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TONITE: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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TO MY GREAT CHAGRIN: THE UNBELIEVABLE STORY OF BROTHER THEODORE
(2007, directed by Jeff Sumerel, 90 minutes, U.S.)

Artlessly cobbled together, TO MY GREAT CHAGRIN tells us the story behind Brother Theodore, a one-of-a-kind act who delivered intelligently insane monologues in a ranting thickly-accented voice, most memorably on the NBC version of Letterman’s late night show. Brother Theodore never broke character on stage, so it does satiate the curiosity fans might have had about just who this madman really was. His story is stranger then you might imagine; once a German playboy, the son of fashion magazine magnates, WW2 took everything away from him, leaving him a mere janitor barely getting by in 1950’s San Francisco. His climb to fame and the impact he had on other performers is testified to by names as big as Woody Allen, Dick Cavett and Eric Bogosian. Too bad director Sumeral doesn’t even think to give onscreen credit to which acolyte is praising Brother Theodore, instead listing them en masse during the films final credits. This sort of amateurishness should sink the film; it is only it saved by having such a fascinating character at the center of it. –DAN BUSKIRK

Saturday April 5, 9:15 Black Box At The Prince

brothertheo_1_1.jpgWIKIPEDIA: Brother Theodore (11 November 19065 April 2001) was a German monologuist and comedian known for rambling, stream of consciousness dialogues which he called “stand up tragedy.” He was born Theodore Gottlieb into a wealthy family in Düsseldorf, Germany, where his father was a magazine publisher. Theodore attended the University of Cologne. Under Nazi rule, he was imprisoned at the Dachau concentration camp until he signed over his family’s fortune for one Reichsmark. After being deported for chess hustling from Switzerland he went to Austria where Albert Einstein, a family friend, helped him escape to the United States. He worked as a janitor at Stanford University, a dockworker in San Francisco and played a bit part in Orson WellesThe Stranger before moving to New York City.

Brother Theodore made a number of movie appearances beginning in the 1940s and continuing into the 1990s. These roles were mostly small parts in B-movies, although he did provide the voice of Gollum in the 1977 made-for-television animated version of The Hobbit and the follow-up adaptation of The Return of the King. Talk-show viewers probably remember Theodore for his 16 appearances on NBC’s Late Night with David Letterman in the ’80s and, prior to that, his appearances on The Merv Griffin Show and The Joey Bishop Show in the ’60s and ’70s. In the early 1980s, he was a regular on the Billy Crystal Show. Up until the late 1990s, he was a guest actor in several episodes of Joe Frank: Work in Progress radio show on NPR. An excellent article on Theodore appeared in RAVE magazine (with color photos) and segments from it are in the book Who’s Who in Comedy. Just prior to his death from pneumonia, he taped several monologues for the controversial documentary series, Disinformation. Brother Theodore died in New York City in 2001. MORE

FAMOUS QUOTES:

  • “I am in the prime of my senility.”
  • “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my sincere wish that immediately after my death, my head be severed from my body, and that it be replaced by a bouquet of broccoli. It’s the artist in me.”
  • “I’ve gazed into the abyss and the abyss gazed into me, and neither of us liked what we saw.”
  • “In this best of all possible worlds, everything is in a hell of a mess.”
  • Going into surgery: “If I die, best wishes for the rest of your life. If I don’t—I’ll phone you.”
  • “The best thing is not to be born. But who is as lucky as that? To whom does it happen? Not to one among millions and millions of people.”
  • “Dear God, if you exist, please help me! And if you don’t exist…help me anyway!”
  • “What do we know about the beyond? Do we know what’s behind the beyond? I’m afraid some of us hardly know what’s beyond the behind.”
  • “The only thing that keeps me alive is the hope of dying young.”
  • “I should have known better than to sell roses in a fish market!”
  • “You can train a rat. Yes, if you work for hours and days and months and years, you can train a rat. But when you’re done, all you’ll have is a trained rat!”
  • “One day, David Letterman, one day my picture will be on every postage stamp…!”brotheo_baby_hatchet.jpg
  • “I am what you call a “controversial figure”. People either hate me or they despise me.”
  • “There are those who would rather shake the Devil by the tail than me by the hand.”
  • “I’m looking for a rich widow of 13, the perfect portable mistress.”
  • “All the great spiritual leaders are dead …. Moses is dead …. Muhammed is dead …. Buddha is dead …. and I’m not feeling so hot myself!”
  • “Her hair was of a dank yellow, and fell over her temples like sauerkraut, her face was sweaty like a chunk of rancid pork…”
  • “What this country needs, and I’m not joking, is a dictator. I feel the time is right, and the place congenial, and I am ready. I will be strict but just. Heads will roll, and corpses will swing from every lamppost.”
  • “My mumsy and my popsy both died years before I was born, and my sister and my uncle were identical twins, which is probably more than you can say for yourself!”
  • “My name, as you may have guessed, is Theodore. I come from a strange stock. The members of my family were mostly epileptics, vegetarians, stutterers, triplets, nailbiters. But we’ve always been happy.” (original 1955 version of this routine)
  • “I come from extremely bad stock. The members of my family were mostly punks. Punks, blockheads, fishwives, vegetarians, triplets, nail biters. But I’ve always been happy.” (1980s version as performed on David Letterman’s show.)
  • “Only what we have lost forever do we possess forever. Only when we have drunk from the river of darkness can we truly see. Only when our legs have rotted off can we truly dance. As long as there is death, there is hope”
  • “(She is so ugly)…she makes Bella Abzug look like an airline hostess!”
  • “The bad hospitals let you die. And the good hospitals KILL YOU!” [via WIKIPEDIA]
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2 Responses to “TONITE: O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

  1. My Media Mirror » Blog Archive » Brother Theodore on David Letterman Says:

    […] No Show” Tears from a Glass Eye… with a Tongue of Madness! (Brother Theodore record) O Brother, Where Art Thou? (on the Theodore documentary) To My Great Chagrin (Brother Theodore […]

  2. JOHNNY WATTS Says:

    HE WAS THE BEST OF THE WORST AND THE WORST OF THE BEST!
    LONG LIVE BROTHER THEODORE! I CAN ONLY HOPE HE IS PREACHING HIS OWN BRAND OF THEODORIAN GOSPEL TO THE ALMIGHTY GOD IN HEAVEN!

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