Editor’s Note: This story first published on Nov. 10, 2017.
Comic genius Jonathan Winters was a master of creating colorful characters and concocting bizarre sound effects.
Born in Bellbrook on Nov. 11, 1925 and raised in Springfield, Winters broke into comedy in the late 1950s.
Here are 10 things to know about his life:
1. Semper fidelis. In 1942, at the age of 17, he dropped out of Springfield High School and joined the United States Marine Corps. He served two years in the South Pacific.
2. A love of art. Winters returned home and enrolled in Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio for a year before transferring to the art school at the Dayton Art Institute where he studied drawing and cartooning. One of his paintings is in the DAI’s collection.
3. Spousal encouragement. He married Eileen Schauder in 1948. She encouraged Winters to enter a local talent contest, according to the Dayton Area Broadcasters Hall of Fame. He not only won a wristwatch but the appearance led to an early-morning disc-jockey job on the Dayton radio station WING.
4. Local inspiration. Winters told the Springfield News-Sun in 2011 that he found local inspiration for characters like Maude Frickert and Elwood P. Suggins. “There were a number of characters growing up that were like this,” he said. “People that were from Enon or Urbana. Not so much Springfield. But the minute you went to Bellefontaine …”
5. Mental health advocate. Winters suffered a mental breakdown in his early 30s which was later diagnosed as bipolar disorder. There was no effective treatment at the time, and he told NPR in 2011 that he declined electroshock treatment offered by his doctors.: “I need that pain – whatever it is – to call upon it from time to time, no matter how bad it was.”
6. Television star. Winters was hugely popular on his own television shows from the 1950s to the 1970s. He was also a frequent talent on late-night TV shows including Jack Paar, Steve Allen, and Johnny Carson.
7. Award nominations. Among the numerous awards he garnered was a 1963 nomination for a Golden Globe award for his role as Lennie Pike, a furniture mover, in the comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”
8. A family tribute. The Winters Library in Bellbrook is named after the comedian’s family. Winters’ grandfather had a summer home in Bellbrook and purchased the West Franklin Street bank in 1906. According to a book titled “A History of the Winters Library,” when Winters’ grandfather decided after a month that he no longer wanted the bank, he sold it for $1 to the trustees of Sugarcreek Twp. and stipulated that it could only be used as a library.
9. Mark Twain Prize. In 1999, Winters became only the second person to receive the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Richard Pryor was the first recipient.
10. Talented duo. Comedian and actor Robin Williams was influenced by Winters. In 1980 Winters took on the role of Williams’ extraterrestrial baby, Mearth, on the television show “Mork & Mindy.”