Comfort, Bob

Obituary

There was no official obituary printed in the Portland newspapers, but the Toronto Globe & Mail printed the following brief summary at the end of their lengthy article (see below).

Robert John Comfort was born on Sept. 17, 1940; he died on Jan. 8, 2010. He leaves his wife Bonnie, his son John, and his brothers Dave and Doug Comfort and their families.

Bob Comfort’s humour magical on airwaves

By Taylor Bendig, Edmonton Journal
Life & Times
February 23, 2010 7:16 AM

Though he went on to become a successful Hollywood screenwriter, Bob Comfort never forgot the friends he made — and the lives he changed — back home in Alberta.

Born in Calgary in 1941, Mr. Comfort grew up in Drumheller before moving to Edmonton at age 11. While he loved horror movies and playing with toy soldiers, he was “not what I would call your typical every day kid,” said his younger brother Dave.

“He created magic out of something really common … some sort of intrigue and suspense that really hooked you,” said Dave, recalling how Bob would lie on the floor and feign drowning, enticing Dave to throw him whole packages of Lifesaver candies before the spell wore off.

Mr. Comfort, whose childhood knack for creating magic would lead to a long and fruitful media career, died Jan. 8 in Portland, Oregon. Friends and family remember the writer and radio broadcaster as a “comedic genius” who loved language and history and was a keen observer of current events.

As a young man of 17, Mr. Comfort immigrated to the United States, then spent four years in the Marine Corps. Later he put his creativity to work as a writer for two Emmy-winning Los Angeles TV programs. Returning to Edmonton in 1971, he wrote features for CHED radio, making a typically unforgettable impression on his colleagues.

Working with him “was really different, because he was basically a comedic genius … he had such a different way of looking at things,” said Gayle Helfrick, a co-worker who became a lifelong friend. “It really made me think … he was the kind of person who made you push yourself.”

While at CHED, Mr. Comfort created ‘Posters For Your Mind,’ a series of thoughtful, unpredictable stories built around hit pop songs. Bob Robertson, who was then a director at CHED’s sister station, was impressed by what he heard and arranged a meeting. Robertson came away with more than just a decision to run the program.

“He put the bug in my mind about being funny,” said Robertson, now a well-known comedian. Not long after his initial meeting with Mr. Comfort, Robertson quit his job, moved his family to Edmonton, and started working with Tinsel and Sham, an entertainment company Mr. Comfort had co-founded in 1974.

Inspired by that work, Robertson began a long career in writing and comedy, notably with CBC’s Double Exposure.

“Bob probably didn’t know he was changing people’s lives back then, but he was, and he certainly did with mine,” said Robertson.

Mr. Comfort’s most prominent role in Edmonton was hosting his daily call-in show, The Afternooner. He used the show to take on serious issues using hilarious parodies.

“There was nothing like this on the air at the time,” recalled producer Larry Musser, who co-hosted the show. “It either made people furious, or they loved it.”

Mr. Comfort loved on-air stunts, such as arranging a promotional shuffleboard tournament against a sightless team from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, or founding a mock political party that attracted enough members to stage its own rally.

And he never shied away from confrontation; he fearlessly taunted powerful people and institutions. But “underneath the verbal assaults … was a good heart, a person who cared about other people,” said Musser.

Though the radio show ended in 1974, Musser’s later career benefited from the “bold” attitude he learned from Mr. Comfort, who never restrained his passion, his intelligence — or his language.

“He was the kind of guy who used salty language, and didn’t care who heard it — my mother for one,” recalled Robertson.

Mr. Comfort returned to L.A. in the mid-’70s and took on high-profile writing projects for clients including Alan King, Disney and Kenny Rogers. He also wrote many screenplays, including Dogfight, a 1991 film inspired by his time in the Marines.

Not long after heading to Hollywood, he met and married Bonnie, a former Winnipegger with whom he would spend the rest of his life.

Several years ago, Mr. Comfort was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, a disease that severely hampered his ability to speak.

“Bob’s linguistic and comedic abilities really defined him,” said longtime friend Abe Silverman. “Not being able to use his gift was a terrible, terrible frustration for him.”

But Mr. Comfort remained in close touch with his many Edmonton friends. Though he couldn’t converse like he used to, he cherished the times he was able to hear from his friends.

And he never lost his legendary sense of humour.

Helfrick remembers a Christmas card from Mr. Comfort — who late in life, with his white hair and beard, looked rather like Santa — that contained a “horrendous” photo of himself labelled ‘Santa: the morning after.’

“That was the sense of humour he had,” Helfrick said. “He’d do anything to make you laugh, right up until the end.”

Mr. Comfort is survived by his wife, son John, and brothers Dave and Doug.

“He was always the life of the party,” said Silverman. “It’s highly unlikely that anyone who met Bob would ever have forgotten him.”

Scriptwriter Bob Comfort’s humour sustained him through good times and bad

He left a successful Edmonton talk show to seek his fame in Hollywood
Michael Posner
The Globe and Mail
Published on Wednesday, Feb. 03, 2010 (print edition)

In one of the movies he wrote, Friendly Voices , a character’s motto is: “Live audaciously, speak the truth, have a good breakfast.” That same aphorism might well have applied to the life its author, Bob Comfort, who died on Jan. 8 at the age of 69. He once told a lifelong friend that if they examined her DNA, they’d find party hats on it. That, says Mr. Comfort’s widow Bonnie (née Brotman), was true of him as well.

In a letter sent to friends recently, she wrote: “Bob loved being with friends, saying hilarious things and having everyone join in till we were drunk with laughter.”

His nickname for his wife was “Pretty,” as in “Hi, Pretty. How are you?” And, says Bonnie, “he really did want to know how I was. All of our 32 years together. And when he talked to you, he really wanted to know how you were, wanted you to know he believed in you, and probably had too much advice for you about the risks you should take to change your life. He was a big believer in trusting your abilities and taking a chance on them.”

Bob, she added, “was funny and charming, all the way to the end.”

The end came last month in Portland, Ore., the couple’s home for the past 14 years, the result of Lewy Body Dementia, a rare condition with the same underlying neuropathology as Parkinson’s disease. Mr. Comfort was formally diagnosed in 2004. In LBD, microscopic protein deposits destroy normal brain tissue. There is no known cause.

Many Albertans will remember Mr. Comfort for his four years spent as a colourful afternoon radio show host in Edmonton in the early 1970s. In addition to his hosting duties, he was president of Tinsel and Sham, which created shows and commercials for radio and TV. In a series of sketches about Canada’s conversion to the metric system he played a character named Yardly Footlong, a villain doing battle against Milly Meter. Mr. Comfort was said to be so popular that political parties tried to get him to run for office.

Once, on his radio show, he interviewed a reverend whom he thought was a con man. Preparing for the session, he sent away for a mail-order certificate that made him a reverend as well. When his guest insisted that Mr. Comfort call him Rev. Smith, he hauled out his own ordination certificate and said, “Then you have to call me Rev. Bob.” Later, he did his best to debunk Scientology, receiving threats from members as a result.

His antipathy for religion derived from his upbringing. Mr. Comfort was born in Drumheller, Alta., one of three sons. His father was a high school teacher and the family were devout members of the Church of the Nazarene. By his teenage years, some of the faith’s more fundamentalist beliefs were causing him problems – the more so since not far from the church lay the bones of dozens of dinosaurs, fairly conclusive evidence, he thought, that the earth was older than 6,000 years, as it said in the Bible.

He eventually left the church, but remained deeply interested in things inherently spiritual, such as particle physics. He read widely in the field and followed discoveries in space. “Bob did believe there was something beyond this life,” Bonnie says.

At 17, Mr. Comfort went to live with an aunt and grandmother in Pasadena, Calif. He finished high school there, then joined the Marine Corps, soon shipping out to the Far East.

On his first day in boot camp, in 1959, Mr. Comfort threw back a pint of milk just before a company run. Suddenly needing to vomit, he raced outside the mess hall, pursued by a drill sergeant.

“What … do you think you’re doing?”

“Sir, the private had to heave, sir.”

The sergeant moved his face inches from Mr. Comfort’s. “You’re a Marine … or you’re going to be. Swallow it!”

As Mr. Comfort later recalled it, “he didn’t believe that I was actually going to do it. I did. He jumped back and I got vomit all over his feet, all over his shoes.”

One time, during a routine bunk inspection by officers, Mr. Comfort was asked what the ‘NP’ on his Marine dog tag stood for.

“Sir, no preference, sir,” he said.

“There’s no atheists in a foxhole,” the captain replied.

Mr. Comfort explained that he belonged to a small religious denomination that other soldiers had made fun of. To avoid further mockery, he put ‘NP’ on the tag.

The captain then asked what denomination he belonged to.

“Well, sir,” he said, “I don’t like to say it real loud, but I’m a Comfortist.”

“What … is a Comfortist?”

“Well, sir, it’s a very small denomination and people don’t mean any harm, but my feelings are a little hurt.”

The Captain, none too bright, told Mr. Comfort he should be proud of his religion and then chewed out the company, extolling religious tolerance in America.

Discharged at 22, Mr. Comfort took classes at Pasadena City College, sharing one course with singer Kenny Loggins and Sirhan Sirhan, Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin. All of them were love with the same girl.

A job as a bartender at the local comedy club led to his first writing gig. There, he met Rick Kellard, with whom he would partner, writing variety shows and specials for Alan King, Susan Anton, Dinah Shore, Walt Disney and Kenny Rogers. They co-created two series, The Cheap Show , a send-up of game shows, and Wacko , an off-the-wall Saturday morning kids show. Later, he and Mr. Kellard wrote sitcoms for ABC’s Just Our Luck and The Redd Foxx Show, and pilots for 13 other shows, 11 of which were shot. Once, during a high-level pitch meeting at CBS – it’s a scene that might have come right out of Seinfeld – “Bob got up, went into a corner, squatted and then farted. The room, full of well-dressed “suits,” was completely stunned. “Ya gotta get these things out,” Mr. Comfort explained. The meeting continued.

It was while he was working on Wacko in 1977 that he met Bonnie, a hospital psychologist. A former Winnipegger, she’d followed a boyfriend to L.A. and stayed when the relationship ended. “We met at a friend’s engagement party,” she remembers. “I’d mainly been dating Jewish doctors and I sat down beside this guy and could not believe how hysterically funny he was.” Mr. Comfort was smitten, too: The morning after their first date, he called to tell her, “I had a wonderful time and I’m going to fall in love and please don’t break my heart.”

“That openness, the willingness to be vulnerable, was so touching and so wonderful,” she said. Within two weeks, he’d asked her to marry him.

They married seven months later.

Mr. Comfort already had custody of a 10-year old son, John (now a composer), from a previous, short-lived marriage. “I think he wanted a mother for his son,” Bonnie says. “It was difficult for him. I was hesitant to take that on at the age of 33, but John was very sweet. He wanted a mom.”

Although they scored many successes in TV land, there were many reversals as well. One day, heavyweight producer Grant Tinker called the house.

“This is Grant Tinker.”

Disbelieving the caller, Mr. Comfort said: “Really, who is this?”

But it was Mr. Tinker, asking him and Mr. Kellard to write a new sitcom for his wife, Mary Tyler Moore. Half way through the writing, the Tinkers divorced, and the project died.

That sort of frustration was routine in Hollywood and it took its psychological toll. “Bob became more cynical,” Bonnie says. “So much about what got on air was capricious. The attitude always was, ‘let’s do what worked last time, rather than innovate.’ Bob had a bigger vision, but he could not realize it in TV.”

Film was not much easier. He and Mr. Kellard had already written five screenplays, including a spoof western about cowboys competing to see who was toughest. All were bought, but never produced.

In 1986, after 15 years together, the writers split up. “Bob wanted to concentrate on movies,” explains Bonnie. “Rick wanted to stay in TV.”

Mr. Comfort then wrote Dogfight, a 1991 film based on his Marine Corps experiences about young soldiers wagering $50 to see who could bring the ugliest girl to a party. It was made at Warner Bros., starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor.

After that, Mr. Comfort was awash in scriptwriting offers. In all, he wrote 17 screenplays on his own and, except for a few, they were all bought, paid for and never made. One project, for Roseanne and Tom Arnold, collapsed when the couple divorced.

He had high hopes for a script called The Boys from Neptune , a reunion film about four former beach lifeguards, based on actor Jack Nicholson’s adolescent years. Mr. Nicholson, Nick Nolte, Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro were interested and a table reading was held at the home of director Penny Marshall. But it, too, languished.

Then he wrote an Americanized version of the 1989 Oscar-winning Italian film Cinema Paradiso. Producer Joel Silver bought it, but the project, like so many others, never was green-lit.

Once, watching a documentary about Dian Fossey, Mr. Comfort saw footage of a mother guerrilla dragging around her dead infant, unable to let it go.

“That’s how I feel about my scripts,” he told Bonnie. “They’re my dead babies.”

He had one other screenplay shot – Good Luck , a 1996 comedy starring Gregory Hines and Vince D’Onofrio, about a blind football player and sighted paraplegic teamed in a white-water raft race.

Always a small-town guy, Mr. Comfort persuaded Bonnie to move to Ashland, Ore., in the late 1980s. There, she continued her practice in psychotherapy and wrote a novel, Denial . In 1993, Mr. Comfort – during a trip back to L.A. for pitch sessions – was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. They moved back to California for chemo and radiation treatments, a regimen – Bonnie believes – that may have triggered the disease that later killed him.

“It was the best and the worst at the same time,” she recalls. “Bob was in surgery to have a tumour removed when I heard there were two offers for my novel.” It subsequently sold to seven foreign countries and became a bestseller in Japan.

While he recovered, the couple resettled in Oswego, outside of Portland. There, Mr. Comfort worked on his final film, still unmade, Jesus on Line 4. Based in part on his days in Edmonton radio, it’s about a talk-show host that strikes a deal with a caller claiming to be Jesus. Jesus agrees to help boost ratings by becoming a regular guest, if the host becomes Christ’s gardener.

Apart from writing, Mr. Comfort was a keen photographer and avid collector of old children’s books and toys. He loved odd, quirky things,” says Bonnie. “I have two rooms full of stuff he collected. I think he was trying to connect with his childhood.”

Even as he slipped further into dementia, Mr. Comfort remained funny. Visiting friends with a multilevel house, he said, “I really like your home. There are so many places to fall.” He was still walking and playing squash six weeks before his death and, according to Bonnie, endured “this terrible illness with enormous grace and good spirits, calling it the ‘Louis the XIV disease,’ and creating new words in the English language that were every bit as funny and good as the real ones. The most trying and difficult part for him [was] his gradual loss of verbal ability, the gift he had in such large measure.” It was, she said, “a hilarious and surprising adventure.”

Robert Comfort

Robert John Comfort was born on Sept. 17, 1940; he died on Jan. 8, 2010. He leaves his wife Bonnie, his son John, and his brothers Dave and Doug Comfort and their families.

Farewell to Comfort

Hicks on Six
Edmonton Sun
Graham Hicks
February 3, 2010

Sorry to hear of the passing of Bob Comfort from dementia on Jan. 8 in Portland, Ore.

Bob, 69, was considered one of Edmonton’s best writers and performers during the late ’60s and early ’70s. He was a writer for CHED and CBC, a talk show host on CJCA, and a partner in Tinsel and Sham Productions.

Comfort moved on to Los Angeles where he was a successful comedy writer (Alan King, Kenny Rogers, Redd Foxx) and TV/film producer. He always nurtured his Edmonton roots and leaves many friends here.

Screenwriter-producer Bob Comfort dies

Wrote ‘Dogfight,’ ‘Good Luck’; exec produced ‘Just Our Luck’
The Hollywood Reporter
Staff report
Jan 22, 2010, 07:00 PM ET

Bob Comfort, a writer and producer whose 40-year career in the entertainment industry included radio, television and films, died Jan. 8 of Lewy body dementia in Portland, Ore. He was 69.

Comfort penned the screenplays for “Dogfight,” a 1991 film from Warner Bros. that starred River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, and “Good Luck,” a 1996 comedy released by Xenon Pictures that starred Gregory Hines and Vince D’Onofrio.

In the early 1980s, Comfort and writing partner Rick Kellard worked at Lorimar and created and executive produced two half-hour series for ABC, “Just Our Luck” and “The Redd Foxx Show.”

Earlier, the pair wrote for numerous variety shows and specials, among them “Alan King’s Second Annual Final Warning,” the “25th Anniversary of Disney” and Kenny Rogers’ first major TV special. They also co-created two series, “The Cheap Show,” a send-up of game shows, and “Wacko”, an off-the-wall Saturday morning show for CBS.

After writing “Dogfight,” which was inspired by his years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Comfort wrote screenplays developed with such producers and directors as Penny Marshall and Lauren Shuler Donner. Although it has not yet been produced, he wrote the American adaptation of the Italian film “Cinema Paradiso.”

A native of Alberta, Comfort hosted a daily radio talk show in Edmonton. That experience inspired his original screenplay, “Jesus on Line Four.” He had returned to work in Canada after emigrating to the U.S. at age 17.

Comfort is survived by his wife of 31 years, Bonnie Comfort; his son, John Comfort; and his brothers Dave and Doug Comfort and their families.

Tinsel and Sham Productions

Billboard Magazine
September 29, 1973

There’s another new name in the Edmonton marketplace: Tinsel and Sham Productions. The company was formed in May of this year and has five creative minds in the compound churning out commercial production and radio and television specials. Tinsel and Sham is the only company in this area bestowing a constant supply of broadcast specials to the programmers.

Bob Comfort is the president of Tinsel and Sham, a man who has been writing comedy scripts in Los Angeles for many years and still commutes once in a while just working on ideas — most recently a movie script. Bob wrote for the “John Byner Comedy Show” last summer, has an Emmy Award for variety show writing to this credit and brings a fresh approach with his almost unique sense of humor. Comfort has received good, if somewhat mixed, reaction to his rather unorthodox methods in the area of interviewing on the CBC Television’s “Hour Glass Show.” Paul Tivadar, vice president of the outfit is the morning man on CHED Radio. Paul does all the technical production and also manages the accounts. Gale Gelfrick is the creative director for radio productions and is also a copywriter at an Edmonton radio station. Tinsel and Sham offers the client a resident music writer, composer, lyricist and arranger in the personage of Gord Marriot. The fifth partner is Nick Bakyta and he handles all the television production. Nick has years with the CBC network behind him and has credits in all facets of broadcasting.

Bob Comfort’s “Posters for Your Mind” have created enormous reaction in a very short time period; the posters are designed for radio programming and consist of philosophical writings about everyday things phased into music of relevance to the subject. There are 50 “Posters” in one package. Another special for radio programmers made available by the Tinsel and Sham crew is the “Tinsel & Sham Comedy Program of the Air.” This is three hours of radio insanity, all ready for marketing, complete with commercial breaks, etc. The group also do commercial concepts, promotions and of course, jingles — national and regional.

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