Jonathan, Day 1

Jonathan Winters having fun in front of his house in the rain

When we showed up at Jonathan Winters’ home the first day of shooting CERTIFIABLY JONATHAN, which by the way, started out as an interview about his art and paintings, Jonathan was waiting to greet us outside his front door. It became a sort of routine from that point on for the next three years of spending time with Jonathan. That day of talking about art and his influences set the tone for the rest of the film. He would start talking about his painting and then look into the camera and shift into another character. By the end of the day we not only had interviewed Jonathan Winters but a number of other characters as well. At that point, we knew there was more than a little documentary about a famous comedian who also painted amazing art.

From that day on when we showed up to spend the day with Jonathan we would stop at his gate and call him on the intercom. He’d answer in some funny character voice and buzz us in. By the time we’d get to the entry of his home, he would be standing there waiting to begin the performance, sometimes dressed as a general, a cowboy, a sports team coach, sometimes just his Mickey Mouse jacket. He was always in character and it was always a surprise.

The old hat routine he used to do on The Andy Williams Show was right out of his own wardrobe. I think he actually lived and breathed those characters (suggested by those hats) and there was an endless number because of his incredible improvisational abilities. The funniest character was always Jonathan himself though. He’s one of the slyest and smartest people I have ever met.

-Richard Marshall, Producer

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All the Arquettes

David, Patricia, Rosanna, Alexis and Richmond Arquette with Jonathan Winters on the set of Certifiably Jonathan

Certifiably Jonathan is the first and only film to feature the appearances of all the Arquettes: Patricia, Rosanna, David, Alexis and Richmond. All the siblings, with the assistance of a medium, conduct a séance with Jonathan Winters to help summon Jonathan’s sense of humor from beyond.

Cliff Arquette as Charley Weaver

Jonathan is practically a family member to the Arquettes. He and their grandfather, Cliff Arquette were great friends. Both Jonathan and Cliff appeared on the Tonight Show with Jack Paar many times and sometimes together. Jonathan, of course, would appear in one of his many wacky characters, but Cliff was famous for his popular and lovable Charley Weaver character, who would usually read a letter from “Mamma” back home. Charley Weaver was also a regular on Hollywood Squares for a while.

Jonathan was good friends with Cliff’s son, Lewis Arquette, as well. Lewis, the Arquettes’ father, was also an actor. He appeared on The Jonathan Winters Show in the late 1960’s, as well as in several films and other TV shows.

Imagine growing up and having Jonathan Winters visiting your house often. How much fun that must have been for all the Arquettes. So, when they heard Jonathan had lost his sense of humor, they were more than happy to try and help him get it back.

-Matt Fortnow, Executive Producer

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Crazy

Jonathan Winters is crazy. Crazy funny. Crazy brilliant. Crazy nice. Crazy for love. Crazy talented. A comedian, a comic, a writer, a painter, an artist. Most people of a certain generation (and their kids) remember him from the 1963 Stanley Kramer film, IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD. The gas station scene where Jonathan single-handedly goes crazy and destroys an entire building has everyone rolling on the floor. My favorite and most memorable moments of that film are Jonathan on a tricycle. I remember at the time, that as absurd as it was, Jonathan seemed the most sane (and real) of all the cast in the film.

Jonathan had just come out of a self-imposed stint at a mental rehab facility. And to his credit, he had checked himself in, having spent too many nights doing stand-up with all the trimmings of excess that performers indulge in while on the road. When director Stanley Kramer called and offered him the part, he questioned the director’s sanity in his choice. “Don’t you realize I just got out of the crazy house?” Mr. Kramer explained that was exactly why he wanted him in the film. He understood him completely. Jonathan’s wife, Eileen, insisted he take the part and never look back and that’s exactly what he did. The rest is history.

While shooting CERTIFIABLY JONATHAN, we were with the “crazy” bi-polar genius off and on for nearly three years. He was always in good spirits and he was quite generous with his time while playing with us. The crazy Jonathan we saw was creative, funny and just plain fun to be around. Only a few times, when he hadn’t taken his meds and was emotionally vulnerable, did he reveal a sadness or anger particularly when talking about his parents.

The one thing Jonathan has always valued over his fame and celebrity is his family. That’s where Jonathan and I found we had much in common and have discussed in great length. He also believes he paid a price for that as he never reached the level of show business success that some of his contemporaries did. Many if not most of them were willing to give up their families for their careers. Not Jonathan. In fact, he just lost his wife of 62 years last year. That kind of relationship is rare even outside of the industry. Eileen was the rock, the sane one that allowed Jonathan to be his crazy self all those years in public and still be sane at home.

-Richard Marshall, Producer

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The Cutting Room Floor

Filming Jonathan Winters and his friends over a few years, we accumulated quite a bit of footage, over 260 hours. Whittling all that footage down to an hour and a half was no easy task, and unfortunately, along the way, some of Jonathan’s friends and other funny scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Hard choices were made, all in deference to the overall film. I really wish everyone could have been squeezed in.

Mickey Rooney and Jonathan Winters goofing around at lunch

Mickey Rooney comes over to Jonathan Winters’ house to help him figure out where he may have left his sense of humor, but Mickey turns out to be even more confused about the whole situation than Jonathan. At lunch, the two of them were goofing around like old friends. Jonathan even did a spoof of Mickey’s infomercial.

Bonnie Hunt tries to help Jonathan connect to his sense of humor through art, by doing finger painting with him. But, unfortunately, we are not allowed to include this footage.

One of the original story lines of Certifiably Jonathan was tracking down the witch doctor that Jonathan alleges stole his sense of humor. Along that path, the filmmakers encounter a Russian mobster played by Rick Overton. Now, Rick Overton may not be a household name, but he should be. He’s been in numerous movies and TV shows, and is hilarious doing standup. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform earlier this year. Needless to say, the scenes with Rick were really funny, but the storyline seemed more of a tangent to the main theme of the film.

Another underrated actor, Taylor Negron, played the actual witch doctor, whom Jonathan confronts. But, again, the film went in a different direction.

Although some great people and scenes didn’t make the final cut, I really want to thank Robert Pergament and Richard Marshall for doing an excellent job, tirelessly editing the film for over a year. And, through all the fine tuning after test screenings and festival screenings, we really ended up with a great film. I can’t wait for everyone to see it.

-Matt Fortnow, Executive Producer

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Don’t Believe the Skype?

Richard Marshall and I live in Los Angeles. I live in the Valley and he lives in S. Pasadena.

Today, Sunday, I drove to S. Pasadena to our office on the top floor of Richard’s craftsman house on a quiet, tree-lined street. We sat on a sofa and faced a computer and used Skype to see the audience in the theater of the Oklahoma City Museum of Modern Art. They have had a museum exhibit of reproductions of the paintings of Jonathan Winters and had just screened CERTIFIABLY JONATHAN in the theater and were calling us immediately afterwards. It was Q&A time.

The audience looked at us up on the big museum movie screen: a Skype image of Richard and me sitting on the sofa.

From Richard and my point of view, we faced people in the orchestra seats in a big theater. In the foreground, the host, Brian, faced us and popped in and out of the frame. As Brian said, they had as many football wives as possible on a Sunday in a museum in Oklahoma.

Richard and I were having such a good time with the new technology. Technology that made it possible for us to be in places we could have never been in. It was wondrous, really, as we could see ourselves talking to the audience in real time.

The museum audience seemed enthusiastic about the film. Said they laughed a lot. The questions were good. I didn’t answer the one about how much the film cost. I did say that “dadamentries” are more expensive than documentaries, and we talked about how it took seven years to bring CERTIFIABLY JONATHAN to theaters and the challenge of working with a bi-polar genius. There was a question about whether something was or was not was staged. Richard and I never answer that question. We talk about how our film is both a documentary of fact, like a biography, and a documentary of the imagination created by the subject of the film.

I wish I’d talked about that terrific “Arkansas Democrat Gazette” review of CERTIFIABLY JONATHAN written by Philip Martin, where he says sometimes you have to lie to tell the truth.

The questions and answers felt like 20 minutes. It was fun for us so I hope it was fun for the audience. We give good interview.

Richard made excellent expresso in small cups and saucers with a cube of brown sugar and a peel of lemon on the saucer. Elegant. Good taste. All Richard. I sucked the last sugary drops and raced off to North Hollywood to sneak into the second act of the final performance of my son Charlie’s triumphant production of Shakespeare’s hilarious “The Comedy of Errors.” Come to think of it, Comedy of Errors could be the title of how we came to make CERTIFIABLY JONATHAN.

-Jim Pasternak, Director

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Lunch?

“Is he still alive?” The question most asked when I mention that we have finished a film with Jonathan Winters, Jimmy Kimmel, Sarah Silverman, Howie Mandel, Tim Conway and others. This is just after I have mentioned in the same breath that we spent nearly four years hanging out with the guy. “Of course. At least he was last week when he called and pretended to be an IRS agent looking into possible problems with my last few years’ tax returns.”

The reason why we hear this so often is that Jonathan, still hilarious, crazy and supremely talented is very much alive in his own little world, rarely stepping out of it. Unless, of course you live in Montecito or Santa Barbara and are fortunate to have had lunch in one of his haunts.

During the years spent with him, our camera recording dozens of lunches (Jonathan lives for lunch) he would always start out with, “Listen, I only have an hour, no more, I’m really busy today.” Okay, we’ll have you home in an hour. Lunch? Four hours and 5 tapes later we’re still trying to get him out of the restaurant as he makes his rounds entertaining everyone between our table and the front door of the restaurant.
Jonathan is very much alive and probably enjoying lunch this very minute.

-Richard Marshall, Producer

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How We Met Howie

Howie Mandel and Jonathan Winters in Certifiably Jonathan


The summer of 2005. It was at the point in the making of Certifiably Jonathan that we were trying to get as many great comedians in the film as possible to help Jonathan find his sense of humor.

One day, we (Jim Pasternak, Richard Marshall and I) were invited to the premiere of The Artistocrats, which we attended that night. Red carpet, press and lots of comedians. After the show, there was a reception outside. Most of the moviegoers hung around, schmoozing, milling about, talking, drinking, eating hors d’oeuvres. I spot Howie Mandel and zoom in.

Now, there’s some guy chewing Howie’s ear off about some project, and Howie looks really bored. The guy keeps talking and talking and talking, and Howie’s face goes from boredom to slight annoyance to more than slight annoyance. The guy will not shut up. I was standing there the whole time, and Howie gives me a “don’t even try talking to me” look. He’s obviously fed up with people droning on and on at him. He was just too polite to tell the guy to buzz off.

Finally, the guy shuts up, and it’s just me and Howie, and his stare said it all: “do not bother me right now.” I spoke up anyway, saying to him, “Jonathan Winters is a big fan of yours.” Howie’s face instantly lit up like a Christmas tree. “You know Jonathan Winters?” he asked. “He’s my idol. He’s the whole reason I became a comic.” I then proceeded to explain to Howie how Jonathan had lost his sense of humor and needs to get it back, and I asked him if he could help Jonathan find it. Howie responded, “I’ll take him to Target. You can find anything there.”

Exactly two weeks later, we were filming Howie Mandel and Jonathan Winters messing around in a Target store, seeking assistance from the employees and customers, to help Jonathan find his sense of humor.

When Howie met Jonathan in the parking lot of Target, it was the first time ever. Howie was all smiles, so excited and in awe. He looked like a kid meeting Babe Ruth. I think we made his day. He made ours too, with some of the funniest scenes in Certifiably Jonathan. Thanks, Howie.

-Matt Fortnow, Executive Producer

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