Tom Smothers

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Tom Smothers
2011 photo of Tom Smothers
Background information
Birth name Thomas Bolyn Smothers III
Born (1937-02-02) February 2, 1937 (age 81)
New York City
Genres Folk
Occupation(s) Comedian, musician, composer, actor
Instruments guitar, singing
Years active 1959–2010[1]
Associated acts Smothers Brothers, Plastic Ono Band

Thomas Bolyn "Tommy" Smothers III (born February 2, 1937) is an American comedian, composer and musician, best known as half of the musical comedy team The Smothers Brothers, alongside his younger brother Dick.

Early life

Smothers was born in 1937[2] at the Fort Jay army post hospital on Governors Island in New York City, the son of Ruth (née Remick), a homemaker; and Major Thomas B. Smothers, an army officer who died a POW in April 1945.[3] After moving to California, he graduated from Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, California. He was a competitive unicyclist, and a state champion gymnast in the parallel bars. Smothers later attended San José State University, then known as San José State College.[4] At SJSC, Smothers participated both in gymnastics and pole vault for the track team.[5]


The Smothers Brothers initially wanted to be folk musicians.[6] Tom didn't feel that he was good enough to be a professional musician, but he was funny enough to do comedy. The two began adding comedy bits to their act.

Tom's first foray into the medium of television was as a regular on the The Steve Allen Show in 1961.[3] He followed that role with a single episode of Burke's Law.

The Smothers Brothers next appeared on the CBS sitcom The Smothers Brothers Show from 1965 to 1966. Tom felt that the show didn't play to the brothers' strengths[6] and wanted creative control over their next venture.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and aftermath

Tom Smothers negotiated creative control over their next CBS show, a variety show entitled The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967. The documentary Smothered describes how the brothers (particularly Tom) fought CBS censors to sneak in references to religion, recreational drugs, sex, and the Vietnam War. Smothers is widely quoted as saying: "The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen."[7] The brothers' oppositional politics led to their show's demise,[8] with David Steinberg later claiming "The most innovative variety show on television shut down because of political pressure".[9] Tom has since stated, "When the Smothers Brothers came on the air we had no political point of view or social consciousness, it just evolved as the show was on the air."[10]

Rock and Roll

Smothers introduced some musical acts at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.[11] And as he became more politically active, he befriended similarly inclined celebrities like John Lennon.[12] In 1969, Smothers played guitar on John Lennon's recording of his single "Give Peace a Chance (as well as his name being mentioned in the song).".[13] The song was written and performed during Lennon's 'Bed-In' honeymoon on 1 June 1969, in Room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada. Smothers can be seen in the documentary film about Lennon "Imagine" in the hotel room.

Political involvement

After the show was canceled, Tom became more strident in his politics.

I lost perspective, my sense of humour. I became a poster boy for the First Amendment, freedom of speech, and I started buying into it. It was about three years when I was deadly serious about everything....I'm still politically active, I'm still angry, but I've got it in the right position now.[6]

In the 1970s, Smothers chided popular comedian Bill Cosby for not taking a stand on political issues of the day like civil rights.

At the time I was very volatile, and thought everyone should take a stand. I guess I said something that really pissed him [off]. For a couple years after that, I'd say, 'Hiya Bill, how ya doing?' and he wouldn't shake hands with me – you know, like, 'Fuck off."[14]

In October 1976, both Cosby and Smothers were in attendance at a Playboy Mansion party. The tension between the two culminated in Cosby's punching Smothers in the head.[14]

Motion picture roles

In motion pictures, Tom Smothers portrayed corporate-executive-turned-tap-dancing-magician Donald Beeman in one of Brian De Palma's earlier films, Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972). He also played a banker in Silver Bears. He later portrayed Spike in Serial (1980).

In 1973, he voiced Ted E. Bear (Theodore Edward Bear) in the DePatie-Freleng NBC animated Christmas special The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas. Ten years later, he voiced Ted E. Bear again for its Halloween sequel The Great Bear Scare.

In 1993, he voiced one of the characters on cartoon Christmas movie Precious Moments: Timmy's Special Delivery.

Later work

In 2007, Tom and Dick filmed a series of 30-second commercials and promotional spots for the River Rock Casino in Geyserville, California.[15]

To augment their act in recent years, Tom Smothers had created the mostly non-speaking character "Yo-Yo Man" in the late 60s, a surprisingly expert performer of difficult tricks using a yo-yo. In their 2008 tour, Yo-Yo Man was listed as the group's opening act.

In 2008, during the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards, Smothers was awarded a special Emmy. In 1968, when he was head writer of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the writing staff was awarded the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedic Series. Smothers had refused to let his name be on the list of writers nominated for the Emmy, because he felt his name was too volatile. The award at the 2008 ceremony was presented by Steve Martin, who was once a writer on the program.[16]

On May 6, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union's Sonoma County chapter honored Smothers with its Jack Green Civil Liberties Award for his work against television censorship and for speaking out for peace and civil liberties.[17]

Personal life

Smothers is the owner of Remick Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma County, California, with his wife Marcy Carriker and two children, Bo (born 1993), and Riley Rose (born 1996). He also has a son, Thomas Bolyn Smothers IV (Tom Jr.), from his first marriage,[2][4] and one grandson, Phoenix Parrish-Smothers. There is a Smothers sister – Sherry – born September 1941, in Pasadena, California.

See also


  1. "Smothers Brothers Retire – and Tom Explains Why – AOL News". Archived from the original on May 22, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Tom Smothers at the Internet Movie Database
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Tom Smothers Biography (1937–)".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 "THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS BIOGRAPHY".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Speed City: From Civil Rights to Black Power  » Archive  » The Smothers Brothers". Archived from the original on August 11, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "The Comedy Couch Interview".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. [1]
  8. April Corbin. "Smothers Brothers announce their retirement from touring".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "The Smothers Brothers: A 'Dangerously Funny' Pair". November 30, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Tom Smothers Interview".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 47 – Sergeant Pepper at the Summit: The very best of a very good year. [Part 3]" (audio). Pop Chronicles.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "A Chat With Tom Smothers".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Year One A.P. (After Peace)".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 "The Case of Bill Cosby vs. Tommy Smothers' Head".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Smothers Brothers to Star in Commercials for River Rock Casino" (PDF). Indian Gaming. March 2007. Retrieved March 15, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Leopold, Todd (September 21, 2008). "'Mad Men' wins best drama, '30 Rock' best comedy". CNN. Archived from the original on September 22, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Sonoma Civil Liberties, Winter 2011, #60, p. 1-2.