Theodore Gottlieb

From Philosopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Gottlieb, Theodore (11 Nov 1906 - 5 Apr 2001)

Brother Theodore scared hundreds of Greenwich Village nightclubbers for nearly two decades with his one-man shows about life, death, and broccoli.

With his sonorous, German-accented voice, he would flirt with the meaning of life or, just as likely, with the woman sitting in the front row. He called his act stand-up tragedy, and woe be unto the onlooker Gottlieb would approach and demand, “What are you laughing at!” or “Why aren’t you laughing!”

“I’ve gazed into the abyss, and the abyss gazed into me,” he would say, “and neither of us liked what we saw.”

Or, “It’s my sincere wish that after my death, my head be severed and replaced with a bunch of broccoli. It’s the artist in me.”

The artist was born to wealth in Germany, however, for his father published fifty-two fashion magazines that might have been worth $80 million, he told friends. When Hitler came to power, he and his family fled to Vienna, where he was taken to Dachau on his thirty-second birthday and released only when he signed over the family’s great fortune for a single mark. At the death camp, according to Who’s Who in Comedy, he saw men eaten alive by dogs while Nazi guards laughed. Eight members of his family, including his parents and grandmother, died in the Holocaust.

According to Douglas Martin, Einstein, said by some of Mr. Gottlieb’s friends to have been his mother’s lover, helped him get to the United States from Switzerland, which deported him because he was a chess hustler. But once in America, he found himself working as a janitor at Stanford University, where he managed to defeat thirty professors at chess . . . simultaneously. Later, he worked as a dockworker in San Francisco, where he performed a one-man show during which he read poems by Poe.

In 1946, he had a bit part in Orson Welles’s film, The Stranger, leaving for New York after Welles appeared to show a romantic interest in his young wife. In New York, he worked at a Schrafft’s restaurant while perfecting his monologue at small Bohemian clubs in Greenwich Village.

The Village Voice once described him as “a rabble-rouser without a cause—unless his cause is to promote the power of negative thinking and the glorification of anguish and despair.”

Certainly, he was eccentric, once campaigning to get people to give up two-legged locomotion in favor of using all four limbs:

  • Down, I say, down on all fours, and you’ll have everything you want, be everything you want to be. Quadrupedism is the key to every lock, the power that heals, the real McCoy.

With the arrival of television, Brother Theodore made three dozen appearances with Merv Griffin as well as many with Steve Allen. After fading to cult popularity in the 1970’s, he emerged as one of David Letterman’s regular guests in the 1980s.

After one performance, he told Warren Allen Smith that he was non- but not anti-religious, then railed at the indecency of having been asked such a stupid question about his philosophic outlook.

People in the audience sensed Gottlieb’s distaste for humanity, but to Smith he denied such, saying it was part of his character always to see the best as well as the worst sides of any subject.

“If I die, best wishes for the rest of your life,” he was quoted as having told friends following a 1990 operation to correct breathing problems caused by having his nose broken in Dachau. “If I don’t . . . I’ll phone you.”

{Douglas Martin, The New York Times, 6 Apr 2001; WAS, an interview in the 1950s and again in 1972 or 1973}