Close Encounters of the Treasured Kind #4: The Eccentrics Part 1 Jonathan Winters
The three wonderfully distinctive personalities I encountered and will mention in this series were all outspoken, eccentric to be sure, but full of passion for the unusual things in life. They all shared a sharp and wicked sense of humour and a youthful exuberance that probably presented itself to most who crossed their paths. I'm fairly certain of this because I had friends who encountered them as well. I feel extremely fortunate to have met all three. Sadly they have all passed on.
When I was quite young, my Dad shared with me an underground reel-to-reel tape recording of Jonathan Winters "talking" to a couple of guys in between doing some L&M cigarette commercials. He was improvising various "bits", making some strange sound effects and would perform all of the characters' voices with a manic zeal, juxtaposing them with rapid fire while infusing each one with a weird and cynical personality, plus some outrageously shocking and profane punch lines. Anyone familiar with Winters' comedy recordings and numerous television appearances would have most likely been aghast at the crude, deadpan offensiveness of this very private performance. Private is at least what Jonathan thought since he was unaware of the recording being made. I have been told that none other than Lenny Bruce had some words of admiration for Jonathan's little sound bites of comedy madness as the recording started to "make the rounds." The two guys Jonathan performed for obviously enjoyed it because they were laughing their heads off. I met and spoke with Jonathan when he made an impromptu visit to The Earthling Bookstore (long since closed) that used to be in Santa Barbara, a small coastal town about 90 minutes drive north of Los Angeles. He was of course very funny as he ad-libbed various anecdotes about Mother's Day and other current topics. I asked about his dramatic roles and he spoke of the difficulty in being seriously considered for parts because of his comic persona. And then I asked him about the tape and, a little embarrassed, he named one of the bits he did, smiled and left.
I have also spoken with Robin Williams (who was a great admirer and close friend of Jonathan's) about Winters' recording but that was when the latter was still alive and Robin told me that he would, out of respect, want to have Jonathan's permission before listening to the tape. So out of respect for Mr. Williams (who I imagine was personally devastated at his idol's loss last year) I have made no further attempt to contact him. By the way, that tape recording is probably the funniest, most creative routine I've ever heard.
#Edit: The above encounter with Mr. Williams was obviously written before his passing. Now he's with his dear friend. Robin Williams (July 21, 1951 - August 11, 2014) R.I.P.
Jonathan Winters (November 11, 1925 - April 11, 2013) R.I.P.
Next Time: My several encounters with Timothy Carey