We’ve had a very strange decade—well, nine years, really,” said Dick in an opening-night curtain speech. “We’re more mellow, more mature, both of us.”
Yeah,” agreed Tom mischievously “We look back on those nine years now—and we’re still pissed off.”
The Smothers Brothers back in action? Well, yes and no. When CBS canned their controversial Comedy Hour in 1969 for anti-Vietnam songs and risqué skits, TV’s funniest siblings became itinerants. After flings at the other networks, they took a series of jobs in supper clubs until officially terminating their partnership in 1976 at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. “I never again wanted to say, ‘Mom always liked you best,’ ” explains Tom, 41. “We were too young to bury ourselves in something we were no longer enthusiastic about.”
Going it alone turned out not to be the answer either. So they are together again as the leads in the long-running Broadway musical I Love My Wife. Still cast as straight man, Dick, 39, is a with-it suburban wife swapper, while Tom plays his old high school chum, a klutz named Alvin.
“The producers found us,” says Dick. “The show was ready for new juice, or else it would have petered out.” Tom, the more theatrically ambitious and restive of the pair, jumped at the chance. “I wanted to work with Dickie again,” he says. But neither wished to revive memories of the old act, so their contract forbids using the words “Smothers Brothers” in publicity.
After their TV show was canceled, the brothers sued CBS and were awarded nearly a million dollars. “But the money never made up for the stopping of our careers,” insists Tom. (Lawyers got much of it.) He adds, “We have to work to meet our bills.” Both claim TV censorship still prevails. New York stations demanded changes in the commercials for the play, deleting Tom’s line: “My wife is boring in bed.”
The brothers were born on Governors Island in New York Harbor, sons of an Army major who died in the Philippines near the end of World War II. With their mother they moved to Redondo Beach, Calif. and later, while attending San Jose State, played to college audiences at the nearby Kerosene Club for beer and a couple of dollars a night. After that came the Purple Onion in San Francisco and two years of nightclub-hopping toward New York’s Blue Angel and a spot on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show. Their comedy was recorded on 13 LPs, three of which went gold. In 1965 they got their own TV show.
When their careers faded, Dick bought a 12-acre vineyard in Santa Cruz, Calif. During his Broadway tour, wife Linda (they have three children, aged 12 to 17) is overseeing the production of 4,200 gallons of wine. At the recent L.A. County Fair, the Smothers’ Late Harvest Gewürztraminer ($7.50 a bottle) won top honors. Fiercely proud, Dick declares, “Bruce Jenner didn’t make a single box of Wheaties. I made my own wine. I’m not just another celebrity trying to cash in on something.” Indeed, he figures he won’t be in the black until 1980. Besides wine-making, he has also tried professional auto racing, driving at Sebring and Le Mans.
Tom has been killing time at his Sonoma ranch, where he raises grapes for his brother. Twice divorced, he has a 13-year-old son. In Manhattan he has been rooming with a member of the cast, Barbara Sharma, and though he finds New York “devastatingly different” from California, he may stay East to promote his career. “We like residual stardom,” Dick says, speaking for his brother too, “but we want to be patted on the back for what we’re doing now.”