MEMOIR: Brother Theodore Was My Babysitter



ZANDY HARTIG: For people who aren’t familiar with Theodore’s work, here’s a bit of background.  He was the voice of Gollum in the animated version of Lord of the Rings.  But before that, Steve Allen, Merv Griffin and Tom Snyder were big fans.  I think Merv Griffin may have been the first to call him “Brother” Theodore, but I’m not positive about that.  After a series of professional setbacks, David Letterman took a shine to him and was single-handedly responsible for Theodore’s career resurgence.  He was one of Letterman’s favorite regular weirdos, except both Letterman and Theodore were in on the joke.  They had a vast appreciation for each other’s sardonic intelligence.  Theodore would rant and rave and Dave would play the straight man, but not really.  Then Theodore would pretend to be enraged by Dave’s irreverence, transporting him to greater heights of lunacy.

Theodore performed German Expressionist horror-humor monologues.  He was an absurdist storyteller.  He began his tales with quiet, courtly menace and then build to BrotherTheoa demonic, bellowing climax of depravity.  His face contorted, spit would fly out of his mouth and his deep-set eyes would pop out of his head,  to me and my sister, literally.  It was comedy of the grotesque.  My father loved it, my mom less so and my sister and I, not one bit.   A question still lingers in my mind why we were allowed to watch these performances at all.

One of Brother Theodore’s favorite monologue subjects was his love of pre-pubescent girls.  He seemed fascinated and repelled by their purity and innocence, like a Grand Guignol Lolita.  And so, naturally, my parents chose this man to be one of our babysitters.  I recently asked my mom what the thought process behind this decision had been and her embarrassed response was, “Well, I don’t really know what was going through my mind.  He offered and we accepted.”  Fair enough.

When my parents mentioned to my sister and me that Brother Theodore was coming to babysit, we froze in fear.  Theodore wasn’t exactly a beauty.  His complexion was ashen colored and mutated to beet red at the climax of his performances.  His lips were brown and freckled.  His cheekbones looked like gashes on his face.  He did have nice, thick silver hair (and my father envied him, not having very much himself ), but he sported a strange bowl cut that didn’t flatter his enormous spherical face.  And I never wanted to get close enough to smell him. My sister and especially I suffered from mild separation anxiety, but it was in full bloom that night.  We clung to my mom and dad and begged them in whispers to stay.  After prying us off and promising to not be home too late, they left.  I watched the front door close and heard the elevator in the hallway slide and seal shut. MORE

TO MY GREAT CHAGRIN: THE UNBELIEVABLE STORY OF BROTHER THEODORE (Jeff Sumerel, 2008) from Spectacle Theater on Vimeo.