Bob Newhart: The Introvert’s Hero

I’m a day late, but I’d like to dedicate this post as a birthday wish / tribute to the first person who showed me it’s OK to be an introvert…

Several years ago, I landed my first real, grown-up, full-time job: a leadership position in which I was responsible for overseeing multiple programs involving large groups of people. I also worked as part of a team of fellow leaders – all of whom were extroverted to a large degree.

I stuck out like a sore thumb. Eventually, in our staff meetings, I began to hear never-ending choruses proclaiming how different I was. (The refrain usually began with, “You’re so quiet!”, and variations of that theme went on from there.)

While I’ve often felt different, I never thought of myself as quiet, and I certainly didn’t equate quiet with bad. A supervisor re-introduced me to the terms introvert and extrovert (concepts I hadn’t heard since college), although he would say “introvert” with such disdain, it sounded like a curse. And it was hard not to take on the idea that my introverted nature made me inferior – especially when that was so often, and so strongly, implied. It was harder still to lead and to do my job well when I felt undercut as a person.

Enter Bob Newhart. In the midst of my personal crisis, I discovered The Bob Newhart Show by accident. (I remember I had quickly picked up dinner – and I was so hungry, I flipped on the TV and turned to a classic station for some background entertainment, not caring what was on.) The episode I landed on charmed me, which led me to seek out the beginning of the series. Minutes into the first episode, I realized why I was drawn to this show and to Dr. Bob Hartley (Bob Newhart’s character) specifically: he was me.

I was watching a male, middle-aged version of myself. He talked like me (I even stammer somewhat), thought like me, and functioned as I did in a work group, at home, and as a leader. He was the first true introvert I’d ever seen on screen – and the connection was strong. It was my first step in embracing who I am.

And the connection grew even stronger when I researched the man himself and realized he was much more than the “name” of the show. Sure, it wasn’t all on him – there were directors, writers, and producers working together to help make the magic happen – but major decisions required his approval. There was no mistake as to whose show this was: in title, on camera, and behind the scenes.

That’s not to say he was dictatorial. The cast and crew seemed to function like a happy family. Everyone had a part to play, but in terms of taking on personal responsibility for the show’s success, Bob was certainly the leader of the team. In fact, the Name / Star / Silent Creative Glue role suited him so well, he repeated it over and over again – with the hugely successful Newhart, followed by Bob, then George & Leo (although I’m not sure how much behind-the-scenes involvement he had in the last one).

This inspired me. I bought books on the power of introverts and being an introverted leader. I carried myself with enough confidence at work to at least not feel compelled to cave and change myself just to fit in. And I watched as much of The Bob Newhart Show as I could get my hands on. It was my go-to, especially when I felt misunderstood. I made it through all six seasons in no time – and I still come back to it regularly.

Of course, the television shows came as a result of the mark he’d already made as a significant presence in the world of stand-up comedy. His debut album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, reached #1 on the Billboard charts, won Album of the Year, and remains one of the best-selling comedy album of all time.

Bob’s rise was meteoric. In a recent interview with WGN News, he relays that Button-Down Mind was recorded during his first-ever nightclub appearance (which was booked for the sole purpose of recording the album!). After its success, he says, “every day was New Year’s”. He appeared often on The Dean Martin Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, and hosted his own variety show (the very first, and Peabody Award-winning, The Bob Newhart Show), which propelled him to his legendary phase as a sitcom star.

I have no doubt the chief reason he garnered so much positive attention so fast (aside from the obvious fact that he is, indeed, very funny and clever) is because he was different. He was quiet. He was thoughtful. He fumbled for words. He listened. (Heck, his most well-known stand-up shtick revolves around his side of telephone conversations!) He was an introvert.

His unwavering resolve to stay true to himself rewarded him with a remarkable career – and I venture to say it’s a large part of why he’s 92 (as of September 5th) and, if the WGN News interview from about 8 months ago I referenced earlier is any indication, still going strong. You can watch it here. (It’s delightful, by the way. His button-down mind is still sharp as a tack!)

The cinematic side of his career is less illustrious, but there are notable highlights:

– His telephone act was brilliantly worked into his character for his first film role – a featured part in a lesser-known war picture, Hell is for Heroes (1962), starring Steve McQueen.

– His perfectly over-the-top performance in Norman Lear’s comical satire, Cold Turkey (1971), deserves more attention. (In his long career, Bob has occasionally played the exact opposite of his well-known personality – always in a lampooning, semi-crazed fashion that’s a perfect spoof of extreme extroversion…See photo evidence above.)

– He achieved Disney immortality (and was perfectly cast) as Bernard the Mouse in the animated classics, The Rescuers (1977) and The Rescuers Down Under (1990).

– And who can forget lovable Papa Elf, in the holiday hit, Elf (2003)? (Again, perfectly cast!)

But his performances extend beyond the realms of comedy and family fun. There’s his early role in “How To Get Rid of Your Wife”, an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour – which I haven’t seen yet, but hope to soon, as I’ve recently learned the entire series is available on Peacock. Granted, from what I’ve read, it does seem to be a comically-tinted episode – but there has to be some seriousness and suspense to it, because a) it’s Alfred Hitchcock, and b) this Bob Newhart is most certainly up to something and is decidedly not being funny:

And there’s his three-episode stint on ER – of which I’ve only seen the first, because ER is generally too much for me anyway, plus I’ve read spoilers and know what happens. (Besides, my heart is still recovering from his guest appearance on NCIS.) But I do want to see it. I think comedians can make the best dramatic actors, so I love to watch when one steps out and tries. And it’s not like I don’t have the opportunity, since all of ER is on Hulu…I will watch it. I will. I’ll steel myself, and I will. (Now that I’ve put it in writing, I have to follow through.)

Regardless of who or in what genre he plays, all of Bob’s characters share this uniquely personal touch that springs from him being so firmly and assuredly grounded in himself.

And if you’re an introvert who, like me, needs to feel represented, seen, and understood – seek out The Bob Newhart Show. It’s very ‘70s, but it makes for excellent therapy. (*And all 6 seasons are now on Hulu!*)

It’s funny. Entertainment is supposed to be just that – entertaining. And as such, I guess it’s not designed to be taken seriously. But occasionally, something or someone you see on screen can change your life forever: like one character in a sitcom entirely redefining how you value yourself.

That goes so far beyond mere entertainment. It’s the power of art – and of someone unwaveringly and uncompromisingly showing up in the world as himself.

So, if you’ll indulge me a moment while I send this personal message out into cyberspace: Hi, Bob. Happy 92nd birthday. Thanks for being this introvert’s hero.


Now I want to here from you: What are your favorite Bob Newhart moments? And whose work goes beyond entertainment for you? (Also, are there any fellow introverts out there?) Let me know by leaving a comment below!

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16 thoughts on “Bob Newhart: The Introvert’s Hero”

  1. What a lovely tribute to Bob Newhart! I’m not familiar with his show, but once you said he was Bernard from The Rescuers and Papa Elf from Elf, I thought oh yeah, love that guy! I enjoyed learning more about him.

    That’s awesome that he inspired you. I love hearing those accounts of people showing up as themselves and succeeding as such. I think I fall in the middle of the spectrum – an ambivert leaning towards introversion – so I can identify. It can be tough living in a world that praises extroversion and doesn’t see the power of introversion. But imagine the world without them – it would be so unbalanced.

    Some of my inspirations include Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Esther Williams, and Hedy Lamarr. I believe Hepburn and Kelly were introverts and they are some of the most beloved figures in history.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! 🙂 I’m glad I could introduce you to more of his work.

      You are totally right – the adulation can be one-sided, but it takes both personality types (plus those in between) to keep things balanced. There’s value in what everybody brings to the table.

      I find Audrey and Grace inspiring, too! I think they are the best examples of natural elegance and class. I know very little about Heddy Lamarr (except that she was also an inventor – which is awesome!) and next to nothing about Esther Williams.

      This has nothing to do with introversion, just a bit of “get to know me” info: my all-time favorite classic actress / inspiration is Judy Garland. ❤ In addition to Audrey and Grace, I also really like Natalie Wood – and I think Gracie Allen was a fascinating person.

      And a fun bit of Bob Newhart trivia: I included the “Hi, Bob” as a nod to the show. That line was said so often, it became a drinking game during its original run – take a drink every time a character says, “Hi, Bob.” He’s been asked about it since, and he’s always like, “Yeah…I wouldn’t advise playing that game.” 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. So glad to find another fan of Audrey and Grace! I have a post about why I admire Esther Williams on my blog but haven’t gotten to Hedy Lamarr yet. I plan to someday!

    Judy Garland is great. Love her! What I notice about Judy is her vulnerability and warmth. Natalie Wood is fabulous too. I don’t know much about Gracie Allen. So many great personalities to be inspired by!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! 😀 That’s exactly what gets me about Judy Garland – her vulnerability. I think the way she put her whole heart out there (and into everything she did) is very inspiring. ❤

      I’ll check out your post on Esther Williams – and look forward to the one on Heddy someday. 🙂 (I have a “someday list” in my head, too.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Jillian…It’s i–needed–that (Jenny) from Tumblr. I don’t want to be intrusive. Just wanted to make sure you’re ok. I was getting ready to reply to your message on Tumblr and it looks like your blog has been deleted. Not sure if that’s a technical snafu or if you decided to leave Tumblr altogether. Hope you’re doing ok. If you ever want to reach me outside of Tumblr, you can contact me at Wishing you well. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! 🙂 I’m fine, but I did delete my Tumblr account on purpose. Somewhere along the way, I stopped engaging with other people’s posts – and I couldn’t seem to work that back into my routine. Eventually, I felt it wasn’t fair to expect interaction on my posts when I wasn’t returning the favor myself. And I wasn’t even posting much, anyway – nor discovering new blogs or followers. Plus, the carry-over to subscribers here proved non-existent (which is understandable, because I was basically just repeating material).

      Ultimately, I began to feel stretched too thin online (trying to post and engage here as well – not to mention Facebook and Instagram occasionally). So, when things seemed to die down on Tumblr completely, I decided it was best to simplify and focus my creative attentions here. (Although, it doesn’t look like much even here at the moment. 🙂 I missed an opportunity to post anything earlier in October – again, likely due to being stretched too thin – and now I’m working on something for a blogathon that will be up over the weekend.)

      I just found you on Instagram. (Goodness – you’ve got quite the collection of work there!) You’re welcome to return the follow, if you want. (I have a private account, but I think you should still be able to find me.)

      I mostly use Instagram as a celebrity news source and as a connection to a few real-life friends / family who aren’t on Facebook. I’m generally not active for very long (one post + one story per day is my limit – otherwise, I’d spend the day scrolling!), but I do check in regularly.

      Thanks for seeking me out and subscribing! 🙂


  4. Thanks so much for letting me know. I’m glad to know that you’re ok. 🤗 I DM’d you on insta. Thanks for the follow. Pop on over to i.needed.that any time you want. I’m usually there every day! 😊😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think it’s lovely when you identifya star or character. Mine was Jack Nicholson as McMurphy in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. See my post for details.. as for Bob, why not tribute him with. Blogathon. I learnt so much more about Jack that way, it was awesome..

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You forgot to mention the best season finale ever of Bob’s 80’s show Newhart….when he goes to bed with Mary Frann playing his wife then wakes up with the great Suzanne Pleshette who played his wife on the 70’s show. I got to see Bob live on stage a few years back, great comedian.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! 😀 Since his earlier show is my favorite, I often forget about Newhart and that epic finale! 🙂

      Oh, wow – I bet he was fun to see live! 😀 I listened to a more recent live album of his not long ago – and I was actually a bit disappointed when I realized he changed some of the classic lines I remembered (having enjoyed his older albums so much when I first discovered him that certain routines take up permanent residence in my brain). But then he said he made changes because he could see the audience’s lips moving along with him and it would throw him off! 😀 That’s a funny joke, but I’m sure there’s a grain of truth in it, too. 🙂


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