Jonathan Harshman Winters III was an American comedian, actor, author, television host, and artist. Beginning in 1960, he recorded many classic comedy albums for the Verve Records label. During his career, he had records released every decade for over 50 years, receiving 11 Grammy nominations, including eight for Best Comedy Album.
Winters was born on November 11, 1925, in Bellbrook, Ohio, to Jonathan Harshman Winters II, an insurance agent who later became an investment broker. He was a descendant of Valentine Winters, founder of the Winters National Bank in Dayton, Ohio (now part of JPMorgan Chase). Of English and Scotch-Irish ancestry, Winters had described his father as an alcoholic who had trouble holding a job. His grandfather, a frustrated comedian, owned the Winters National Bank, which failed as the family’s fortunes collapsed during the Great Depression.
When Winter was seven, his parents got separated. Winters’ mother took him to Springfield, Ohio, to live with his maternal grandmother.“Mother and dad didn’t understand me; I didn’t understand them,” Winters told Jim Lehrer on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer in 1999.“So consequently it was a strange kind of arrangement.” Alone in his room, he created characters and interviewed himself. A poor student, Winters continued talking to himself and developed a repertoire of strange sound effects. He often entertained his high school friends by imitating a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In another television interview, Winters described how deeply he was hurt by his parent’s divorce. He fought youthful tormentors who ridiculed him for not having a father in his life. When the tormentors were not around, he would go to a building or tree and weep in despair. Winters said that he learned to laugh at his situation but admitted that his adult life had been a response to sorrow.
During his senior year at Springfield High School, Winters quit school to join the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of seventeen and served two and a half years in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Upon his return, he attended Kenyon College. He later studied cartooning at Dayton Art Institute.
Jonathan Winters Career
About six or seven months after his marriage to Eileen in 1948, Winter lost his wristwatch and this was how his career started. The newlyweds couldn’t afford to buy another one. Then Eileen read about a talent contest in which the first prize was a wristwatch, and encouraged Jonathan to “go down and win it.” She was certain that he could do it, and he did. His performance led to a disc jockey job, where he was supposed to introduce songs and announce the temperature. Gradually his ad-libs, personae, and antics took over the show.
While studying at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, he began comedy routines and acting. He was also a local radio personality on WING (mornings, 6 to 8) in Dayton, Ohio, and at WIZE in Springfield, Ohio. He performed as “Johnny Winters” on WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio, for two and a half years. Jerome R. “Ted” Reeves, then program director for WBNS-TV, arranged for his first audition with CBS in New York City.
Winters made television history in 1956 when RCA broadcast the first public demonstration of color videotape on The Jonathan Winters Show. His big break occurred (with the revised name of Jonathan) when he worked for Alistair Cooke on the CBS Television Sunday morning show Omnibus and in 1957, he performed in the first color television show, a 15-minute routine sponsored by Tums.
Winters recorded many classic comedy albums for the Verve Records label, starting in 1960. Probably the best known of his characters from this period is “Maude Frickert”, the seemingly sweet old lady with the barbed tongue. He also appeared in more than 50 movies and many television shows, including particularly notable roles in the film “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”. He also participated in ABC’s The American Sportsman, hosted by Grits Gresham, who took celebrities on hunting, fishing, and shooting trips to exotic places around the world.
Jonathan Winters Award/Achievement
Winters received eleven Grammy nominations during his career, including eight for the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album; he won the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Comedy Album for Crank(y) Calls in 1996.
Jonathan Winters Wife
Winters got married to Eileen Schauder on September 11, 1948, and together, they had two children, Jonathan Winters IV, and Lucinda; and several grandchildren.
Jonathan Winters Death
Winters died of natural causes on the evening of April 11, 2013, in Montecito, California, at the age of 87. He was survived by his two children, Jonathan (“Jay”) Winters IV and Lucinda Winters, and five grandchildren. He was cremated and his ashes were given to his family.
Jonathan Winters Net Worth
Jonathan’s annual earnings, inclusive of stand-up comedy and sponsorships, was estimated to had a current net worth of $5 Million.