Jonathan Winters, RIP

I’m not sure how widely it was known that Jonathan Winters, whom Robin Williams thought the best comic of his generation, was a conservative.  In any case, I sometimes used to show students in my classes on the American Founding the early scene from “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World” where the whole gang tries to deliberate about how to divide the loot fairly when they finally got to the site where the loot was hidden, and how it could illustrate . . . the “great compromise” of the constitutional convention of 1787 in Philadelphia.  (By the way, hat tip here to Prof. Ralph Rossum of Claremont for suggesting this idea to me.)  The obvious point being: fairness and compromise are not easy to accomplish, since the treasure hunters quickly fall out into a Hobbesian war of all against all to race for the loot.  The highlight of the scene in many ways is Winters answering Sid Caesar’s remark that the cash loot would be tax free.  Winters: “What do you mean tax-free?  Everyone’s got to pay taxes!”

Of course, my real purpose in screening the scene was to expose students to some classic culture, since the cast of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World” was the creme of American comedy from that era—superior to many of today’s comics—and students should know about these great figures.  Not to mention the last screen appearance of Spencer Tracy.  [WRONG: Tracy’s last film was “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”  My bad.]

Unfortunately there isn’t a YouTube video of that scene available.  [UPDATE: Found! See below!  And it’s even better than I remembered it.  “If you don’t pay taxes it’s like stealing from the govamint.  Even businessmen who rob and cheat and steal from people every day–even they have to pay taxes!”]  But there is this wonderful clip of Winters roasting Governor Ronald Reagan from the 1970s:

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