Filmmakers seek day to honor Springfield comedian

A group of film producers are driving an effort to honor a legendary Springfield comedian known for his self-deprecating sense of humor by designating a National Jonathan Winters Day.

Winters died last year after a career that spanned roughly six decades. He was famous for appearances on the late-night TV shows of Johnny Carson and Steve Allen, as well as sitcoms and comedy albums. Winters earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

Comedians like Robin Williams have said Winters’ improvisational style of comedy provided the inspiration for their own careers. He was born in Dayton but moved to Springfield following his parents’ divorce in 1932.

He was also featured in “Certifiably Jonathan,” a 2007 mockumentary film based on the premise that Winters loses his sense of humor, and a series of famous comedians work to help him get it back. The producers of that film are now making an effort on asking President Barack Obama to declare a National Jonathan Winters Day.

The film was initially planned as a documentary about Winters’ side career as an artist and painter, said Richard Marshall, who produced the film. But the movie evolved after other famous comedians learned about it and asked to take part, often doing improv sketches with Winters.

“We realized as we were making the film he had influenced so many comedians,” Marshall said.

On Friday, 358 supporters had signed the petition to honor Winters, and 142 were needed for the petition to move forward.

“The goal is really just to give him the recognition he deserves,” said Jessica Ross, a spokeswoman with Black Apple International, a public relations firm working with the film’s producers.

While filming the original movie, Marshall said he collected more than 200 hours of unseen footage of Winters that included everything from interactions with other comedians to routine parts of Winters’ life. It’s possible that footage could eventually lead to a new film or series about Winters’ life, Marshall said.

Winters spent most of his adult life in California, but was always proud of growing up in Ohio. He was a long-time Cincinnati Reds fan, and Marshall said many of the characters in Winters’ act were inspired by people he met growing up in Clark County.

During a 2011 interview with the Springfield News-Sun, Winters told the newspaper he remained proud of his Ohio roots and still carried a buckeye in his pocket wherever he went.

“He never forgot Ohio, so Ohio should not forget him,” Marshall said.

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