Monday, April 15, 2013

Anybody here seen my old friend Jonathan?

I thought I saw him walking on over the hill, with Elwood and Lennie and Maude.

We lost Jonathan Winters last week, at age 87.

His artistic legacy will be left in the somewhat-inferior hands of Robin Williams (just as Jerry Lewis and Teri Garr will have to count on, respectively, Jim Carrey and Lisa Kudrow to carry their torches one day).

Some remember his albums, some remember his TV show. For better or worse, some mainly remember his season on Mork and Mindy.  I like to remember two of his earliest on-camera moments:

#1: Lister's pool hall, Randolph Street, Chicago, 1961:

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#2: A filling station somewhere between the Mojave Desert and Santa Rosita, California, 1963:

If your browser won't display the embedded version, click here

Interesting that his Twilight Zone performance lets him fill out the character Fats Brown, completely inhabiting it – which is what he did in his own comedy, for even the most spontaneous characterizations. But director Stanley Kramer used him in Mad, Mad, Mad World mainly for heavily choreographed physical humor – not completely unreasonable, since Winters was a big guy, and wasn't shy about using that in his comedy – but he largely ignored Winters' improvisation and characterization skills.

My guess would be that Kramer knew what to do with all those stars of an earlier generation, steeped in the traditions of vaudeville -- Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, et al., -- but wasn't quite so sure what to do with offbeat newcomers like Winters.

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