Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bob Newhart's Chicago Days

Bob Newhart with the Dr. Robert Hartley
statue which is now at Navy Pier
Most everyone knows that legendary comic genius , Bob Newhart was from Chicago -- got his accounting degree from Loyola University and that his hit 70s sitcom was, at least fictionally, based in Chicago.

But Newhart's breezy, 2006 autobiography, I Shouldn't Be Doing This - And Other Things That Strike Me As Funny, heaves up a wealth of other trivia about his Chicago days.

Here goes:

-- Bob Newhart was actually born in Oak Park Hospital, but his family lived down the road in much more modest Austin, which is where he grew up.

-- Newhart went to St. Catherine of Siena grammar school (which still exists) and despite living just 8 blocks from the elite Catholic Boy's Fenwick High School, he commuted 45 minutes daily by CTA into the city to attend the Jesuit St. Ignatius High School.

-- He got his undergraduate degree in business from Loyola University/Chicago and then went to Loyola U's Law School, but dropped out because he really couldn't stand the study of Law and was spending much of his time testing the waters onstage for his future career as a stand up comic.

-- Bob Newhart is of the 2nd largest ethnicity in the US being of Irish/German derivation (According to self-reported US Census Bureau reports German is #1, German/Irish is #2 and Irish is #3)

-- Newhart was attending family Thanksgiving dinner gatherings in Chicago as late as 1989

The Bob Newhart Show statue at Chicago's Navy Pier
-- Newhart's mom was a Cubs fan. His dad was a Sox fan. He frequently went to Wrigley Field with his mom and never set foot in Comiskey Park. He claims to still be able to reel off the entire 1945 Cubs World Series lineup from memory.

-- While at Loyola U, Newhart took boxing lessons and sparred with Loyola classmates at the Oak Park YMCA and the Northwestern University gym. He got a deviated septum from his activity in the ring.

-- Newhart got his first "real job" as an accountant for Chicago-based U.S. Gypsum in '56 and ''57. He then moved over to the accounting department in the Loop HQ of the Gliddens Paint Co.

-- In '58 Bob Newhart dumped his accounting career in favor of his 1st TV gig at the Chicago ABC affiliate, WBKB - precursor to WLS-TV. He provided comic relief on a morning show with "Man in the street" interviews, for which he made $300 a week ($2612 in 2018 dollars) for a daily 2 hour gig. He played a lot of golf that year.

-- With a buddy who was an account executive at the Leo Burnett advertising agency downtown, Newhart cut his first comic recordings (using the Burnett recording studio after hours.) They syndicated them to 3 radio stations in small markets and lost money on the venture. But it served as a prototype for Newhart's smash #1 grammy-winning comedy albums which topped the charts in '60 and '61.

-- It was Newhart's idea to place his '70s hit sitcom, The Bob Newhart Show, in Chicago. While the opening and closing sequences were filmed in Chicago, everything else was shot in Hollywood.

-- The Newhart show script has Bob and Emily living on the 5th floor of the "Meridian Beach apartments on Lake Shore Drive." According to the book, the actual shot which appears in the credit sequences is of the 7th floor of the Buckingham Plaza at Randolph and Lake Shore Drive. But that may be wrong (perhaps a ghostwriter's error) as local lore recommends their abode as shot on the show, was the condo building on the beach at 5901 N. Sheridan Rd. It sure looks like it to us.

-- Despite living near the lake, Dr. Hartley is shown walking to his Lakeshore apartment from a Brown line EL station, about 7 miles West of the lake, where the non-downtown CTA train segments of the show were shot. It would have been a rather long and inefficient walk.

-- The opening sequence shot of Dr. Hartley walking across the Michigan Ave. bridge over the Chicago River, is not of Bob Newhart, but rather a stunt double. Newhart's daughter was seriously ill on the only day they had permission to shut down Loop traffic for that shot and he chose to be with her in the hospital.

-- One Newhart script had Bob attending a Cubs home night game, 14 years before Wrigley Field had installed lights.

-- Bob Newhart jumped at his first invitation to perform stand-up comedy in LA, because it was a chance to get away from the gruesome Chicago winter, which he could no longer stand.

Oh, and the odd title of Bob Newhart's 2006 autobiography comes from one of his favorite bits of characteristically dry humor.
It's from a joke about a man who is in bed making love to his boss's wife and in the throes of passion she yells, "Kiss me! Kiss me!"

To which he responds, "Are you kidding? I shouldn't even be doing this!"

Here's the intro to The Bob Newhart Show from the first years of its run:


  1. It�s hard to find experienced people about this topic, but you seem like you know what
    you�re talking about! Thanks

  2. My dad went to a Chicago area Jesuit boys prep school(Loyola Academy) and also got his degree in accounting from Loyola U. He did not become a famous TV comedic actor, but did become a rather good golfer. Must be a Jesuit boys school accountant thing.

    Nice article.


Comments invited, however anonymous commentors had better deal directly with the issues raised and avoid ad hominem drivel. As for Teachers' Union seminar writers -- forget about it.