Hi, Bob: Newhart to join Illinois Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame
Bob Newhart, the legendary comedian who starred in two of the most successful sitcoms of all time, is about to be enshrined among the Land of Lincoln’s greatest broadcasters. (Cue the phone call: “Hello, Abe?”)
The west suburban Oak Park native will be inducted next week in the Illinois Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame. He’ll join a pantheon that includes Jack Benny, Dave Garroway, Orson Welles, Paul Harvey, Mike Wallace, Siskel & Ebert, Bill Kurtis, Dick Biondi, and the group’s most recent inductee, Oprah Winfrey, among others.
“He’s a remarkable actor, a comedic genius, and clearly a legend in his own time,” Dennis Lyle, president and CEO of the Illinois Broadcasters Association, said in a statement. “There is no question he has rightfully earned his place in the IBA Hall of Fame.”
Newhart, 82, who worked as an advertising copywriter for the Chicago-based Fred A. Niles production company before turning to stand-up comedy, used Chicago as the setting for his first long-running sitcom, The Bob Newhart Show. (A statue of Newhart in the character of psychologist Bob Hartley was unveiled on Michigan Avenue near the building shown in the show’s opening credits in 2004. It later moved to Navy Pier.) He also starred in a subsequent sitcom, Newhart, as New England innkeeper Dick Loudon.
Befitting his characteristic humility, Newhart will be inducted in a private ceremony October 21 — one day before his appearance onstage at the Chicago Theatre.
In an interview to promote his performance, Newhart told WGN's Dean Richards it was especially meaningful to play the venue. “I used to take the streetcar down to State Street and the Chicago Theatre to see the great bands — Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa,” he recalled. “I saw Danny Kaye there and Martin and Lewis. I’ve never played there before, so for me, to walk out on those boards is like something I never thought would happen.
“While I’m downtown, I also want to get over to LaSalle Street where in 1945 I stood as we welcomed back the victorious Chicago Cubs for winning the National League pennant. I guess that was the last time we did that.”
Newhart credits two legendary Chicago radio personalities — Dan Sorkin of WCFL and Wally Phillips of WGN (an IBA Hall of Famer himself) — with boosting his career and landing him a recording deal in 1961 for The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, still one of the best-selling comedy albums in history.
“Dan was very influential in getting me a contract with Warner Brothers Records,” Newhart told Richards. “I recorded three routines onto a tape recorder and Wally would play them. That led to my first club date in Houston, Texas, where I was terrified but went out there and did it. Two weeks later, I recorded Button Down Mind.”