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We are saddened at the passing of Robert "Fab" Newman aka Gertrude, Ketchikan the Animal Man, Boris S Wort, etc., etc.... While it wasn't his name on the title card at the beginning of each episode, The J.P. Patches Show wouldn't have been the same without him. His quick wit and amazing improvisational skills kept J.P., the crew and the audience on their toes and always made us laugh.
I struggled with what to write in this blog post. Feliks Banel has already written a beautiful obituary that you can read here. KIRO7 produced a touching tribute video that you can watch here. And I already have several pages dedicated to Bob and his characters here on the website.
So I decided to share my personal stories of my interactions with The Fabulous Bob Newman...
As a young Patches Pal, in the early 1970s, I first met J.P. and Gertrude at a public appearance. I'm sure it was an overwhelming experience and I only have vague memories of it, but I came home with a poster of J.P. and Gertrude that my parents hung on the back of my bedroom door. As much as I loved watching the show every morning, when my parents closed my door each night, the image of Gertrude grinning at me while I slept had me terrified!
But, I outgrew that fear and continued to watch them everyday until sometime shortly before the show went off the air in 1981. Chris and Bob's slapstick comedy helped shape my sense of humor growing up much more than I realized until I began to look back at the old episodes that became available on VHS in the 1990s. As I reminisced, it became very clear how much of an influence they were to me in those formative years.
In the early 2000s, as a designer at Archie McPhee, I had the honor of designing the J.P. Patches Action Figure and Nodder. While those products were still in development, my wife at the time, who was a physical therapist, briefly had Bob Newman as a patient to help him with dealing with his MS. She would come home after treating him with stories of his antics that day and, after telling him about the upcoming J.P. products, he would (jokingly) badger her about when we would make a Gertrude Action Figure.
When the J.P. Patches Action Figure was released, Archie McPhee held a signing event at the store with J.P. and Ketchikan. At this point, Bob had retired from public appearances as Gertrude due to the difficulties of wearing the dress with his mobility issues. I met him there for the first time (as an adult) and promised him we would someday make some products of his characters.
Well, the years passed and in 2015, I took up the mantle of Webmeister of JPPatches.com. After redesigning the website, I began offering memorabilia of J.P. and some of Bob's characters through the City Dump Store and, in 2016, I finally made good on my promise to Bob by designing the Gertrude Air Freshener and Gertrude Christmas Ornament for Archie McPhee!
It was a pleasure to visit Bob, who was then in an assisted living home, to present him with mockups of the upcoming designs for his approval. Every time we would show up, Bob would instantly switch "on" and begin to entertain us. That was just his nature. His big grin was infectious and I would instantly revert back to feeling like a little kid.
Of all the J.P. Patches products I designed, Bob's favorite was the J.P. Patches Lunchbox. Bob, being the ham that he is, liked it because there were more images of him than J.P.!
The last time I saw him was the summer of 2020. Even though we were in the lockdown due to Covid-19, I was allowed to visit because he was in hospice care. With all precautions in place, I presented him with a Gertrude Face Mask that I designed. He really got a kick out of it and when he put it on, it was almost as if he was wearing his Gertrude make-up again!
I'll miss my visits with Bob. He was always a larger than life presence wherever he was. We were lucky to have Chris and Bob in this little corner of the world and we have wonderful memories of them to carry us through.
"You know when the sun's out I look up and say, "Thanks for it all, Sir. Life is good, bring on the next item."
It's a shame to cover up your smile, but now you can wear the famous smile of J.P. or Gertrude! Sure to bring a spark of joy and nostalgia to all who recognize it! A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Seattle Children's.
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Many of us literally grew up on JP and Gertrude, they were our babysitters before and after school. Our days revolved around making sure we never missed the show. My Boy Scout troop appeared on the show at one point, and I remember both Chris and Bob were very kind, talking to each of us personally and asking us questions as if we were grownups.
Years later JP was off the air, but he was still making appearances around town for charity events and Seafair. I always considered myself a Patches Pal, so when the opportunity came in the late 1990s to help write his Wikipedia page I pitched in, along with a lot of other Patches Pals. Eventually I got a job at Seattle Childrens Hospital, and saw firsthand the legacy he’d left there. About this time I learned Chris Wedes lived just a couple blocks from me, and contemplated knocking on his door to thank him for all his years of service. One day I saw him in QFC, looking frail and weak but unmistakably him, so I discretely thanked him in person. He lit up like a chandelier and I could tell his heart was still full of love.
Kids need heroes, growing up, and Bob and Chris were mine. They still are.
I’m glad I met him a few times at events and got to tell him that the show meant a great deal to me. Somewhere I have a card from his fan club (Oingo Bongo or some such name from Ketchikan’s past), and some show related T-shirts I never wear because I don’t do T-shirts much.
Felt I needed to share a little, and this seemed like a good place:
As many have noted this show was a great deal deeper than most kids programming and had levels beyond the (glorious) comedy…
One of these was Gorst (or Ggggggorst and other spellings). Gorst was LITERALLY a monster in the basement. A friendly large furry thing that had a variety of problems, many to do with food, Frpl fodder. I won’t go into all the this and that, but basically in JP’s world Gorst was an ok Frpl, part of the team, a friend who both helped and needed help. It didn’t matter if Gorst was big, or clumsy, or funny looking, or sounded odd. I owe a great deal to Gorst, and to Bob Newman and Chris Wedes…
It seems odd to be hit so hard about someone passing away who hasn’t been in the greatest health (to put it mildly)… I suppose it’s partly that there aren’t that many things and people left that make me feel like a kid, and partially 2020 seems to just keep punching away…
But that being said, both Bob and Chris certainly had a good run… They left the world a nicer place. And that’s a pretty fine epitaph.
Or as Gorst might say: Grreh Grueh GGre Guh Guh guuheh!
JP and Gertrude were my daily start. Always excited to get up and watch. Always before I had to walk that mile to school or ride my bike. My brother was in the Vietnam War. Mom and Dad were hollering at night. Locked me in my room. Till they went to bed and sometimes Id hear the hook get unhooked. Excited to see these guys goof around. Nothing planned. You can tell what ever was said, was guided by some carded words. Or what ever was said was self created. To see them turn their heads so you cant see them bust up laughing. Their key was to let the kids know they cared for them all. I could see JPs eyes so red. Then remember my grandpa calling at 130am when the bars closed. Singing and telling stories. Then remember being at his place finding his fifth of Fleishman’s half gone and he too his eyes were just as red.
Gertrude I saw at the Sears store in Renton. I asked….What happened to JP Patches? He said, he wasnt feeling too good. He had too much fun last night. I was sad as heck. Gertrude was so nice though. He knew it hurt my feelings not to see JP, but was happy that I did go up to Gertrude and say hi with smiles. Gertrude knew we were all happy to see him alone. Gertrude was to many of us an idol to think of along with JP while we were in our classes in thoughts. Now is just a memory we remember. Remember the laughter. the togetherness with us kids. With kids abused or not. Spoiled or harmed. When we had bad grades…Im sure many of us made them better for JP and Gertrude. We sent them our thoughts, our hurts, our cries, and pains. and sometimes we would hear them. And some were so bad they could not read them all the way.
I am hoping there will be a JP and Gertrude Foundation created for the kids. To put it back on TV and not hire some high paid college graduates from California or Florida. Just a couple Hillbillies who are good at doing what JP Patches and Gertrude….and the rest of the gang….did for us all.
HEY JP PATCHES and GERTRUDE
THANK YOU AND LOVE YA LOTS
I could’ve MURDERED that guy for something he did when I was in fifth grade, but I have long forgiven him. I was part of a Cub Scout group that visited the Patches show in 1965. After the show was done, all of us kids were meeting with “Gertrude” — who was in full costume, including that ridiculously red and sticky makeup that surrounded his mouth. All of a sudden, Newman turns to me and exclaims, “Oh, this little red-haired boy — he is SOOOOO cute!”– and he SUDDENLY PLANTS A BIG SLOPPY KISS on my forehead! Leaving a HUGE red spot. My fellow Cub Scouts were convulsed with laughter, but I was mortified. I remember our den mother trying to scrub off that make-up. Well, news about what happened to me, of course, got around quickly at Sacajawea Elementary School the following morning, and the laughter and teasing continued to my utter dismay. But, now five and a half decades later, I can chuckle about it and fully recognize what a funny and talented guy Newman was and how he was as important to the Patches show as Chris Wedes himself.
When I was dating my then girlfriend, we heard that Robert was doing an appearance as Gertrude at the local Sears (now Fred Meyer) in Downtown Renton in the early 90’s. We went there and happened to pass him as he was at his open trunk in his car getting his stuff ready. You seriously would have thought we saw a major rock star as we seriously both lost it as I went LOOK!!! There’s Gertrude!! and she was like WHERE? WHERE?!? and he heard us, looked up and waved at us. Seriously, it was almost like a blessing from on high that he saw and waved at US specifically. Not a general wave to a crowd but to US!! Even though it happened almost 30 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday and I always will. I may not be with her anymore but I shall remember that day as one of the most special ones. Thanks Bob. I really hope you had some idea at least how much you (and JP) meant to a literal generation plus of Seattle area fans. You were more than public figures, you were family to a lot of us. I think you raised a lot of us right! I am 51 and will always have your show in my heart. How many people can call it a career and be this loved? RIP Bob. You earned your rest over and over again.