Johnathon Winters is quoted as saying, “You’ve got to be an observer. And you’ve got to take time to listen to people, talk, to watch what they do.” As a kid, I really liked Mr. Winters. My parents had this old vinyl album called “The Very Best of Johnathon Winters” that I listened to countless times. In fact, that record is still in my collection. I loved his stories and the way he did all the voices for his characters. In retrospect, I wonder if that is why I always did that for my kids whenever I read to them. It seems the most natural thing to do, doesn’t it? I think so anyway. Winters made me laugh, a lot.
Though I certainly played with Barbie’s and baby dolls, my most favorite playthings were puppets. My best friend Sherry and I had a vast collection of puppets. Pink rabbits, purple frogs, a hippy, a white cat and an old hound dog that, ironically, our black lab, Amos, dragged home one day, just to name a few. No, we didn’t put on too many puppet shows. We were more sophisticated than that. My Barbie Townhouse became an apartment building along with a small bookshelf tucked behind my dad’s recliner. Sherry created 312 Seymour Drive in the corner of her dad’s home office. Our puppets met, fell in love, married, had children and we even had a funeral for one of them. Every puppet had its own voice. Those are some of my favorite memories of childhood.
In 1978 a new television show came on the air called “Mork and Mindy”. By then I was nearly thirteen years old and have left the puppets behind me, but by no means the myriad of character voices. I could recite the “Wizard of Oz” nearly by heart, voices, songs and all. I was a goofy kid or so I was labeled by my Aunt Brenda. You’ll get no argument from me. A goofy kid is a happy kid and there are only a scant few unhappy moments I can recall from my childhood. I was, am, truly blessed. With the arrival of “Mork and Mindy” in my life, it made it alright for me to be goofy. My outburst of randomness and over dramatized voices were so much like Robin Williams’s character of Mork, it helped me to settle more into my own skin and be who I really was. You can but imagine how enraptured I was when Johnathon Winters appeared on “Mork and Mindy”! Two of my favorites! Winters and Williams were made for each other and I sucked it up like the sponge I was. All the voices that lived in their heads were tossed out there for all the world to see and hear.
Partially through them and because of my love of storytelling, I began to observe people and their characters. I started looking at people and wondering how I could recreate them into a workable persona for a story. I am perfectly content to sit and people watch. For all the enjoyment I got, and still get, out of bursting into random voices, I am in general a very quiet person. I’ve been known to sit and take notes on people I watch. Bits and pieces of conversations I’ve eavesdropped on have been incorporated into story dialog.
There are very few celebrities out there that I care enough about to take note of their deaths. I may think, “Oh, gee, that’s too bad,” one minute and be going on with my life without a second thought of it the next. I can name the ones I’ve cried over on one hand; John Denver, Roddy McDowall, Johnathon Winters and now, most recently, Robin Williams. Roddy McDowall was probably the hardest. You might say John Denver taught me to sing as I have a very clear memory of singing “Country Roads” to a group of my grandmother’s church lady friends when I was about seven years old. I thought Roddy McDowall was the cutest guy in the world and would watch anything and everything he was in. He’s also the only celebrity I ever wrote to asking for an autograph. He graciously obliged and that signed picture is one of my prized possessions to this day. Winters and Williams showed me it was alright to be goofy.
Some people have heroes. I don’t know as I’d call any of those guys heroes, but I did admire them all on deeply personal levels at some point in my life. Part of them became part of me over the years even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I admit I have cried over the death of Robin Williams mostly because of my memories and how I could so easily relate to Mork; an alien, someone from the outside looking in, someone trying to be like everyone else, to fit in and at the same time, helpless against their inner nature that every now and then BURSTS out into the open.
Mork was an observer. Mork was sent to listen to people, talk to them, watch what they did and report it back to Orson at the end of each show. We will likely never know the thoughts that were running through Robin’s head in those final minutes, as we did when he spoke to Orson. I don’t really want to. It’s bad enough I now have this all too graphic image in my head of his death. I hope he found peace. I hope he’s found a place where his laughter no longer masks the pain. And I hope we, his fans, can remember the way he lived and the laughter he brought to billions, instead of the tragic ending he brought to his own brilliant, loving and tender mind.
I think Mork himself said it best at the end of one episode of “Mork and Mindy.”
Orson: What did you do this week, Mork?
Mork: Well, sir, this week a made a friend.
Orson: If you made a friend, why are you so sad?
Mork: Well, you see, sir, I lost him.
Orson: Can’t you make another?
Mork: No, sir. Well, I could but I haven’t got the heart for it.
Orson: What do you mean?
Mork: Well, sir, you know when you create someone and you nurture them, they grow. Well, there comes a time when they have to live their own life, or die their own death.
Orson: And now your friend is gone forever?
Mork: Oh, no, sir, no. I’ll always keep him right here. *touches his heart* Until next week, sir. Nanu.
Nanu, Mr. Williams. Nanu.