comment

  1. To sum up the all-encompassing comedic contributions of Mr. Winters in one brief article is simply an impossibility (though C.J. does an admirable job!). For any Borg fans not familiar with Jonathan’s amazing body of work, SEEING the great man in action is about the only way one can truly appreciate his rapid-fire genius.

    Netflix, and the like are sure to have many of Mr. Winters’ more well-known works, while YouTube (as evidenced above) has numerous vids of him working his magic in the very skits that made him a legend.

    But, if you are one of the uninitiated, don’t just settle for some pixelated 240p clip when there’s a pristinely restored Blu-Ray of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World out there for like $15.00. Simply on a laughs-per-mile basis, it’ll be the best 15 bucks you’ve ever invested. Originally shot in glorious 65mm, and featuring what to this day remains the most staggering assemblage of comedic talent in the history of moviekind, it’s the one title that no fan of filmic funny business should be without.

    Needless to say, the unforgettable scene of Jonathan Winters going postal in a… Never mind, just get your hands on the disc and see for yourself. It’s physical comedy pushed to the point of utter insanity… the results of which are jaw-dropping. You’ll know the scene when you see it!

    And, probably, like the rest of us already-initiated, you’ll find yourself a fan of the Mad Man.


    Rest in Peace, Jonathan Harshman Winters… if there’s a Heaven, it just got a lot funnier up there.

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