By Elizabeth Rahe
Bob Newhart had two famous TV wives, Suzanne Pleshette in The Bob Newhart Show and Mary Frann in Newhart. Show business is also responsible for his real-life marriage, which recently hit the 50-year mark.
Bob, a Chicago native, and Ginnie, a New Yorker, met on a blind date in 1962 set up by comedian Buddy Hackett in Los Angeles. Ginnie, who babysat for Hackett’s children, remembers it vividly.
“Buddy came back one day and said in his own inimitable way, ‘I met this young guy and his name is Bobby Newhart, and he’s a comic and he’s Catholic and you’re Catholic, and I think maybe you should marry each other,’ ” she says.
They had dinner and played pool at the Hackett’s home. However, Ginnie, whose father was character actor Bill Quinn, was determined not to marry into show business. “I didn’t want to marry an actor who didn’t get a paycheck every week … but it turned out fine,” she said, laughing. “I guess it was meant to be.” They were married Jan. 12, 1963.
While Bob was out shooting TV shows and movies and doing his standup act, Ginnie kept life going in their Bel Air home with their four children, although the family often joined him on the road, especially for long summer stints at nightclubs in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe.
“When I look back I think how glamorous and what fun – playing Tahoe when Bill Harrah owned the hotel. Bob has said, ‘If I didn’t have to do those two damn shows a night, it would have been great,’” she says.
We caught up with the straight-talking Ginnie Newhart to get the inside story on her husband and their 50 years together.
How would you describe your husband? What you see is what you get. He’s shy, quiet. He doesn’t say much unless he has something to say. His humor is subtle. It comes out sometimes in … uh …very strange ways. I have often said, ‘You’ve really fooled the public because they think you’re nice, clean-cut.’ But there’s a sick side to his sense of humor, which has probably gotten us through some rough spots. Some of it is pretty … bawdy? Some of it is … sick.
Can you share a story? I knew you were going to ask that. No, I can’t.
He cleans it up for his act.Yes, he does.
What has kept your marriage strong? I don’t know whether it’s our generation – divorce was just not in our vocabulary. Like anybody we had fights, and we had some pretty good ones. But I was never happy being apart from him, and he was never happy being apart from me. When we both cooled down I’d say, ‘I’m miserable,’ and he’d say, ‘I’m miserable. OK, let’s end this.’
I really respect him. I respect the way he’s led his life. I respect his professional choices, his personal choices. I respect his opinions and his intellect. I just respect him as a man. I think he’s a very good person. By the way, I will deny this to him. I will say, ‘I never said that.’
You have said he’s a very patient man. Yes he is. He would have to be being married to me for 50 years. I’m a little bit more New York, and he is definitely Midwest. Most New Yorkers are not retiring and shy.
How did you keep your family grounded? We did try to lead a pretty normal life – whatever that is. … I think it’s who you pick as friends. As you probably know, we are very close with the Rickles. Barbara and I knew each other before we even met our husbands. Believe it or not, Bob and Don are very much alike. They work differently onstage, but offstage they’re a little bit alike. One is Catholic, one’s Jewish … but they have the same kind of values, and we did things with our kids. We didn’t move with the fast group. I’m sure we were considered a little bit – especially in the ’80s – a little bit on the square side.
What’s a perfect evening with Bob? It depends on the energy we have. A special evening would be with friends, to go out for great food, but then other times I’m very happy being home. We’ve traveled so much in our lives that we kind of like being home.
You’ve said going through your liver cancer and transplant brought you closer. How so? We both appreciate what we have so much more. We appreciate our alone time – just being the two of us. Of course, it makes you more aware of your mortality and how many days you might have left. We have fun together, now more so than ever. Just going with him to the deli can be fun.
Is he a good grandfather? [She laughs.] Yes he is. He is 83 years old. [Ginnie is 72.] Our youngest, Asher [age 4], was visiting with his brother, Griffin , for two weeks. When they got home their dad asked Asher, ‘Did you have a great time at Yaya and Poppy’s?’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, I saw the cousins, and we went out to dinner and Yaya and Poppy babysat for us,’ and then he said, ‘Poppy really doesn’t do much … but then, he’s very old.’
I guess what he was referring to is that Poppy doesn’t run around the house chasing him and throwing him up in the air – which he doesn’t.