Jonathan Winters: Standing Out in Famous Company

Jonathan Winters: Standing Out in Famous Company

By Rebecca Redshaw

As the receptionist at United/Western Studios in the late 70’s, I didn’t make much money, but for a wide-eyed young woman there were far more important advantages than a big salary.

The recording studio was located in the heart of Hollywood and over the years had welcomed major artists from all genres of music to settle in on an album project. I was just starting out in the business as an aspiring songwriter and getting my foot in the door to greet various stars as they came to work was a real treat.

The Beach Boys had cut some of their earliest hits in Studio 3 with recording engineer Chuck Britz, Barry Manilow recorded “One Voice” in Studio 2, and Studio 1 was filled with a 60-piece orchestra when Frank Sinatra belted out “New York, New York”.

United/Western had excellent equipment and smaller rooms that welcomed voiceover talent for sessions that lasted a few hours at best. It was my job to show the talent which studio they would be in and offer coffee or water prior to the session. What a thrill to meet Orson Wells in his “Serve no wine before its time” Gallo days.

Greer Garson, Burt Lancaster, Dinah Shore, Roy Rodgers and the Sons of the Pioneers, Nelson Riddle, and countless other giants in their day would grace the halls of United/Western Studios, but none made an impression like Jonathan Winters.

A planned project based on the old newspaper cartoon Pogo was booked for several weeks and Jonathan stopped by the front office every morning before going down the hall to the studio.

The crew that works in recording studios can be a pretty hardened group when it comes to being impressed with talent. What’s glamorous to the public is just a day’s work for them and I rarely saw the guys during the day. (Hanging in the front office would make it seem they had nothing to do.)

But when Jonathan came to work, all of a sudden, the office was filled with everyone from the janitor to the general manager as the legendary comedian entertained each morning. What a wonderful way to start the day! After a half hour or so the producer would come and break up the party, well aware that this improvisational “warm-up” with us was probably just what Jonathan needed.

The project went by too quickly and on the last day around lunchtime, Jonathan came in the front door and walked to my desk with a serious expression.

“What’s wrong, Jonathan?”

“I just ran into two girls on the street, and they asked for my autograph.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?”

Totally crestfallen, he said, “They thought I was Jackie Gleason. I’m not that fat, am I?”

“Oh, my, not at all!”

With a sigh of relief this comic genius turned and went back to work, visibly relieved.

And I was left with wonderful memories of Jonathan Winters.

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