Jonathan Winters has received a number of postmortem accolades since his death on April 12 at age 87.
He was a true comic genious, who was famous for improvisational humor. Most people remember him for his characters such as the horny old bat, Maude Frickert (Johnny Carson copied her with his “Aunt Blabby”) and his comedy roles in films like “It’s Mad, Mad, Mad World” and “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.””
Few, if any of the obituaries on Winters mentioned that for some years he lived in Mamaroneck and that he often tried out his “shtick” with people he met in village drug stores and ice cream parlors. This was in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
A little research reveals that he would talk the ears off strangers, telling them that he was Jesse James’s brother. Sometimes he would tell them he was a Mexican from Mount Kisco and that he was called “The Kisco Kid.” Or he’d say he was the deranged nephew of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and that he had been temporarily released from an inance asylum.
Some people he accosted didn’t know what to make of him and thought he was a pain in the neck. Like many highly creative comedians, he was walking a thin line of sanity. And indeed, Winters did have a nervous breakdown in 1961 while he was on the comedy circuit in San Fransisco. The story goes that he went to Fisherman’s Wharf to visit a three-masted ship, a tourist attraction. Winters declared that the ship was a fake because it had an outboard motor. He also tried to climb up one of the masts.
When asked who he was he said, “I’m Jonathan Q. Winters.” He also said he was from outer space. It was as if he was doing one of his bits, but it was a real breakdown brought about from pure exhaustion and anxiety that he was always away from his wife and children back in Mamaroneck where he owned a century-old house on Hommocks Road.