Bob Newhart and I become pen pals - sort of

My next letter from Bob Newhart is due in 2010. We've had a "steady" correspondence, exchanging letters regularly at least once every 20 years, since 1970.

The first letter, from me to Bob, asked if he might be interested in a comedy routine I'd written. It was in the style of his famous phone conversations.

Set in the financially difficult days of the 1970s recession, the routine featured a father talking to his son. Dad was explaining that with all the money problems the family was facing, "we've decided to let you go. No, son, not fired, just a layoff until things get better. Well, your sister has seniority. If I hear of a family with an opening for a son, I'll put in a word for you. And I'll have my secretary type up a résumé for you. You can use me and your mother as personal references."

His Oct. 6 reply, thoughtfully typed by Bob personally, invited me to send the routine, so I did. He wrote back that he'd like to try it in front of an audience, as that was his best test of a material's effectiveness.

I wrote back and wished us both luck.

As I waited to hear if anyone had laughed, it became 1990. Ah, 20 years later - time for another letter to Bob.

I'd heard he was coming to my part of America to present an evening of comedy at Michigan's Meadow Brook Theatre. I wanted to let him know I'd be in the audience, about halfway back, wearing a sport shirt.

Well, of course I realized when I sent the letter that Bob Newhart's life on the road surely must make mail delivery erratic. I understood that there was a possibility he might not get my letter in time and that we might not have a chance to get together for dinner and warm talk about old times and all the work we'd done together over the previous 20 years.

Yep, his Aug. 17 reply, handwritten in bold strokes, underscored the kind of difficulties that can sometimes complicate long-term communications:

"Dear Norm," he wrote. "It was good to hear from you again. By the time your letter reached me I had already played Detroit. Regards, Bob Newhart."

Well, too bad. I guess that's showbiz. But I'm sure we'll keep in touch. Five more years to go.

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