With 50 years of entertainment under his belt and no signs of stopping anytime soon, actor/comedian and Oak Park native Bob Newhart will be inducted into the Illinois Broadcasters Association’s (IBA) Hall of Fame Friday, Oct. 21.
The private ceremony takes place at the Chicago Theatre, where Newhart will perform the following night.
“He’s a remarkable actor, a comedic genius, and clearly a legend in his own time,” says Dennis Lyle, IBA president/CEO. “There is no question he has rightfully earned his place in the IBA Hall of Fame.”
In nominating IBA Hall of Fame candidates, induction consideration requires nominees to have either been born in Illinois or having spent a significant amount of time perfecting their craft while in the state. Newhart qualified on both accounts.
Newhart’s talents discovered at a former film studio
The son of Julia and George Newhart, Newhart was born and raised in Oak Park. He graduated from Loyola University in 1952 with a degree in business management and served in the Korean War.
After a short stint as a professional accountant, Newhart landed an equally short writing job at now-defunct Fred A. Niles Productions (whose Near West Side film studio was sold to Harpo Productions in 1986).
While he worked at Niles, his comedic talents were recognized and cultivated by a Niles creative executive, who spent many hours after work recording Newhart’s early comedy routines.
The budding comedian’s career was further boosted by popular WCFL DJ Dan Sorkin and WGN personality Wally Phillips, another IBA Hall of Famer, who promoted Newhart on their respective radio shows and had him as a frequent guest doing bits of his routine.
Their efforts helped Newhart land a 1961 recording deal for “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart,” an all-time best selling comedy album.
“Dan was very influential in getting me a contract with Warner Brothers Records,” Newhart told WGN’s Dean Richards in a recent interview.
“I recorded three routines onto a tape recorder and Wally would play them. That led to my first club date in Houston, Texas, where I was terrified but went out there and did it. Two weeks later, I recorded ‘Button Down Mind.’”
The popular comedian was signed to star in two successful network sitcoms: a six-season, 142 episode run of Chicago-set “The Bob Newhart Show” in the 1970s, in which he played psychologist Bob Hartley, and eight seasons and 182 episodes of “Newhart” as New England innkeeper Dick Loudon, a decade later.
A statue of Newhart as Dr. Hartley was originally situated on Michigan Ave. near the building in the show’s opening credits in 2004, and later moved to Navy Pier.
Broadcasters awards since 1963
Broadcast honors are no stranger to Newhart, having been inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame, the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and now the Illinois Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.
In 2010, the Paley Center and TV Academy honored Newhart for his half-century in show business milestone.
Other IBA Hall of Fame inductees since the awards started 48 years ago include Oprah Winfrey, Siskel & Ebert, Dick Biondi, Bill Kurtis, Larry Lujack and Orion Samuelson.
Steve Allen, Jack Benny, Danny Thomas, Jack Parr, Dave Garroway, Paul Harvey, Mike Wallace, and Orson Wells are some of the earlier icons commemorated by the IBA.