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By Marilyn Ferdinand

If you were alive in the 1960s, chances are you were exposed to a little record album called The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. Released in 1960, this clever series of one-sided phone calls about everything from baseball to Nikita Khrushchev took on historical and up-to-the-minute topics and poked at the ubiquity of public relations and marketing in determining our tastes. The album, a frequent visitor to my parents’ turntable, won Album of the Year at the 1961 Grammy Awards and the button-down mind behind it, Bob Newhart, was the only comedian ever to win a Best New Artist Grammy.

Bob Newhart is a native of my fair city, Chicago, and even attended my alma mater, Loyola University of Chicago. When it came time for him to carry on a tradition that younger Americans think was first begun with Jerry Seinfeld—stand-up comics getting their own sitcom—he set The Bob Newhart Show in his hometown. His office building is on Michigan Avenue, right across from the Tribune Tower, and his apartment building is on Sheridan Road, just a mile or so from the Lake Shore Campus of Loyola. Watching Bob Newhart, therefore, was as much an act of civic pride for me as it was a chance to enjoy his distinctive humor.

The Bob Newhart Show brings together a quirky cast of characters who function as worthy foils for Newhart’s character, psychiatrist Dr. Robert Hartley. Bob is married to lovely, sharp as a tack Emily (Suzanne Pleshetter), who’s great at tossing zingers but also enjoys the laughs around her. The Hartleys’ next-door neighbor Howard Borden (Bill Dailey), a forerunner of Kramer in Seinfeld, frequently barges into the couple’s apartment, sharing dinner and tales of his work and woes as an airline pilot. Rounding out the cast of regulars is debonair dentist Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz), with whom Bob shares an office suite and a secretary, Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace), and several members of a therapy group Bob runs, most notably gloom-and-doom Elliot Carlin (Jack Riley), whom Bob unfailing refers to as “Mr. Carlin.” (more…)

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