This was originally supposed to be posted on THE ALMOST DAILY ROOSTER. Since, however, that I had the pleasure and honor of an interview with this wonderful performance artist for TRADITIONS it seemed more appropriate to do this item on this site.
Let us start at the end, even though my first contact with him came in the 1950s at midnight in Greenwich Village. We start at the end with my interview with Theodore. This interview revealed so much of him, his great intellect, and tragic history that I had never known of.
This all came about on an evening when I attended a performance by THEODORE at the, then, 13th St. Rep and was delighted to see that some people brought other generations in to see this man. THEODORE was at that time 92 years of age.
Some 2 months after that evening I was able to meet with him at his tiny apartment on 74th Street in NYC. We talked for over an hour in this tiny apartment lined with an amazing array of books covering so many varied subjects. The sign of more than a performer. A wonderful intellect.
We spoke of many topics and his history. A tragic one that he overcame with the most profound accomplishments.
THEODORE and I spoke of his birth in Germany before the Nazi onslaught, his family's hugely successful publishing business, their incarceration and ultimate deaths in Dachau. He told us of his release because of his promise to turn over all their assets to the Nazi regime and his emigration to Switzerland, Austria and, finally, to the U.S. Here he worked as a janitor at Stanford U. and also did a bit of chess playing---and hustling--amongst the students. He was an expert chess player. THEODORE had gotten married at some point during that time but it ended in divorce after he moved to NYC. He had played a few bit parts in some B movies and also in an Orson Welles film before that.
Once in New York he worked at restaurants while polishing some material which he performed in very small venues. As he says, his audience was one---his ex wife and she only came because he gave her comps. Well, probably another reason she became an ex.
Today most people know THEODORE only as BROTHER THEODORE because he is mostly known for his appearances on TV with the likes of Letterman, Griffin, and Steve Allen.
A good time to jump back now to the 1950s. Before TV's dominance and when Greenwich Village attracted the strange and interesting performers at hours that were well beyond "prime time" on TV. Before Andy Kaufman and before Sacha Baron Cohen there was THEODORE. Midnights at The Circle In The Square. Picture it. You are young, you bring your date at midnight to this place in Greenwich Village and you are confronted with THEODORE. He was, what is now called a performance artist. It wasn't called that in those times.
A description since he cannot be seen again: A darkened room, one spotlight (or as the person introducing him says---he taught me all there is to know about lighting), and a man in a black outfit and hair combed to a point on his head. Then the stories---Dr. Herman Rashoko of the shredded fingernails, the parents of THEODORE who produced and sold Oleum Canus (Oil of Dog Vitamins) , the sad story of his love for Bernice --the dead Bernice, and let us never forget that THEODORE love his raincoat. That is a story unto itself and goes well with his diatribes--believed by many in the audience---of leaving the stage because of the insolence of the audience and the constant "neckering" of the young couples which are annoying to him.
Time goes one and THEODORE has midnight performances at Carnegie Hall---yes, before Andy Kaufman. And just as well attended and followed by the attracted cult.
TV brings him into a whole new world of fame. Larger than the loyal followers of the 1950s. Merv Griffin, David Letterman, and more. Now he becomes BROTHER THEODORE. He explained that in my interview with him. He had left the Merv Griffin show one day and someone stopped him (dressed in his usual black)---you are--or what is it---Father----oh---and THEODORE said---I am Brother Theodore. It stuck.
A few more films followed. Not memorable. Such as "The Burbs". Enough said there. Yet his appearances on David Letterman and Merv Griffin always surprised viewers for their unexpected moments. Such as Alexander King did in and earlier day with Jack Paar. Those days are now, sadly, long gone. The days of artists presenting totally unrehearsed and brilliant commentary that is unscripted.
Allow me a few personal thoughts about Theodore (Gottlieb) now.
At age 92 I was so delighted and honored that I finally got to meet someone who I so admired in my youth. My youth---great term. Makes me sound like an elder statesman and, frankly, 11 years ago seems like yesterday. In any case, moving on, I was both delighted and shocked when I arrived at THEODORE'S simple abode. A man who has been on national TV, Carnegie Hall Concerts, Greenwich Village programs, and myriad other projects living in this sad and simple little one room apartment in New York City. We can do jokes about what an apartment in NYC costs that is small later---THEODORE was there before that and he was not in a mansion or in an expensive co-op. A Rent Controlled (stabilized) unit. Yet, his apartment was lined with what I mentioned earlier. Intellect. His history was tragic and yet he overcame it. To the delight of many and those many did not even know his tragic past. I, for one, am humbled that he shared that with me.
THEODORE had his lighter moments. Let me offer a few: After we stopped recording he told me of his 35 year old girl friend and showed me pictures of her. He was concerned that she might find a younger man. I pointed out that might well be someone 85---so why worry! He laughed and said that he was afraid that he was boring---only interesting on stage. I, then, pointed out to him that his"boring" is more exciting than some younger people who watch nothing but boring TV. Last I heard they were still together.
THEODORE---my remembrance of you, my youth, and a wonderful performance artist before the term came into common usage. And I still wonder if you really are going to leave the stage---but my date is still hanging on to me in fear of you----Bless You---and you did not even sneeze!
You have, sadly, left the stage of life but your wit, characters, and persona live on.