Transcript:

Interviewer: So let's just start at the beginning, if we could if you could tell me what year it was and. And what. What you were doing at the time that you first became aware of. Now we're really ready.

Dan Sorkin: Oh, good, good.

Interviewer: No we're not. I got a voice check, but it's different.

Dan Sorkin: You were checking some.

Interviewer: OK.

Dan Sorkin: All right. OK.

Interviewer: If you remember what year it was and what you were doing, what your job was when you first became aware of Bob Newhart.

Dan Sorkin: Well, when I first became a Bob Newhart in the in the early 60s, I think was 16, 1960, 1961. I was doing a morning show in Chicago. WCF l am Ed Gallagher came to see me. Said, I've got this great tape and this I'm working with this partner of mine. And his name is Bob Newhart. And the company we formed is called TNA, T.C., TCN Tape Network Coöperative. And what we've done is we put these comedy bits together and we sell them to radio stations for four dollars each. Only a course is five dollars to make each one. So the more we sell, the more we lose. And we were hoping to get something else going because we're running out of money. And he gave me the tape and I listen to the tape and I thought it was fantastic. I thought he was. Now, Ed's a good friend of mine, but he just wasn't very good on the tape. And this this fellow who is working with this, Bob Newhart, was fantastic. And so I played one or two of the tracks on the air and people thought that Bob Newhart was was terrific, too. And Jim Conkling, who was the president of Warner Brothers Records at the time, was coming through town. And he had told me that it looks like Warner Brothers is not going to make it as a record company because none of their albums are selling. And I said, well, hop on a comic. You know, a comics are really good sale. He said, you have a week. You'd better nearly have a stable of comedians. Yet they didn't have Shelley Berman. They didn't have nickels, the mayor, Jonathan Winters or any of the other people. And I played him this cassette and said, oh, I got this fantastic. We're going to book him at his next outing. Well, there was no outing because Bob wasn't appearing anywhere. And so I contacted Tweet Hogan as Bob's that is Bob's manager until Bob got what he wanted and tweet booked him into a hotel in Texas somewhere. Warner Brothers papered the house. They got a bunch of people to come in to it to applaud. And and Bob did is his routines. Every single one of them. That was and that was the button down mind of Bob Newhart. The first album.

Interviewer: That's amazing. Let me just back up a little bit and talk about those tapes and what it was, if you could describe what it was when you were listening. Set the scene when you're listening to.

Dan Sorkin: Well, as I recall, they were man on the street tapes, interviews of ordinary people. And Ed Gallagher would be interviewing this man on the street who was always Bob Newhart. And the thing about Bob Newhart was that he sounded like like like anybody like your closest friend or somebody you just met or or somebody you liked, you know, a lot. And he would trust with you. So you had a daughter. Her first date with that. That's what he sounded like. So. That was it.

Interviewer: And what was so funny about those routines? What was it?

Dan Sorkin: Well, he didn't. Well, his timing and delivery bobs, he just didn't sound like anybody else. He didn't sound like Lenny Brooks. He didn't sound like Jonathan Winters. He didn't sound like Mike Nichols. He certainly didn't sound like a late May. He sounded like Bob Newhart. He was completely individual. He had a slight stammer. Shelley Berman had a slight stammer. But it was it was different. It was Burmans. Routines were sharp and cutting. And always with a telephone. And and Bob, it didn't matter whether he was on a telephone, Miss or Walter Raleigh, you know, talking to the company back in May in England or the or the bus driver was the with that routine or the fire department or whatever. No matter what it was that he was involved in. You bought it. If he said if he was acting as if he was a fireman, you accepted him as a fireman. If he acted as if he was an airline pilot with a grace all Ferguson airline and storm door company, then he was one of those. It was just amazing. He was a he was a comedic chameleon.

Interviewer: And he was kind of an every man is a.

Dan Sorkin: Bob was like an every man. Yeah, he was. You just felt comfortable with the humor. There were no four, eight, ten or twelve letter Anglo-Saxon words. He didn't need them. He didn't need the epithets. They just weren't necessary. They weren't they were superfluous. He had to have this. Well, first of all, he has a funny mind. It thinks funny. Mortician's don't think funny. Bob always thought funny in the routine of here's where I think it was called the Khrushchev landing rehearsal, where the door opens and he's saying, you know, watch out for the kid. All of it, you know, they they're banging the kid with the door. Well, who thinks of these things? You know, he did.

Interviewer: And before we get to the Warner Brothers records, you know what you thought, after you listen to those tapes, you must have thought, how can I use him? But you had a.

Dan Sorkin: Well, after I heard the tapes, I invited Bob to come on the show and he he just ad lib routine's whatever was happening in the in the news that day. I could ask him as a as a reporter and say, well, you were on such and such a seen you you flew the helicopter in here. What was it like. And he'd say, well we we crashed or you or something like that. He was he was just great. And then during one of the show, he he said he really he had a job then as a as an accountant, as a not an accountant, as as a bookkeeper with the LNA. Which was a long departed clothing store in Chicago. And he did their books and he was always he was always off a penny or so, and instead of trying to find the penny, because it just drove me crazy, he was doing that. He put the money in himself. And I remember he telling me that he just didn't think he could sell another pair of binoculars or another pair of knickers that he really wanted to do something else. And I knew there was a job opening in Battle Creek, Michigan, for a disc jockey. I said, you want to be a disc jockey? He said, well, yeah, that would be good. And at the time, I had an airplane, so we got into it and flew across the lake to Battle Creek. And I told the manager there, I have this guy that had done years and years of working in Los Angeles that he was willing to work for your radio station. And they thought, this is fantastic. So they gave Bob this audition. Well, I don't know what he was doing. And and he. And he told them that I mean, he was just, you know, they they said, well, how many years experience. And he said, I've never done any of this before. And what they decided audition them anyway. And he couldn't find the mike switch or the. It was it was just a disaster. And meanwhile, I was sitting there having Cokes or something with manager. And then they brought Bob back out there and I said, how'd it go? And Bob said, I think we should go back to Chicago and think about another career. And so we left Battle Creek. Oh, yeah, my. Can you imagine? You know, Bob Newhart sitting in Battle Creek, Michigan, saying the time is 22 minutes past the hour. And here is Horatio Hornblower and his trumpet or something like that. Now, it would have been. Yeah, it would have been a distater.

Interviewer: That's amazing. You had a whole different career.

Dan Sorkin: Yeah. Frightening.

Interviewer: So during that whole time, he that he was working with you. He had other jobs.

Dan Sorkin: Bob did have other jobs just to keep. But he was single at that time, he had met Ginny and he was working well, as I say, as a as a bookkeeper and a clerk with V.L.. And I and he did other jobs. But I don't I don't know what they were, but they were, I think, late at night and stealthy. Now, I don't know whether any banks were broken into at that hour, but, you know, it's he never did tell me what he did at night.

Interviewer: So where was he living during?

Dan Sorkin: As I recall, Bob was living at this time, Bob was living at home with with mom and Dad. And he didn't begin living away. Until he began to travel. Well, I think the first date was that I think was the tides. And Hughes was in Houston, you know, the Tides Hotel in Houston where you were the buttoned down mind was was recorded. And then I think, well, I'm just guessing. I think you've got a home somewhere out here in the West Coast, Los Angeles.

Interviewer: You talked about during that time you thought maybe, you know, all his friends were getting married. Maybe. A flop, a failure. Did he ever talk about that with you?

Dan Sorkin: Oh, yeah. He. He thought the the adventure with Ed Gallagher with Tape Network Coöperative was gonna be the pinnacle of his career, that he had recorded these things on tape and people were actually listening to them. And even though they were losing a lot of money, the more popular he got, the more money they were losing. At least he was on all these these these little radio stations. And then there was there was the possibility of television. And that's when I had this ill fated two or three series TV show and in Chicago, NBC in Chicago. And so I invited Bob to be on that show. And I was I was just terrible on their show. No good for television. When I when I saw the lens, I was like a deer in the in the in the headlights. I it just it terrified me and. And he loved it. He was. And he was really good at it. And he had this, this, this natural feel for the camera. He treated the camera like it was someone that that he was either talking to or performing in front of. Now I'm I was never I couldn't do that. I wasn't I was unable to do that. If I was sitting alone in a studio in front of a microphone, it was different because it was just me and and the microphone and audio engineer on the other side. But Bob was just fantastic. Oh, he was the only part of the show that was any good. I mean. Well, no, that isn't true. The band was terrific. I mean, they really were. It was Art Van Damme, Art Van Dam's quintet. It was a jazz quintet. Art was the only jazz accordionist I knew at the time, and he was fantastic. So between Art and Bob Newhart, we had a show. If they could have gotten rid of me and everybody else on the show, it wouldn't it would have been a really good thing to watch. But it was just painful. And I was on there and it was painful and it was. But it was great. When when Bob was performing, it was terrific when the band was on.

Interviewer: So let's go back now to the to the Warner Brothers, somehow the Albert. If you could just walk us through that a little bit. You were in a position obviously to help him because you knew some of these executives.

Dan Sorkin: Well, the Warner Brothers album story is really kind of a nice story. The it's only nice because of that had it saved Warner Brothers as a as a recording company and it gave Bob this incredible platform that launched his his career. Jim Conklin, I think the timing is timing is everything. It's you know, it's that way with birth. It's the his way with comedians. It's Jim Conklin who was then the president of Warner Brothers, had just come through Chicago. And he and I have become friends. And he told me that the adventure into the recording albums, which just wasn't making it for Warner Brothers, that they had to find one hit. Otherwise they were out of business. And so I told them about this this incredible comic that hadn't been recorded by anybody except their own little tape network co-operative. And I played him that or I actually, I, I can't remember where they played in the tape or I did one of Bob's route. I think I did one of Bob's routines because once you hear one of the routines, it's simple to do it for other people. And I don't remember which one. And he said, this guy is really. Yes. And he said, well, this guy's terrific. So we'll record him at his next outing. And that's when. His manager was found tweet Hogan and his publicity, Asian and so on. And that's when we all moved down to the Tides Hotel in Houston, paper the house and recorded it.

Interviewer: So did you call Bob then and say guess what. He wasn't even there.

Dan Sorkin: Oh no, no, he wasn't there. You know, I don't remember.

Interviewer: You don't remember his reaction?

Dan Sorkin: No, I, I don't remember. It's. I mean, I had the column in saying, you know, Warner Brothers wants to record you now and I'll get you an interim manager and then you can decide, you know, if if if it all works out, you can decide whether you want to keep him or not or get an agent or something. That's pretty much how it went.

Interviewer: What went into finding that I know, I understand it was difficult to find, but I never played a nightclub.

Dan Sorkin: No, he had never been in a nightclub. Bob had never played a nightclub before, he. And when I told him, I didn't tell him he was playing with tides in Houston. His his manager, Tweed Hogan, booked the Times in Houston and let Warner Brothers know that. And then one of us said, fine, we'll have all our employees come in and there'll be a they'll be applauding and hooting and hollering and whistling and we'll go ahead, record him. We'll bring you all the recording equipment. And and and so on. So that I think that's how we found out.

Interviewer: So tell me how that album how well it did and what it did for Warner Brothers as well.

Dan Sorkin: Well, it it made Warner Brothers the the album became the best selling album in the country. It it went it into its quarter million stamping then in its half million stamping. Its million stamping. I mean, it was unbelievable. And then other recording artists began to court, Jim Copying and Warner Brothers to get on the label and the label was made. And Bob never. He just didn't understand how any of this was was happening. As you say, he had never played a nightclub before. The closest thing to it was a roomful of people at home.

Interviewer: Do you when the album came out, you also had a pivotal role in promoting.

Dan Sorkin: Yeah, but, yeah, I did have a pimple. Well, a pivotal role, and probably it's it was a it was a fantastic album. And anybody that wanted to garner a lot of listeners would play this album Justice. Now, remember, this is the golden age of comedy, at least the recorded golden age of comedy. It was the age of Berman and Nichols and May. And, you know, all those people and and Bob fit right in with it. And when I started playing the album, I'd get calls from disc jockeys across the country, from Don Sherwood, for example, in in San Francisco. And then for somebody in New York. And are you plant? Yes, I am. Oh, that's. Oh. And then the liner notes came up. I mean, at that time, liner notes on an album were a really big deal because it promoted not only the artists, but it promoted whoever wrote the liner notes. And as I was asked to make up the liner notes for this first album, well, I made up the liner notes. Now, remember, this is long before we ever knew that Warner Brothers was going to succeed as a record company and nobody had any idea that Bob was gonna hit this way. And so I wrote the liner notes and Bob looked at him. He approved those and I didn't even know there were such things as liner notes, and I never really looked at them before either. But I get an album to play. I listen to one or two tracks. And if I like that, I play the album. And so it was a stunning hit for both of us. All of a sudden, people were calling me saying, gee, we love your liner notes. And I thought, well, you don't get an Emmy for a liner notes. I mean, you know, anybody can write one or notes, and whenever you write them, they're always revised by somebody else anyway. And whatever you wrote is no longer there.

Interviewer: How did it spread? Did it start when they first came out? Did it start in Chicago and spread it?

Dan Sorkin: No. It. I mean, I would love to say that, you know, when I first as soon as I played Bob's first track. He was a national. Sensation. It isn't true. Warner Brothers went to the prime disc jockeys on each one of the major markets. And we all wanted the best thing for our shows. So we were all playing him at that video simultaneously. And because he was the everyman of comedy, he was selling in every and every market. Record stores could not keep that keep his albums in stock. That just kept running out. And Warner Brothers kept pressing more and more and more. It was just it was a phenomenon.

Interviewer: I had read somewhere where they that some of the newspapers they used to print in the paper, what time they wouldn't be playing tracks from his album.

Dan Sorkin: Newspapers that I don't I don't remember.

Interviewer: And, how do you know? Did you see Bob's life change?

Dan Sorkin: How did Bob's life change after the. Well, he was a clerk at the LNA and sometimes and he went from being a clerk at V.L. and a to the most recognized name, not just in the United States. His records were selling globally. They were they were selling in France. They were selling in Germany. They were selling in Estonia. I mean, suddenly he was he was nationally famous, internationally famous. Plus, an awful lot of money comes with that, too. So he has his entire life. Changed literally over overnight. But what I think one of the most remarkable things about him is that he is exactly that. Now, this is the you know, this sounds like some sort of made up story, but it really is. He is exactly the same today as he was when I met him more than 50 years ago. We had no I hadn't seen Bob face to face in something like a little more than 40 years. And when he played well, when his statue was unveiled in Chicago on Michigan Avenue, I came in for that. And we had dinner. I had dinner with my wife and I was with Bob and he and his wife Jenny and their kids. And we sat at the at the end of the table together and we picked up the conversation that we had begun 40 or 50 years before. And we talked straight through for, I don't know, for the entire dinner. And it was if he was, he's exactly the same. You know, it's I have no idea what his net worth is. I don't think he does either. And it just it. You know, I've met so many people in this in this business were a little bit of success, turns them into a balloon, heads that, you know, that never happened with with Bob Newhart.

Interviewer: And how does that impact the comedy scene? Do you think it changed the way people.

Interviewer: I I'm really, really not sure how the album impacted the comedy you feel. I know that because it was such a big selling album. It also helped the sales of other comedy albums. When when when you heard album kicked off into its 500000 millionth test pressing, so did some of the other albums. The Bermann albums. The Nichols and May. Jonathan Winters, Lenny Bruce and all those albums were also selling quickly.

Interviewer: Do you think it appealed to a different younger audience. Was comedy shifting through albums and so forth?

Dan Sorkin: Was comedy shifting?

Interviewer: People were going to clubs?

Dan Sorkin: Well, people, well, people were all had always been going to clubs and and the and the comic and the club was always the, you know, the. The point where we are. But what if it's going to a club. You listening either to a comic or you listen to a band or or or a smaller group, or if someone had gone out and done it? They had gone to a play or an opera or something like that. What I think it did for club business was booming, clean increase club business. I know that clubs like the The Hungry I in San Francisco and the and the Very Brothers clubs in in Chicago were suddenly doing land office business, whereas where they'd have sidewalk holdouts, where there'd be lines of people now waiting, whereas there weren't there really weren't lines of people out. I mean they were doing the business good business, but not lines of people. People really lined up to see the comics now.

Interviewer: So after the album came out, was he sort of off and running, was he? You know. Thank you. Do you want some water?

Dan Sorkin: I've got some here somewhere.

Interviewer: There's other side.

Dan Sorkin: Thank you.

Interviewer: So let's just let's just clarify a couple of things. Sure. Again, if you could just explain that. When it was, I guess, like 1958 and you were a Chicago DJ. I just want to make sure I understood what your job was, okay?

Dan Sorkin: Oh, what was my job? I was a meat. No, no, I was a I was a disc jockey in Chicago and actually I began there in 1950, which was. Oh, my God. That's fifty five years ago, but I came in contact with Bob Newhart in the early 60s, either 1960 or 1961. And that's what.

Interviewer: The album came out in 60.

Dan Sorkin: Oh, that must have been 1960. Yeah, because. I mean, when I met him, when did I meet Bob Newhart? Well, I guess, yeah, must be 1959. I mean, it must be 1959. The because I met Bob's who at Gallagher and Tapert were co-operative tapes that they had, and then I play the tapes. And I met him after Ed gave me the tapes and then he was on a show. I had a morning show in Chicago from six to nine a.m. and Bob would. I would show up on the show about 7:00 and stay with me until until the end. And I was an open invitation whenever he wanted to come by and just hang out and have breakfast on the show and contribute a bit or make up a bed or something. And if something happened in the news, the kind of show it was, it was it was music, news and sports. And the music I played was all jazz. It was. But it was big band jazz. It was the basic band. It was, you know, sort of those the singers were like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan and, you know, and Frank Sinatra and people like that. And then and then comedy albums. So he fit right in with with this. And we maybe even had a couple of phone calls saying, you know, working if we're going to find a recording of this this Newhart that you have on on the show. And then propitiously, Jim Conkling, who is an executive with Warner Brothers Records, he was the chief executive of Warner Brothers Records, which was Warner Brothers New Adventure, came through Chicago promoting another album. And I told Jim about Bob Newhart. And Jim said, well, we need something that bad. We know it's I mean, we need something good because we're in we're in bad shape. If we don't get a hit soon with Warner Brothers Records, they're just not going to be any Warner Brothers. So and I did one of Bob's routines for him and he thought that was funny. He's a great we'll record it is next outing. And that was the title hotel in Houston.

Interviewer: Do you remember what routine you did?

Dan Sorkin: Yeah, and it's one he hasn't recorded yet. It was the red phone, like the red phone was. Now remember this time in the late 50s, early 60s, we we're still in the Cold War and people were still ducking and cover under under desks because we didn't know whether there was going to be a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. And Bob had this routine where there was a red phone on the desk in case, you know, someone had made a fateful error. Well, apparently we had made a fateful error. And the missile was on its way. So he picks up the red phone and says he's waiting for Nikita Khrushchev at the other end of the phone and he picks up the phone. Any. Any. And he says, no, operator. This is the president of the United States. I'm. No, no, I'm serious. I'm the president of the United States. I'm calling Mr. Khrushchev. I don't know the area code anyway. That was basically the routine. And it cockneys said, that's fantastic. We've got to record this guy. And so that's when I found him a manager and they booked at the tides in Houston, papered the house. And that was the button down mind of Bob Newhart.

Interviewer: Wasn't that also the same routine? Later on, the.

Dan Sorkin: Yeah. Oh, yeah. That same routine. I thought he was gonna perform it on the on the TV show, but now he had secured and in Burbank on the NBC network. And he did the routine and the the NBC people said, well, you can't do that. That's going to terrify the whole country. All right. Can you imagine? I mean, with with what we're hearing today, they thought, well, that's going to terrify the hook. So they wouldn't permit. And he's never as far as I know, he's never recorded that routine and he's never performed that that bit on television.

Interviewer: Let's talk about the sixty one show. I actually go back for. So the first album came out in 1960. And then was Bob, excuse me, off on the road after that, did he. Was he gone from Chicago. His life has changed.

Dan Sorkin: Well once the. Yeah, once the album hit in 1960, he was booked everywhere and I don't know how many cities and how many weeks, it was an enormous amount of cities. And in a very, very short period of time, he played radio stations and nightclubs, TV guest appearances. He was on The Tonight Show. He was on The Ed Sullivan Show. He was in any show that had booked a variety, any variety show, network show. He was he was a big part of. And he kept running, being asked back over and over and over again. When I remember when the I talked to the SEAL test sponsors, that was his one of the two first I think it was Beechnut Gum and SEAL Test ice cream on that first show. The their sales were were just skyrocketing. I mean, it it was it was amazing. They m and there was nothing on the seal test cartons or the beach nut gum wrappers. The same thing about Newhart. But there were so many people now tuned in because of the album and because of the shows that their their sales were just going through the roof. It was it was just it was an amazing phenomenon.

Interviewer: Tell me about how that variety show came out?

Dan Sorkin: I mean, the variety show that I hosted in Chicago or the one in Burbank.

Interviewer: In Burbank. His show.

Dan Sorkin: His show in Burbank. Well, that show it had some some great writers on it. And and Bob loved working with the writers, I think was Roland Kibbie was what? He was one of them. And the end he had this fantastic band that we both loved. It was it was Paul Western's orchestra when some of the best jazz musicians in the country, Lou Rawls, and he beat people like that. And of course, Paul Wilson's wife, Jo Stafford, was. I know. I don't think she appeared on any of the shows. The Western band was it was it was the band that made the bridges between all of the little spots of routines and things. But that that was basically it. We we had a fantastic director who loved Bob's comedy routines and knew how to how to photograph him and how to bring out the best in what he did. And he was good at coaching both of us.

Interviewer: Describe what the show was.

Speaker Well, that show was a what was that show? That show was about? It was variety show and it had skits, little skits, and they were like a series of non sequiturs, one right after another. There will be a bit a bit of musical pick. There will be a bit of a musical path. There would be a thing that Bob would do that then Bob would do something with a couple of actors. And then there was something else. And all of a sudden an hour had gone by. It was amazing. Well, that's another thing about. About Newharts, generosity, the he asked me to be the announcer on the show and the NBC people say, well, I said, listen, there's this kid in Chicago is never he's never done a network television show before. We've got this you know, this network announcer was really good at doing his thing. You want to worry about him? And he said, no, I want I'd like to have Dana on the show. And so and I didn't know that until, you know, like several years later that there was this really big arguments that took place. And he stood fast and said, well, I'm not well, I'm not going to show Lizzie he does the show. No. No. I've found out much, much later from somebody else who was privy to the arguments that were going on.

Interviewer: Talk about,.

Dan Sorkin: You know actually, he was whoever was arguing for I'm trying to remember the name. I can't remember the name of the announcer they wanted, but he was really good, too. Let me read you. He was one of my announcing heroes, and he would have been a lot better. And I was truly I mean, he had the presence of the fire. He done all of this before. And when I got in front of a television monitor, weather was just as the announcer or as I mean, my my upper lip began to perspire. You know, the my heart was beating like a trip hammer me my arm. The armpits were becoming Waterfall's. It was, you know, I thought, well, why don't why don't people do this? Why am I doing this?

Interviewer: How did bob seem? He had never carried his own television show before? Was he incredibly nervous?

Dan Sorkin: Well, he said he was, but he never looked it.

Interviewer: Can you say that?

Dan Sorkin: Oh, yeah, yeah. Bob's nervousness. Well, he I'm sure he was and he said he always said he was very nervous. But you never you never showed it. He always seemed like he was just born into this this role. And whatever the role demanded, he he delivered. He never, ever his hands never shook. I never saw him perspire. He said, though, that, you know, oftentimes his stomach was was kind of it or not. But when when funny things would happen are enough funny things, when odd things would happen, like part of a set would fall apart. That always happens. And, you know, nothing is perfect. That would give him a chance to adlib. And he wanted to do more and more ad libbing, you know, all the time. And we in the late 50s, early 60s, there really were censors and especially I mean, well, I was especially NBC, probably all the networks were like that, but they really did let them know that there was just, you know, so far you could go and no further.

Interviewer: We talked on the phone about how him doing his monologues and bits versus doing the sketches. You said some interesting things about that.

Dan Sorkin: I did?

Interviewer: Yeah. I think it was more. I think you felt that he was obviously comfortable doing the monologues is that was what he did on the albums. Natural thing. But then he also had to do acting in the sketches with actors and that was kind of a new thing for him.

Dan Sorkin: Whether he was well, let's see Bob in sketches, Bob in in monologues, Bob and acting, not acting, seem to come. It came naturally to me. He's is a natural born actor. The the monologues, I think, were easier for him because it had a structure that that he was he was used to delivering it. It's how his mind work. He could. He could. What's a cholinergic extent to the extent or extemporaneous mind flow really worked well with him. If you throw if you throw him a subject, for example, say, World War I, World War Nine, then his mind would wrap around that and he'd say World War Nine. Right. Let's see. No flowers, no wheat, no people. A couple of buildings, two cows, one woman. But his mind worked like that, whereas with the acting he was he was locked into. You have to be on your mark here. You have to do over. You have to do your little piece of business over here. You have to turn over there and do that. And it was restricted. The monologues weren't because they didn't have to be word for word.

Interviewer: Do you think he agreed that there were some frustrations or learned during making that show as well?

Dan Sorkin: Were there any frustrations for him doing the show? I don't know if. Because he never complained about anything. It's. I don't hide.

Interviewer: There were some issues with the with the writers that he if he sort of felt like he knew what worked for him.

Dan Sorkin: Did he have any conflict with the writers? I don't I don't really know. I never I never attended any of the writer's conferences where they got together and they hammered out the routines of what was going to work and what wasn't going to work. I don't know. What what he contributed that that they objected to or whether what they had fights about. He he just he just never complained about anything. I mean, he he just didn't he. All the people he worked with, he tried to get the best out of. And he listened to everybody, but he he didn't make the final decisions himself.

Interviewer: And what about doing the on air commercials?

Dan Sorkin: Well, the on air commercials, I know that he made them enjoyable for me because he would come out and and we were able to kind of jostle back and forth. And it just made doing a SEAL test or a Beechnut commercial. A lot more fun rather than, you know, chew Beechnut gum. And trying to sound like like a network announcer when it was something that I was never able to do anyway. I mean, when when they when they talk like this, you know, there were other voices coming out of their socks and all that as inside it. It wasn't natural. And he made the commercials that I did sound natural, mainly because of the interplay between the two of us.

Interviewer: Did did it bother to do them at all?

Dan Sorkin: Did he ever talk about being more a corporation than a comedian? Not to me. No, I never heard that.

Interviewer: What tell me how long the show was on and what happened to.

Dan Sorkin: Now, this is the first we're talking about the first TV show. Yeah, it well, it ran one year. And it wasn't renewed at the end of the year, although it got an Emmy for that first year and it also had incredible ratings that first year and SEAL Test and Beechnut Gum sold more than they had in ever in the previous, according to the sponsors, the previous five or ten years. And so we were both stunned that the show wasn't wasn't renewed. But then it really wasn't long after. By this time, he'd also gone into a second album, his third album, his fourth album. And they were selling just like the first one. And there was just no decrease in sales. There was this incredible demand for Newhart material. So he you know, he wasn't hurting for work or dates or anything. And then the series was was offered to him where he he now played a specific role rather than a whole bunch of bits in a variety show. I think he liked that.

Interviewer: Do you remember how he felt about the show being cancelled?

Dan Sorkin: How did he feel how did Bob feel about the show showing? Well, I don't think he looked at it as the show being canceled. It just wasn't renewed. And in a way, I think it was almost a relief. I think it was a relief only because of what may have been and I didn't know about this then, you know, the friction with the writers or some other frictions. And he was probably relieved that the show was. Was he had plenty to do. And I think while he at this dinner in Chicago that I referred to earlier, he thought that the that show was the pinnacle of his career, that he wasn't going to go any higher. I mean, here he was on a network show, got an Emmy. His albums were selling. Where else is going to go from here? Now, he had all this money. He had just what is his mother and father of a house, something he'd always wanted to be able to do. He seemed to have a career, you know, instead of being a salesman, you know, calling store or a bookkeeper for he seemed to have direction and everything. And I don't think it even occurred to him that anything else would be coming in in television. It was he was his cup was full.

Interviewer: Do you think he thought it was over?

Dan Sorkin: I don't know. I think he thought his career was. No, I don't think he thought his career was over. It's I do think, however, that I think he's well, now I'm getting into what I think he thought. That's a dangerous road to go. And it's I don't know.

Interviewer: I think we all right, because of how close, Mike? Mike. I read somewhere where you had said. When you first listening to those tapes.

Dan Sorkin: Well, when I first heard the Bob's tapes on the TCM tape network coöperative, because that's it, it was it was a lot like listening to either. It was like listening to Frank Sinatra singing or Oscar Peterson playing piano. It was it was enjoyable. And you had the feeling that, oh, gee, I hope this never ends.

Interviewer: And did it seem like something that anyone could do, except it really isn't as easy as.

Dan Sorkin: Oh, yeah. It didn't sound as if it did sound as if anybody could do this material. It's because he had this this natural every man approach to what whatever it was he was doing. You had the feeling that, you know, much like listening to Frank Sinatra saying that if you if you got in the shower, you could you know, you could sing a Matt Dennis tune, you know, just like like he did. And if you got in the shower, you could fool yourself into thinking that night. You sound pretty good. But trying it. And a lot of people did because there were other albums that did come out that aped what he was doing. You know, the the monologues and we never sold. They got played mainly because a lot of people were playing voice tracks like this. And those albums, they just never sold. There was this. There was this. It's an elusive feeling that you could do what he was doing to and of course, a lot because his routines made the logical progression of his monologues made so much sense that it was easy to copy them and perform them for friends of yours at a party, for example, you could break the ice by saying, did you hear this Bob Newhart routine on the graceful Ferguson stormed or an airline company? No, I didn't. Well, you know, mean you and you could do the routine, including the punch line. And people would some would laugh. Some would wonder why. Why didn't you just bring a recording of him and play that now? Why are why are you boring us with this with his material.

Interviewer: It's deceptive. It seems simple but there's alot of craft involved, is that right?

Dan Sorkin: Yeah, yeah, it's a lot like it's like a lot like designing, say, the the new Bay Bridge in in San Francisco. You know, a lot of people are involved in it now. They know nothing about design. They know nothing about San Francisco. They know nothing about load-Bearing. But they're all designers. Well, there are a lot of people like that recording albums.

Interviewer: And you've been credited for discovering Bob, is that would you say that that's true? And what do you say to that?

Dan Sorkin: Well, I got it. Yeah, well, I got him his contract with Warner Brothers Records and introduced him to his first manager. But I haven't been in. I have to be a disc jockey in Chicago that was playing comedy albums. I happened to be in the right place at the right time when when the president of a record company is about to go into bankruptcy, was looking for a new talent. I have to have a new talent that hadn't been discovered by anybody. And I just introduced the two of them. So what I did was introduce those people. But eventually, because of his talent, he would have been discovered by somebody else. And eventually the same thing would have happened.

Interviewer: So you dont take credit for

Dan Sorkin: No, I'm not sure I it it isn't that I'm not. I'm trying to be humble or, you know, I'm not humble. Never, never. Certainly never claimed to be that. But I did discover, Bob, for Warner Brothers Records. Everybody else discovered him as as as an incredible comedy talent and all around. Nice guy. Well, anything else I want I want to add about Bob, you're right now he's he's still he's still I don't understand how he's able to maintain this pace of his because he is still appearing at venues all all over the country. He's still making movies. He's making one right now. He just finished one in Mexico. I think he told me the first time he went out in front of an audience. And this wasn't only the tides in Houston because that was you know, that was a papered house that recorded the first album, the first time he went out in front of an audience to do his routines. He did them and he did them all. And then he got offstage and they kept applauding and applauding. And they they said we could go back out there. And he said, I've done all my material. I don't I don't have anything else. They said, get out there. They're they're gonna tear the house down. So he went back out and he quieted everybody down and said, Which one would you like to hear again? That's al he had.

Interviewer: Was he actually gets any? Did he try out new material on you alot before he broke? Was he always writing?

Dan Sorkin: Oh, he was he was all yeah. Bob was always writing material, but he never, as far as I know, he might have been trying out material. I mean, I. I have no idea. The funniest recollection I can remember of him had nothing to do with material it had. He was he and Ed were recording the take network coöperative tapes in the. What building was it in Chicago? Some some skyscraper in Chicago. And it was on the 30th floor and he would get on the 30th floor and start down. And on the 26, this beautiful girl got on. And he wanted to introduce himself and ask her out for dinner or something and couldn't screw up the courage. And he told me that for weeks he would get on the 30th. She'd get out of the twenty sixth. And he kept trying to screw up his courage to say something to her. Finally, this one time they were alone in the elevator and they had just about got to the bottom floor. And he finally said to her, he sort of punched her in the side. And she turned around, looked down and he said, My uncle's sick. And she just stared at him and and left, and you never saw her again.

Interviewer: He was not a ladies man.

Dan Sorkin: No although we've got a very nice one.

Interviewer: Were you did you did you know his wife? Were you at the wedding?

Dan Sorkin: I was not at the wedding. I don't know whether there was there first. I can remember was when he was doing the show in Burbank. Then he met Jenny and they started dating and then very seriously. And then I think he decided he didn't need a cat as a pet anymore. And steady. One of this is really live, lady.

Interviewer: Lively wife?

Dan Sorkin: Yes.

Dan Sorkin: Oh, where was I?

Interviewer: You said, lively.

Dan Sorkin: Oh. Oh, no. Well, you wanted a normal life, which meant a wife, children, grandchildren. You know, that sort of stuff. And and I knew he knew he could get that with with Ginny. And they've been married for, what, 40, 40 years or so? Something like that.

Interviewer: Forty two I think.

Dan Sorkin
Interview Date:
2005-03-14
Runtime:
0:52:50
Keywords:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-mw28912g0t, cpb-aacip-504-833mw28x4s
MLA CITATIONS:
"Dan Sorkin, Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 14 Mar. 2005, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/484
APA CITATIONS:
(2005, March 14). Dan Sorkin, Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/484
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Dan Sorkin, Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). March 14, 2005. Accessed May 25, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/484

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