Robin Williams has offered memories of Jonathan Winters in the New York Times.
I was struck by one line:
No audience was too small for Jonathan. I once saw him do a hissing cat for a lone beagle.
I certainly don’t know either of these two people, but I know my own heart which resonated with Mr. Winters, and I suspect he has missed the point.
Mr. Williams loves an audience, needs an audience, can deal with huge audiences. He is a missionary, going out to dominate the crowd.
But if Mr. Winters was anything like me, he didn’t have that same drive, the drive needed to make yourself a huge public success.
I suspect that Mr. Winters’ audience wasn’t the lone beagle. The beagle was no more important than the sticks or hats he used as props.
His audience was himself. He was a visionary who just loved creating comedy. He probably went into fantastic acts when he was alone in his room, just to amuse himself. If it amused other people, well, that was great, and that paid the bills, but the creative urge had little to do with dominating an audience, little to do with an audience at all.
That’s not the way Mr. Williams approaches the world, I know that. He battled to get through drama school, to make a place for himself, to titillate and please a crowd. That audience response feeds him. That’s the call of a missionary.
The call of a visionary, though, is to have visions. And it is creation that offers bliss, not affirmation. Affirmation offers support and rewards, sure, but it isn’t the primary driver.
At least, it isn’t for me.
And I suspect it wasn’t for Jonathan. He laughed inside when that beagle responded to his imaginary cat, created out of imagination.
And that was enough.