The Peculiar Truth about Winters & Vonnegut
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and Jonathan Winters enjoyed brilliant artistic careers. There’s no record that they ever met, but their lives had several similarities.
- Both men were born in the Midwest, only 135 miles apart. Winters’ birthplace was just outside Dayton, Ohio. Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis.
- They shared a birthday: November 11. Vonnegut was born in 1922. Winters in 1925.
- Although their grandfathers were successful, their fathers struggled to find work during the Great Depression.
- Both men cited Laurel and Hardy as comic inspirations.
- They both attended college at a time when less than 10% of Americans did so.
- Both men served in World War II. While Winters was deployed to the Pacific, Vonnegut fought in the Battle of the Bulge in Europe. He was taken prisoner and survived the Allied bombing of Dresden.
- That became the basis of his most famous novel Slaughterhouse Five.
- Both men married women who encouraged their artistic endeavors.
- Winters became a standup comedian and actor. Vonnegut became an author and a witty public speaker. They both could make audiences laugh.
- Both men created wonderfully funny characters.
- Winters became a frequent talk show guest. So did Vonnegut.
- Mental illness ran in both families. Vonnegut’s mother suffered depression and took her own life. Winters had his own nervous breakdowns and spent time in mental health institutions, which he called “the zoo.”
- Vonnegut’s literary alter ego was called Kilgore Trout. Winter’s mother’s maiden name was Kilgore.
- Both men enjoyed painting. Their works are similarly abstract.
- In middle age, after successful careers of their own, both Winters and Vonnegut became mentors.
- One of Vonnegut’s students at an Iowa writing workshop was John Irving. He would achieve his own literary success. Irving and Vonnegut remained lifelong friends.
- Winters influenced Robin Williams, who arranged for Winters to become a regular on the series Mork and Mindy. They, too, became lifelong friends.
- Irving and Williams also struck up a friendship when Robin starred in the film adaptation of Irving’s novel The World According to Garp.
- Vonnegut and Winters lived into their mid-80s and outlived their wives (in Vonnegut’s case, his first wife).
- Vonnegut died April 11, 2007. Winters died April 11, 2013.
- Both were born on the 11th and died on the 11th.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE:
- I never met Kurt Vonnegut, but his books inspired my own novels.
- I did, however, meet Jonathan Winters on a few occasions. That was due to my long association and friendship with Robin Williams.
- I had been a standup comic and did improv comedy, so meeting Jonathan Winters was a thrill.
- One of my fondest memories was when I spent an afternoon at Robin’s house with just me, Robin, and Jonathan. I never laughed so hard in my life.
- Coincidentally, both Vonnegut and Winters died on my birthday.
Dan is the author of over a dozen novels. His latest is Tight Five.