INTERVIEW: Newhart’s Sweethearts; A Few Words From Larry, Darryl, and Darryl

April 13, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Posted in Interviews | Leave a comment
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DISCLAIMER: I did not write this article, I do not own this article, and it appears here on this blog purely for educational purposes.

Title: Newhart’s Sweethearts; A Few Words From Larry, Darryl, and Darryl
Publication: The Washington Post
Date: August 4, 1986
By: Ann L. Trebbe


Larry, Darryl and Darryl are sort of uncomfortable.

It’s about noon and they’ve just walked into the Old Ebbitt Grill, in character. Slobs amid the pin stripes.

“In character” also means the two Darryls won’t be talking. But they crack.

“Double Beefeater’s on the rocks,” says one.

“Bloody Mary, please,” says the other. “Spicy.”

Played by William Sanderson (Larry), Tony Papenfuss (the dark-haired Darryl) and John Voldstad (the fair-haired Darryl), the three brothers have become the cult hit of CBS’ “Newhart” show, which airs Monday nights at 9:30. They’re from Appalachia, always wear the same torn, grubby flannel shirts and jeans and look as if they haven’t showered in months. Their hair is long and stringy. They need a shave.

“They keep talking about a cult following,” says Larry, “but I haven’t seen anybody dressing like us.”

They run a restaurant in Vermont called the Minuteman Cafe, where the pie sits around for six months before it’s served and where one customer constitutes the “lunch rush.” They make bets on who can sneeze the most after snorting pepper, they pay money to scratch neighbor Bob Newhart’s nose, and they know how to make it snow. Larry always wears a stocking cap. Darryl and Darryl never speak.

“They don’t have tongues,” says Sanderson. But Larry knows the story: One Darryl sat on a porcupine when he was young and hasn’t spoken since, and the other Darryl refrains out of sympathy for his brother.

Like modern-day Three Stooges, or maybe Marx Brothers, a blend of bumpkin and bum, they seem to build their appeal on their big hearts and disarming charm, sometimes slapstick, sometimes simple-minded.

“I think they’re just very sort of lovable, as mangy as they are,” says Julia Duffy, who plays Stephanie Vanderkellen, the pampered rich-girl-turned-maid whom the brothers lust after. “They’re like the Lone Ranger,” she says. “They just come in and do what they have to do.”

“Three brothers with one brain, maybe?” says Larry. Then he adds, “Charismatic.” Later he says, “Otherworldly.”

In one episode a jilted young bride-to-be takes a job at the Minuteman Cafe. Although the two Darryls silently proclaim their love for her, the woman falls for Larry.

“I had no idea she had eyes for yours truly,” he says, but the brothers can’t forgive him. He decides to leave town with the woman, giving up the cafe’ to the Darryls. But as they’re about to walk out the door, her fiance’ returns, asking forgiveness. She looks at him longingly, but turns him down, for Larry. In his inimitable, eccentric way, Larry does the honorable thing.

“I heard what you told him,” he tells her, “but your mouth was having a major argument with your eyes.

“There’s a bird in these woods called a sapsucker. When it mates, it mates for life. The boy sapsucker and the girl sapsucker just have something in their eyes that say, ‘I’m for you and you’re for me. Forever.’ I saw that something in your eye for Edward and in his eye for you . . . ”

“What about the way he ran out on me?” asks the woman.

“What about the way he came back to you? If you hurry you can catch up to him.”

“It’s not Shakespeare,” Sanderson says, “it’s a sitcom.”

The three were originally cast for a single performance in 1982, but were so popular they were brought back a second time. The next year they made four appearances, and they won “recurring status” in 1984. Last season they appeared in 14 of 22 episodes. Talk has come up of a show of their own, but a CBS spokesman says there are no plans. There’s also been talk of a movie, “Larry, Darryl and Darryl Go to Paris,” but Sanderson says that’s “a dream.”

In real life, here at the Old Ebbitt, Papenfuss and Voldstad as the two Darryls are trying not to talk, leaving it to Sanderson’s Larry.

“I think I have a rash from the anxiety,” he says. “How can I speak articulately for three people when I can’t do it for myself?” Sanderson has a law degree from Memphis State and lives in Los Angeles with his wife. He says the last few weeks of touring have been tough.

“It reminds me of a French phrase,” Sanderson says — or is it Larry? ” ‘The more I look at people, the more I love my dog.’ I won’t try to say it in French. I don’t know if we’re getting more popular. I don’t know. But I like Tony’s answer — he’s not as neurotic as I am. He said, ‘Well, we’re real.’ I’d like to think that.”

Tony Papenfuss was born in Minneapolis and started acting in high school. He majored in drama at St. Cloud State College and the University of Minnesota. In 1974, after doing stock and community theater, he moved to Hollywood, where he played in stage productions and the film “Firefox.” He won the “Newhart” part at an open casting call.

John Voldstad was born in Norway, moved to Fort Worth and started acting at the age of 13. After studying in Los Angeles and London, he landed several TV jobs, including Bob Hope specials, “M*A*S*H” and the mini-series “The Blue and the Gray,” before getting the “Newhart” role.

Shhh! The Darryls are about to say something.

“Salad with aged Roquefort,” says one.

“Roast beef sandwich,” says the other.

Larry orders a Caesar salad and then gives the menu to the waiter. Suddenly he declares, “People think that the brothers can’t read without moving their lips. Can I just say that’s a myth?”

As soon as that’s said, Sanderson moans, “I need a tranquilizer.”

He mentions a movie he’s just finished, “The Sofia Conspiracy,” in which he plays a lab technician with a PhD. What he wants to do, he says, “is play a variety of roles — like playing a lesbian.”

Everyone is quiet for a minute, until they are asked why two of them are named Darryl.

“You tell us,” says Sanderson.

“What’s your name? Why are you named that?” says Papenfuss.

Then Larry softens. “It seemed logical to our mother? Or, they wanted to keep it simple. Or, it worked once.”

In an odd way, the brothers are like the voice of Shakespeare’s Fool in “King Lear” — ridiculous, yet discerning.

“What a compliment,” says Sanderson, not Larry.

But there is a touch of wisdom in much of what they say.

“I’m getting goose bumps,” he says. “You’re saying something sweet to me. I think the Fool is a wonderful character. It reminds me of a line, ‘The fool doth think himself wise, but the wise man knows he’s a fool.’ ”

Sanderson doesn’t like to think about when “Newhart” will end, although in the meantime he’s taking French at the Beverly Hills Berlitz school and he talks about doing more movies.

“My agent said she thought it’d hurt my availability, and thank God that’s the case. I made a lot of movies before the series, but now I have a regular job. So you have to weigh things. I try to take it one day at a time. Life is like a rodeo, and you’re trying to make it to the bell.”

He realizes he’s dropped his napkin. Maybe he just wants to divert the conversation.

“You know,” he says, “Larry — one thing about him, he gets very nervous around cloth napkins.”

It doesn’t really matter. Lunch is almost over.

Papenfuss turns to Sanderson and smiles.

“Bill, you’re enjoying yourself,” he says, forgetting about Darryl’s inability to speak.

“Well, I shouldn’t,” says Sanderson.

“Why shouldn’t you?” Papenfuss asks, with utmost seriousness.

“I’m too unworthy,” Sanderson says. Then he brightens. “Spank my hands. We can’t have any fun here.”

Papenfuss obliges and everyone chuckles. The waiter takes orders for double espressos, while talk turns to the president of the United States. The brothers have a message for him.

One Darryl whispers something to Larry.

“Never wear corduroy,” Larry says on behalf of his brother. “And Larry wanted to ask him: Does he ever get lonely?”

They have another message, too.

“Just say that we didn’t say anything,” says Papenfuss. “If you do anything else, I’d be very upset. There are people in California . . . ”

“It could jeopardize our jobs,” says Sanderson. “Please don’t.”

“We’d appreciate it very much,” says Voldstad.

Sanderson looks relieved when the interview is over.

“I was frightened,” he says as he’s walking out the door. “Fear runs my life.”

Larry, Darryl and Darryl walk out into the sunshine and start posing for pictures, in character. A few people stop and watch, smiling. One man asks for an autograph. The three start hamming it up on a park bench, making faces and crossing each other’s legs.

“I’m not sure how funny we are,” Sanderson had said earlier. “Maybe we’re just weird.”

And maybe Sanderson was right.


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