EDGEWATER — Bob Hartley may have had one of the strangest commutes in television history, heading home from his job Downtown and getting off the “L” dozens of blocks from his apartment in Edgewater.
The curious logistics aside, the trip depicted in the opening credits of “The Bob Newhart Show” helped put Edgewater on the map for many Americans. Now, a plaque honoring Newhart and the show’s legacy has been erected outside the Sheridan Road high rise Newhart’s character called home.
The Edgewater Historical Society debuted a plaque Thursday dedicated to “The Bob Newhart Show” and its depiction of the Thorndale Beach Condominiums, 5901 N. Sheridan Road.
Newhart was born in Oak Park and went to Loyola University before becoming a beloved television and comedy icon. “The Bob Newhart Show” ran for six seasons on CBS.
A statue of Newhart can be found on the far end of Navy Pier. John Holden, president of the historical society, asked city officials about relocating the statue to Edgewater near the building where Newhart’s character lived.
That idea went nowhere, so the historical society instead got permission to erect a plaque celebrating the show’s depiction of the Far North Side neighborhood.
The plaque will be installed near Lane Beach Park at Sheridan Road and Thorndale Avenue.
“We had to do something to acknowledge Newhart’s impact on Edgewater,” Holden said. “This is the one spot in Edegwater that was routinely seen by tens of millions for years.”
The depiction of Edgewater comes in the final moments of the opening credits of “The Bob Newhart Show” and at the tail end of a truly wacky journey.
Starting from his office on the Mag Mile, Bob Hartley walked across multiple Downtown bridges — going in opposite directions — before boarding the “L” and getting off in Evanston. Then to add another bizarre twist, the train he leaves is heading south from northern Evanston instead of north from the city center.
From there, he apparently walked about 6.5 miles to his home on Sheridan Road.
As it turns out, that opening sequence was filmed by the late Bill Birch, a longtime Edgewater resident.
Birch was “one of the last newsreel cameramen” who filmed World War II action with director Frank Capra and helped establish NBC’s news affiliate in Chicago, according to the Tribune.
Birch transitioned to a career in film, shooting famous car chase scenes in “Blues Brothers” and shooting the on-location scenes for “The Bob Newhart Show.” Birch died in 2011.
Marjorie Fritz-Birch, his widow, said the show holds a special place because of her late husband’s connection to the production. Fritz-Birch also said her husband warned Newhart’s producers about the strange commute sequence.
“Bill said, ‘You’re going to get nothing but pushback,'” Fritz-Birch said. “‘Everyone that lives in Chicago knows this is insane.'”
Newhart joked about his commute with Conan O’Brien in 2017.
“I get on what in Chicago was the Ravenswood ‘L,’ and I’m taking that, I’m going home from the office,” Newhart said. “And I get off, the little station I get off at, that’s on the ground. The ‘L’ at some point goes on the ground, which is about 55 blocks from our apartment. I do this every day. I miss my stop and walk back 55 blocks to our apartment. Now, would you want a therapist who missed his stop every day?”
Newhart will turn 93 on Monday. This month also marks the 50th anniversary of the debut of “The Bob Newhart Show,” which made getting the plaque up in time a priority, Holden said.
At the plaque’s unveiling, dozens of neighbors wished Newhart a happy birthday, played “The Newhart Show” trivia and told stories of encounters with the comedian.
Holden said he met Newhart once and told him that Newhart’s personal story of quitting his accounting job to pursue comedy inspired Holden to similarly quit his job.
Newhart’s response: “Well, at least my life has had some meaning.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: