Brother Theodore (November 11, 1906 – April 5, 2001), born Theodore Gottlieb, was a German-American comedian known for rambling, stream-of-consciousness dialogues which he called “stand-up tragedy”.
Gottlieb was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Dusseldorf where his father was a magazine publisher. He attended the University of Cologne At age 32, under Nazi rule, he was imprisoned at the Dachau concentration camp until he signed over his family’s fortune for one Reichsmark. After being deported for chess hustling from Switzerland, he went to Austria where Albert Einstein, a family friend and alleged lover of his mother, helped him escape to the United States.
He worked as a janitor at Stanford University, where he demonstrated his prowess at chess by beating 30 professors simultaneously and later became a dockworker in San Francisco. He played a bit part in Orson Welles’s 1946 movie “The Stranger.” This was one of the several movie appearances he made beginning in the 1940s and continuing into the 1990s. These were mostly small parts in B-movies, although he did provide the voice of Gollum in the 1977 made-for-TV animated version of “The Hobbit.” and the follow-up adaptation of “The Return of the King” (1980). He also voiced Ruhk, Mommy Fortuna’s assistant and carnival barker in “The Last Unicorn.” (1982).
He reached a wider audience through television, with 36 appearances on “The Merv Griffen Show” in the 1960s and ’70s, and was also a guest on “The Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson), “The Dick Cavett Show”, and “The Joey Bishop Show.”.
After his nightclub and TV appearances in the 1950s and ’60s waned he retired in the mid-1970s. There was a resurgence of interest in him by the late 1970s. He was coaxed out of retirement. In 1977 he returned to the entertainment business by appearing on “The Tomorrow Show” with Tom Snyder.
Theodore made 16 appearances on NBC’s “Late Night With David Lettermen” in the 1980s. In the early 1980s, he was a regular on the “Billy Crystal Show.” In 1989 he appeared in the comedy film “The ‘Burbs.” Up until the late 1990s, he was a guest actor in several episodes of “Joe Frank: Work In Progress” radio show on National Public Radio(NPR).
In early 2001Theodore requested to meet with filmmaker Jeff Sumerel to consider the possibility of him producing a documentary about Theodore. After an in-person meeting, Sumerel received Theodore’s approval, and they agreed to proceed with the film.
Theodore was cautious, because of past documentary attempts that were aborted because of his eventual suspicions and distrust of the filmmaker(s). Sumerel was too, hearing of Theodore’s tendencies to self-sabotage past efforts. In February, preliminary shooting began with informal interviews with Theodore in his apartment. However, in April, Theodore became ill with pneumonia and died.
Nevertheless, Sumerel was encouraged by Theodore’s family and friends to continue with the documentary. Since no funding was available, Sumerel continued the project as a “labor of love”, when time and financing allowed. It was his interview with Henry Gibson that began to lead to other notable performers who were Theodore devotees. Gibson connected Sumerel with Penn and Teller (friends of Gibson’s) who were long-time, avid Theodorians. Over the next 5 years Sumerel was able to capture interviews with Dick Cavett, Eric Bogosian, Joe Dante, Mark Shulman, and Woody Allen, among others. All of them gave no hesitation to participate, because of their admiration of and respect for Theodore. Sumerel spent the next 2 years gathering archival materials and working with editor, Jeter Rhodes, to sift through the vast amount of content conveying Theodore’s personal and professional life (both of which could be documentaries in themselves). In the end, Sumerel & Rhodes wove both stories into a captivating, non-traditional documentary fitting for Theodore and titled “To My Great Chagrin.” The film was selected for premiere, February 13, 2008 at the opening night of The Museum of Modern Art’s Fortnight Series. *
“I am what you call a “controversial figure”. People either hate me or they despise me.”
“There are those who would rather shake the Devil by the tail than me by the hand.”
“I am in the prime of my senility.”
*Info mostly provided by Wikipedia