By Jon Ladd
Bellevue Reporter Intern
Gertrude, Ketchikan the Animal Man and the infamous Boris S. Wort.
These, along with many others, were the different names of actor Bob Newman during his time on “The J.P. Patches Show.” Newman gave much of his life to the show and to his community and now, long after his show has ended, that community, and his characters, are giving back to him.
Bellevue businessman and author Bryan Johnston recently released “The Second Meanest Man in the World,” a book about the many characters played by Newman, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Half the proceeds from Johnston’s book will be donated to the MS Society.
“I grew up a patches pal, J.P. and the gang were very important to me,” Johnston, an 11-time Emmy award winner, said.
Describing his work as a fan-fiction of Newman’s characters, Johnston has had a close relationship with the show since his childhood.
“It occurred to me it would be interesting to write about all of the characters Bob played on the show, and I wrote this fan-fiction; basically a whodunit, or howdunit, or whydunit, making a backstory for the characters,” he said. “I had a blank slate and it was fun to just make stuff up. It’s written very tongue-in-cheek, not a serious page in the book.”
On his inspiration for writing “The Second Meanest Man in the World,” Johnston said the fanbase of the show itself was a factor. He hadn’t realized the extent of the market for a J.P. Patches book until after he had finished his first piece on the topic.
“I wrote [“J.P. Patches, Northwest Icon”] about 12 years ago and there was a lot of interest,” Johnston said. “I would be with Bob and Chris at a book signing and lines would be around the block, people waiting two hours to shake their hands. It really stuck with me. Before writing I asked myself, ‘who would read it?’ Turns out 15,000 people read it.”
As well, this was Johnston’s personal relationship with both Newman and Patches himself, show creator Chris Wedes.
“I worked at KIRO TV in the cafeteria, and when I met Bob and Chris it was after the show had already ended. But their talent was incredible. They could ad lib off the top of their heads, always funny, always on.”
Wedes died in 2012 after a years-long battle with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer.
Newman, the only other regularly appearing actor on “The J.P. Patches” show, has had MS for decades. While not immediately crippling, it has over time taken its toll on the retired actor.
“Bob can’t walk anymore, he can’t use his right arm,” Johnston said. “The man was a marine, great at physical comedy, and now he’s confined to a bed and wheelchair. It’s heartbreaking.”
When first writing the book, Johnston had planned to donate 50 percent of all proceeds to Newman directly, however, because of Newman’s Medicaid status he is unable to receive an income. According to Johnston, Newman said, “Well, tell you what, how bout you give it to the MS Society?”
Newman will be accompanying Johnston to a Q&A and book signing at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Elliott Bay Book Company, and then again at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 27 at Third Place Books in Seattle.
On Newman’s signature, Johnston said he’ll be using a stamp.