Grapes Without Wrath
JUST ABOUT EVERY WEEK ON THE Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour Tom Smothers (the goofy one) would get that funny look on his face and intone to brother Dick (the but-toned-down one), “Mom always liked you best.” Today, 27 years after the show was abruptly canceled by CBS, Tom has put his old whine in new bottles: Mom’s Favorite is what he calls the table wine he produces on his rolling 35-acre vineyard in Kenwood, Calif., an hour’s drive north of San Francisco.
Tom Smothers, wine connoisseur? “Maybe I should write the Idiot’s Guide to Wine Tasting,” the 59-year-old Smothers deadpans, aware that his dim-witted TV persona renders him an unlikely expert on bouquets and tannin content. But Smothers’s winery, Remick Ridge, is no laughing matter. In business since 1982, and started with a little help from brother Dick, it bottles some 2,000 cases a year, distributing them to restaurants as far away as New York and Florida. “Tom has more than his name attached to this,” says Richard Arrowood, a neighbor and fellow vintner. “I think for him it’s an affair of the heart.”
But not his only one. Soured on love for many years by two brief, failed marriages, the second of which ended in 1979, Smothers says he has at last found bliss with Marcy Carriker, 34, a former associate producer who in 1988 worked on a 20th anniversary reunion show on CBS-TV (they met at the cast party and married two years later). When they’re not patching fences or pitching in at harvest time at the winery, the couple are likely to be running after their two little corkers—son Bo, 3, and daughter Riley Rose, 4 months—in the rustic, stone-and-wood, solar-heated Kenwood home Smothers helped build. “I didn’t think I’d ever get married again,” he says. “And I never thought I’d be a father again. It’s just been so great.” Smothers says he still feels guilty for neglecting his son from his first marriage, Tom Jr., 31, now a social worker in Arcata Calif., whom he sees frequently. “I’m not financially strapped, and I can do things with my kids I couldn’t do the first time when I was so busy,” says Tom. “I’m still trying to make it up to Tommy Jr.”
But his happiness on the home front contrasts with his complex relationship with brother Dick, though the two do manage to make 75 to 100 yearly appearances at conventions and symphony halls around the country. Born in the Philippines to Thomas Smothers, a West Point-educated Army officer who died in a Japanese prison camp in 1945, and Ruth, a homemaker who died of emphysema in 1988, the boys began bantering about who was the true apple of Mom’s eye while members of a Redondo Beach (Calif.) High School band. Their between-numbers patter developed into an act, which, honed over the years, brought ever bigger club dates and TV appearances, until they landed a short-lived sitcom in 1965 and then, two years later, their own variety series. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was highly rated but controversial: Countercultural skits led to skirmishes with censors; also Tom was fond of booking anti-Vietnam War protesters like folk-singer Joan Baez. Finally, in the spring of 1969, CBS canceled the show. “They touched nerves with those jokes,” said a CBS vice president at the time (the brothers sued CBS for breach of contract and settled for about $775,000).
After the cancellation, Tom turned into an ardent antiwar activist. “I lost my sense of humor,” he says of that era. “Everything was deadly serious.” It was not until the mid-’70s that the brothers began touring again on what might have been called the Sibling Rivalry Revelry. For a time in the early ’80s, they didn’t even discuss their act when not onstage. Tom’s self-diagnosis? “I was driven and manic-depressive, like many comics, ” he says. Dick, 57, who lives in Las Vegas and is engaged to Denby Franklin, 47, an Amway saleswoman, says that offstage, Tom insisted on playing the role of the older brother, always “telling me what to do.”
Thanks to therapy they entered into jointly at Dick’s urging earlier this year, the brothers have finally managed to bury—or at least smother—some childhood resentments. “He’s still the boss of the show,” says Dick. “He’s still the one who always wants to rehearse. But he’s become more tolerant of me.” Tom agrees the counseling has “made a big difference. Dickie’s been a different guy on the road.” Always the more ambitious of the two, Tom still yearns for one last shot at stardom. “If we can stay consistently open with each other,” he says, “we can keep this thing going for as long as we want. We’re the last living comedy team.”
And as long as they do keep going, Tom will probably be telling Dick that he was Mom’s favorite. After all, it’s the line most people remember from their act, although to hear Marcy tell it, an act is all it ever was. “Tom was always the favorite son.” she says loyally. “He won’t admit it, but he was.”
CAROLYN RAMSAY in Kenwood