The first thing I should say is that, as far as I know, Bob Newhart is still alive, thank goodness. Often the only time someone writes about an aging celebrity is when they die, so I hope you didn’t see Bob’s picture at the top of this entry and think the worst. It’s one of life’s cruelest ironies that we tend to celebrate someone’s life and work only when they’re dead and can’t enjoy it. So after watching an episode of Newhart this afternoon I wanted to take a minute to praise Bob.
This was an episode of the Vermont show, not the superior psychiatrist show, but contained a classic scene of vintage Newhartism. In this episode Bob takes over the book-themed talk show on the local TV station. For his first show, he books the author of a slim volume called The Complete History of the Universe, who no-shows and sends a replacement guest in his place. This guest, a retired military man who has written a book about a canoe trip up the Amazon, starts off well enough but soon produces what he claims to be a photograph of a herd of dinosaurs that he found on the banks of a tributary.
When Bob notes that the photo is far too blurry to show anything, much less dinosaurs, the guest responds that of course it’s blurry, it was taken from the air. There’s a priceless pause as Bob processes this information, then inquires how they took a picture from the air on a canoe trip. His guest then reveals that they were generously taken aloft by the aliens who live in the area. It’s all downhill from there, and Bob’s looks of pained incredulity as things unravel around him are the stuff of which legends are made.
This comic style — subtle, slow, self-deprecating — is a relic from another age, but thankfully Bob himself is still with us. I don’t know why, but even more so than many of my favorite entertainers, the idea of a world without Bob Newhart bothers me. He and Bill Shatner and Abe Vigoda would probably be my top three in this category. I fear I have doomed them by writing this, and I apologize for that, but what can you do?