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Interview With John Hartmann

Aired February 20, 2003 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, the truth behind a tragic tale of murder and suicide. Phil Hartman, brilliant, popular comedic talent, shot to death in his own bed early one morning by his beautiful wife, who then takes her own life, with their young children just down the hall. And five years later, we're still wondering how it could have happened.
Tonight, in his first primetime interview, Phil Hartman's brother John Hartmann speaks out. It's next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening.

Our special guest tonight is John Hartmann, brother of the late Phil Hartman, the comic genius and former star of "Saturday Night Live" and "NewsRadio." And John is overseeing the editing and distribution of the newly released CD of "Phil Hartman's Flat TV." It goes back a long way, but it's been released now. We'll get into an explanation of that in a while. And we're going to discuss the fate and circumstances of Phil Hartman.

First, John, thank you very much for coming.

JOHN HARTMANN, PHIL HARTMAN'S BROTHER: Thanks for having me, Larry.

KING: When was Flat TV, by the way?

HARTMANN: Flat TV was his name for this product. It was based on the fact that it was a disk and in those days it would have been a 33 1/3 record, but it got lost and just before he got "Saturday Night Live" it disappeared and it wasn't until after he died that I went searching for it. I had heard it once back then. And it was found in a little storage unit in the back yard of an engineer out in the Valley and it was a little beatup but the producers doctored it and digitized it and here it is.

KING: And it's an audio, right?

HARTMANN: It's an audio, just like an old radio show.


PHIL HARTMAN, COMEDIAN: Hello and welcome to "Your Bet Your Life." Well, Benita (ph), what a lovely name. That means pretty, doesn't it? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

HARTMAN: I think there's also a fish named Benita. Regardless, you'd be a fine catch for any man.

What do you do for a living?


HARTMAN: And what do you do at the cannery?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm the file clerk.

HARTMAN: The file clerk. Well, you're one clerk a lot of fellows would like to defile.


HARTMANN: It has complete sound effects for every aspect of what's going on dramatically and...

KING: We'll discuss it more later. And where are they selling it, by the way?

HARTMANN: They're selling it on, which is George Carlin's record label. And it's also in all the stores.

KING: All right.

In the early hours of May 28,1998, Phil Hartman's wife, Brynn, returned home after an evening out, fatally shot her husband Phil as he slept, went to a male friend's house, told him what she'd done. He didn't believe her. She showed him the gun. They went back to the house. She locked herself in the master bedroom and as the police arrived they heard a single shot and she killed herself.

Did you have any concept of problems?

HARTMANN: No, not really.

I knew that Brynn had had previous drug problem and that she had been pretty clean for some time and she had gotten involved in the production of a play. Her ambition was to be an actor. And the company of the play got into a little drug abuse and Phil asked her to withdraw because he realized that that was not a situation that would be good for her and she did. And...

KING: So as far as you knew, everything was all right?

HARTMANN: I did...

KING: Did he ever say to you there are problems?

HARTMANN: Sure. They had ups and downs, like any marriage. But it wasn't something that was leading toward divorce and it wasn't something that was leading towards death. KING: Where were you when you found out? How did you find out?

HARTMANN: I was at home with my wife. It was early, I think around 9:00, on the morning of the 28th. I was on the phone with one of my partners in New York. I had just hung up. The phone rang again. I picked it up. It was my doctor's wife, Judy Paley (ph), and she is normally a real bubbly, up person. And she was crying. And that set off an alarm and she said your brother lives in Encino? I said yes. And she said there's been a shooting at his house.

And then my toes started to tingle and I said I'll call you back. And I clicked on the television immediately and I heard an announcer who might have been one of Phil's characters describing the incident. And then the picture came clear. I saw a police officer running from the house with my niece in her arms and I went into denial.

I decided this isn't real, this didn't happen. And I rung Nell and Nell said what's up, what's wrong? And I said there's a shooting at Phil's house and I'm running around, grabbing clothes and I said it's not him, don't worry about it. And I jumped in my car and drove down there. It was only 15, 20 minutes away.

And I got to the bottom of the hill and I could tell by the way in which the reporter on the radio was describing the incident that there was no doubt in that person's mind that Phil was dead.

KING: What went on? You were just listening to the radio during the drive?

HARTMANN: On the drive, yes. I...

KING: Thinking it wasn't him?

HARTMANN: I thought it wasn't him until, you know, I spent my life in show business. I know what the words mean. And it had never quite been said that way if it weren't an absolute fact. And so I accepted before I got to the house and was told by the police that it was true.

KING: Did you like Brynn?

HARTMANN: Yes, I did. Yes, I did.

KING: So this was total shock to you?

HARTMANN: Absolute shock.

KING: Who tells you when you arrive? Who gives you the actual news?

HARTMANN: Now, it is one of those situations where the media was already present, the street, Ventura Boulevar,d had been cordoned off with yellow tape and I took out my driver's license and I held it up over my head and went under the tape and I kept walking with my license up in the air just like Mel Gibson did in "The Year of Living Dangerously." And I ignored the fact that Mel netted himself a rifle butt to the head under those circumstances and kept walking. And I walked past the first row of tape and the first line of cops. They did not leave their positions, but they hollered at me. And I kept going.

At the second row of tape, a police sergeant stepped in front and said where do you think you're going? And that led to a conversation with him and then there was walkie-talkies back and forth and it took about a half hour for anyone to come and actually tell me that this was, indeed, what happened.

KING: Did you see your brother's body?

HARTMANN: I saw my brother's body not on that occasion. I was not allowed into the house.

But my mother was desperately in need of seeing him and saying good bye. And I was afraid that maybe it wasn't doable because of the multiple gunshot wounds. And so my wife and I and Brynn's brother went over to Forest Lawn and it was in Phil's will that he would be cremated and not embalmed. And they hadn't prepared the bodies for viewing.

So we went to see if it was going to be a good thing or a bad thing. And we went over there and he was laid out on a gurney and -- as was Brynn. And it was pretty sad, you know? He was, he was happy looking. I mean he was like he was asleep. He had a smile on his face.

KING: Did your mother get to see him, then?


There was -- the only visible thing on his face was a bullet hole directly between his eyes and it had been doctored. And they said look, if you want people to see this, we can make it a little better. And we decided that they were viewable and...

KING: How many Hartmans are there?

HARTMANN: Childrenwise, there are eight.

KING: So you have seven...

HARTMANN: I have seven siblings.

KING: How many brothers and sisters?

HARTMANN: I have, let's see, there was three brothers and five sisters.

KING: Was there a funeral?

HARTMANN: There was a service that was private held at Forest Lawn in a chapel up there and no media or anybody wasn't really invited, got very close at all. And it was, it was difficult. The circumstances of two families coming together under these, you know, type of situations is very difficult.

KING: Brynn's family and since she's the killer...

HARTMANN: Brynn's family and our family.

KING: ... he's the killee.


KING: Was she cremated, too?


We -- the most important thing, I thought, was that we keep -- we bond the families for the sake of the children, that we not allow any discourse to prevail. And so we kept everything equal.

KING: You were sort of in charge of things?

HARTMANN: I was not at all in charge of things.

The will dictated that Brynn's brother was in charge of the estate and the execution of all of the circumstances....

KING: Even though she was the murderer?

HARTMANN: That's correct.

And it created a little bit of a difficulty with some of my family, but I went to my mother. I said Look, you know, I mean we've got to do the right thing here and these people didn't do it and, you know, honestly they're going to, the kids are going to leave town with these people. If we say they're bad people, it's not going to be very friendly or nice for the children.

So we pretty much didn't allow anything untoward to happen.

KING: Was Brynn under any kind of psychological or psychiatric care?

HARTMANN: Not that I know of, no.

KING: Nothing came forward to...

HARTMANN: No. She did not -- they -- she was taking an anti- depressant that had actually been prescribed for their son, that she was taking, as well, Zoloft.

KING: Our guest is John Hartman, brother of the later Phil Hartman. There is a new release. You can get it on laugh CD, right?


KING: --- of Phil Hartman's Flat TV. We'll talk more about that later and you'll be seeing clips through the show of Phil Hartman at work. Back with more of John Hartmann after this.


KING: Is "Saturday Night Live" fun to do or pressure to do?

HARTMAN: Well, it's the most fun in the world and it's also incredible pressure. You know, we -- when Lorne Michaels created the show, he determined that it would take two weeks to prepare a show for air, and then he cut every thing in half.

So, there's a -- the scale of production just geometrically increases in terms of pressure as we reach Saturday.



HARTMAN: OK. Next issue: Rita Hayworth or Eva Gardner? Who Would you rather nail? I disqualify myself become I done them both!

STING, SINGER: I think you're a bloody, stupid old fart.

HARTMAN: You're all talk, blondie. You what a piece of me? I'm right here.

STING: Don't provoke me, old man.

HARTMAN: You don't scare me. I got chucnks of guys like you in my stool.




HARTMAN: Let's stop in here for a second. I'm a little parched from the job.

KEVIN NEALON, ACTOR: Sir, we've only been jogging for three blocks. Besides, Mrs. Clinton asked us not to let you into any more fast food places.

HARTMAN: Well, I just want to mingle with the American people, talk with some real folks, maybe get a Diet Coke or something.

NEALON: Fine. But please, don't tell Mrs. Clinton.

HARTMAN: Jim, let me tell you something. There's going to be a whole bunch of things we don't tell Mrs. Clinton.



HARTMAN: I find him to be a very sincere and warm person. Perhaps more than we're used to.

KING: Do you like the job, Mr. President?

HARTMAN: Yes, I like it very much. There are perks. I get to fly on that great big old 747 and it's got awonderful hot tub. It's terrific when I get one of our veteran Air Force to do barrel rolls going over the Potomac, water splashing all over. Got little ducks flying around and it's terrific.


KING: We're back with John Hartmann.

He had been married twice before, right?

HARTMANN: He had, yes.

KING: Any children in those marriages?

HARTMANN: No children.

KING: How did he meet Brynn?

HARTMANN: Rob Reiner introduced them.

KING: Was it a long courtship?

HARTMANN: No. There was an instant attraction and an instant relationship and the marriage ensued fairly quickly, within a year or two, I believe.

KING: When a tragedy like this happens, everyone reconstructs. So you must have thought of instances where you had some inkling of something. Was Brynn jealous of him? Was he mean to her? Was he -- I mean...

HARTMANN: Phil didn't have a mean bone in his body, you know? Like I...

KING: He would never have struck her or?

HARTMANN: Never, ever. I mean, Phil was a middle child. They're usually more humble and more subdued. And his comedic talents didn't really emerge until high school.

Up till then he was, you know, hardly got any attention and he was fighting to get his share of the food.

But he -- I learned more about that situation after the fact than I was aware of during the marriage.

KING: What did you learn?

HARTMANN: I learned that they did have -- there had been -- there was some jealousy.

KING: She of him?

HARTMANN: Of she of him.

KING: Of his success, you mean?


KING: And other women, or other women, too?

HARTMANN: I don't hear about any other women.

Phil was a worker and he wasn't, he didn't really have time for other women or other anything, you know? He went to the studio and he did his job extremely well and...

KING: He sure did.

HARTMANN: He certainly -- he did a lot of preparation. Phil never went on even in his dear friend Jay Leno -- he was invited to be Jay's sidekick, but he didn't want to be a second banana. So, in support of Jay and launching Jay's career on that show, he did a lot of appearances.

But he never took them for granted. He would always write out exactly what he was going to say and know how to present it and he had rehearsed Jay even.

KING: So what did you learn about Phil and Brynn?

HARTMANN: I learned that she was jealous of his second wife and that...

KING: Had they communicated, he and his...

HARTMANN: There was a letter that Lisa (UNINTELLIGIBLE), who is a lovely lady, sent to Brynn after the marriage that apparently was fairly, like, poorly received on Brynn's part...

KING: I still love your husband or something...

HARTMANN: No, no, nothing like that. It was a congratulations to him and a three cheers. There was no endearing relationship between them.

KING: So why would she get jealous?

HARTMANN: That was shocking to me and apparently Phil's reaction was that wow, you think that was really baseless, you should have seen the one she wanted to send.

And so, you know, that was one of the first times I was aware that there had ever been any strain between them, any...

KING: Had Brynn been married before?

HARTMANN: No. KING: No. Ever Brynn show violent moves?

HARTMANN: Not in front of me. Not that I ever saw.

KING: Did Phil ever say to you, my wife threw a thing at me last night?

HARTMANN: No, he didn't. He didn't.

I heard rumors about something like that afterwards, but I would have to say it was hearsey and it didn't come from him and it didn't come from...

KING: Did Brynn leave a note?

HARTMANN: No. No. I don't think she intended to kill herself. I don't think she intended to kill Phil.

KING: What do you think?

HARTMANN: I think that when the Zoloft hit the alcohol it exploded in her brain and she did not know what she was doing and she did not know she was doing it. And that's precisely the words that the coroner of L.A. told me, personally.

KING: That Zoloft and liquor, they always say if you...

HARTMANN: It says on the bottle, don't do it.

KING: Don't take it.

HARTMANN: But it's more than that. It's extremely dangerous. And the effects of the two chemicals combining were just...

KING: This was two legal drugs that don't mix.

HARTMANN: Absolutely.

KING: And one over the counter and one prescribed.

HARTMANN: Exactly.

KING: And that, you believe, caused her to shoot -- and then even kill herself?


She -- the exact circumstance of that was that the police -- she went back into the bedroom after they returned with the friend and he saw that Phil was dead and he called 911. And apparently the police were almost there anyway.

There had been some other indication, perhaps from Brynn's sister, who had received a couple of phone calls from her on her way back from the friend's house to her own residence. And so the police were virtually on the doorstep when the 911 call went in. And they have their tactics for dealing with these things.

She went in the room with his body and closed the door. They decided to distract her and they threw something through the window as they went through the door, and then the gun went off.

KING: So you think she sort of reacted and shot back and then...

HARTMANN: She was probably considering what to do and then that incident of them coming in...

KING: That is normal police procedure?

HARTMANN: I wouldn't know.

KING: Who told the kids? How old were the kids? The kids are now what?

HARTMANN: The kids are now 15 and 11. I told them.

KING: Told them their father and stepmother -- and mother, not stepmother?

HARTMANN: Yes, their mother. Yes, I did.

KING: How do tell kids? What did you do?

HARTMANN: That's a tough one, Larry.

KING: So they were, what, they were then?

HARTMANN: Eleven and six.

What happened precisely was as soon as I realized that I wasn't going to get into the house, my next instinctive move was to save them. And I said where are the children? And they told me they're at West Hollywood, or West Valley police station. So I immediately went over there.

KING: The police didn't tell them?

HARTMANN: No, they're not allowed to.


HARTMANN: The rules on handling children in emergencies are really strict.

It took me one hour to get from the reception room at the police station to the room where they were. They checked me out one way and the other and all my I.D. everything.

KING: For the police, if you're under 18 the police will not tell you...

HARTMANN: That's right.

KING: ... your father or your mother was murdered?

HARTMANN: That's right.

KING: A family member has to do it?

HARTMANN: I'm not sure how the rules are phrased, but in this case the social worker didn't tell them, the police didn't tell them and I asked the social worker who screened me and them and everybody before I was admitted to the room.

And then they marched Birgen to the door, opened the door and said is that the guy? She said yes. Boom, the door closed. They cut off my wave. And so then it wasn't for another 10 minutes before I got to see them.

KING: We'll find out from John how he handled that unhandleable of situations.

We'll be right back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you introduce us to your wife?

HARTMAN: This is my lovely wife, Brynn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, did you hold on to any 70's wardrobe?

BRYNN HARTMAN, PHIL HARTMAN'S WIFE: No, I was in high school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think of the 70's look?

B. HARTMAN: I think it's cute.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They went to the location of the gunshot in the rear bedroom and they found two people down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The two people were actor/comedian Phil Hartman, and his wife of more than 10 years, Brynn, a former model.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Hartman and his wife, both deceased, of gunshot wounds. At this time, it appears to be a murder/suicide. Mrs. Hartman died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.




HARTMAN: I think Bill McNeil is not a complete two-dimensional character. He's not always a buffoon. He's capable of beingr ight sometimes and there are subtleties and levels that have been presented in the writing that really -- really make it more of a well-rounded personality and that's better as an actor.



DAVE FOLEY, ACTOR: Why doesn't every one just be on their best behavior, please?

HARTMAN: Look, David, I know you're ocunting on me to play a key role in your hollow charade, but I'm afraid it's a lost cause.

VICKI LEWIS, ACTRESS: Why? What have you heard?

HARTMAN: Nothing specific. I'm just saying, it's quite obvious we're all in the conveyer belt to the corporate abattoir.

MAURA TIERNEY, ACTRESS: Which means slaughterhouse.

HARTMAN: Oh, I thought it meant toilet.

TIERNEY: Abattoir.

HARTMAN: You're welcome. Any way...


KING: We're back with John Hartmann, brother of the late Phil Hartman, the genius of "Saturday Night Live" and ""NewsRadio."" That was a wonderful show, by the way.

OK, how did you tell the kids? With a 6-year-old, do you handle that differently...

HARTMANN: No, and, you know...

KING: Were they together?

HARTMANN: I was presented into the room. It was a small, little, pink room full of toys. And it had high windows. You couldn't see outside. But there was light in the room and it was kind of under...

KING: What time of day is this now?

HARTMANN: This is probably about noon now, maybe around 11:00. But...

KING: The shooting occurred at what time?

HARTMANN: The first shooting occurred, I think, at 6:00 in the morning and then Brynn's suicide was later, probably around somewhere between 8:00 and 9:00. I think I got there, I heard about it around 9:00 and I was there before 9:30. I got to the police station about 10:00 and it might have been 11:00 or thereafter before I got to this little room.

KING: Where did you, how did you do it?

HARTMANN: I walked into the room and I could tell by the body language that they didn't know.

A dear friend of Phil and Brynn's named Judy Schwartz (ph) was holding Birgen, sitting in a little kid's chair.

KING: Now they're wondering what they're doing.

HARTMANN: Yes, exactly.

And I was, as soon as I walked in, I...

KING: They were asleep at the time of the shooting?


Well, Birgen was asleep. Sean heard door slamming, what he thought was a door slamming. And so he's playing with a little metallic robot and she's holding a Teddy bear. Judy's holding her. And he looks up to me and quite casually says OK, what's going on? What are we doing here?

KING: An 11-year-old kid?

HARTMANN: An 11-year-old kid.

And I had to make an instant decision. And what I decided was that I will never lie to this boy. And so I immediately cast out the truth and said Sean, mommy and daddy are dead.

And he immediately whimpered then he cried out then he cried out -- it was like a fire rising up in his face and into his eyes. And he was, he said no. And then everybody started to cry except me. I wanted to be strong for them. And then he came over to me. I sat with them and I held them and...

KING: The friend didn't know?

HARTMANN: She knew but she hadn't said anything.

KING: The little girl cried too?

HARTMANN: They all cried. The three of them cried and I, and they just held hands.

KING: Were they ever told the circumstances?

HARTMANN: Yes. I believe they were.

KING: But you didn't tell them?

HARTMANN: What I told them, I spent the next 24 hours with him. I didn't... KING: With the boy?

HARTMANN: Yes. He didn't leave my side. The girl was with Judy. And then we ultimately, you know, the media went rather ravenous and we moved into a friend's house because we couldn't go to our houses. The phones were ringing and the reporters were gathering.

And so we stayed in his house and that night I went to bed with him and he basically was -- he's a very bright boy and he was thinking and thinking and thinking. He would muster a question that would come in a kind of a crying manner and I knew these were really serious questions that had to have answers and I had two raised children of my own and I gave him the best answers I could.

KING: How did he react to the fact that his mother killed his father?

HARTMANN: The truth is he told me.

I didn't -- like I said, I'm not going to lie to him. But I wasn't going to give him both barrels at the same time. And so we were laying in bed at night and he said to me I think mommy did it. And I said I think so, too, Sean, but we should wait for the police to decide and tell us before we make a decision.

KING: So did you ever find out why he thought that?

HARTMANN: No. It just was something that he knew that I didn't.

KING: Now, where are they now? How are they doing?

HARTMANN: They're doing great. They live in the Midwest in a little town that I had never heard of and don't even remember the name of...

KING: Living with who?

HARTMANN: With Brynn's sister, who came to town that night.

KING: The aunt?

HARTMANN: The aunt who came that night and she is a woman in her 30s who had no children and was married and wanted children and...

KING: So they're being raised by an uncle and aunt?

HARTMANN: That's right and very well. I mean they come out here once or twice a year...

KING: And the Hartmann family stays close to them?

HARTMANN: Some. My mother stayed very close. I wouldn't -- you know, there's communication, and when they come here to visit, we have a day with them or more. I wouldn't say we're in constant touch, you know? There is a strain.

KING: Between the two families?

HARTMANN: Yes. Even though we bonded and we...

KING: So there's a part of you when you're with Brynn's sister that says your sister killed my brother?

HARTMANN: Somewhere deep down back there, yes. I don't let it manifest, but it's something you can never forget. How I describe myself is I'm a three legged dog. I lost a limb.

KING: You were very close to Phil?

HARTMANN: Very close. I talked to him once or twice or three times a week. I'm a professional agent and personal manager and throughout my career and I helped him make his choices on who was going to be his helpers in his career and what to do and what not to do.

KING: You were close brothers?

HARTMANN: Very, very close.

KING: Were the other siblings close, too?

HARTMANN: My youngest brother was close to Phil. My sisters all drifted into their own lives and marriages and my two younger sisters aren't married but...

KING: Did anyone come to the memorial that -- with you?

HARTMANN: Yes. Everyone except one sister who still lives in Canada. The family -- the sisters weren't as close as the brothers. The brothers were very close always. And what happened was when my father died a month prior to all this, we all gathered for...

KING: Your father had died a month...

HARTMANN: A month previously. And there was, you know, like -- we had three deaths in a three year period, two of them within a month of each other and then my mother really died of a broken heart. She never really recovered from all this. And...

KING: How is Birgen and Sean doing?

HARTMANN: Excellently well. I mean it's just really...

KING: So they're being raised well?

HARTMANN: Absolutely. In all honesty, as crazy as it might sound, it's better. They get more attention, they get more parenting, they get more consistent help in (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: I want to ask you about Phil as a parent. We'll come right back. The album, the CD is "Phil Hartman's Flat TV." If you can't get it, you can order it on We'll be right back with John Hartmann. Don't go away.


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HARMAN: I see the person I'm doing. Like if I'm doing Jack Benny, I just -- I picture him. I picture his aura taking over my body, you know. And, well, Larry, it's wonderful to be here on the show, you see.

Now, people don't realize it, but this is an enormous set. It's about 100 yards that way. That camera's about 1,800 yards away.


KING: We're back with John Hartmann. "Phil Hartman's Flat TV," a newly released CD. John is the brother of the late Phil Hartman.

Where were you in the pecking order of the Hartmanns, by the way?

HARTMANN: Of the eight children, I was the second child, the eldest son, eight years senior to Phil.

KING: What kind of father was Phil?

HARTMANN: Well, he was a loving father and really wanted to be better...

KING: He was a workaholic, though, right?

HARTMANN: Yes, it was time is all. You know, when they were together, they were great. You know, I'm sure that the kids would want to have had more time and I'm sure Phil would have wanted to work out more time for them.

But he loved them and they loved him and they, you know, they probably would have appreciated more attention.

KING: What kind of mother was Brynn?

HARTMANN: I think she was good, very good.

KING: So those kids were not in any way troubled or disturbed? HARTMANN: No.

KING: Or products of a bad home?

HARTMANN: No, not at all, that I ever saw. I mean they had lots of parties. The kids, whenever it was a birthday, they got special parties. They also had, you know, things that wealthy people have. They had toy day and once a week they could have any toy that they wanted. And, you know, so they'd go off and buy a toy. They had boats and planes and stuff and they got to play.

KING: Phil had amassed such money from what? I mean he was on "Saturday Night Live." That doesn't pay you $2 million a year.

HARTMANN: Phil made money in a lot of directions. He was a Renaissance man. He was a brilliant artist who worked for me as my art department when I was managing a lot of top musical acts. And he did other album covers and logos and ad layouts, and he was a genius.

KING: Where did he make his most money?

HARTMANN: He made, probably his most money doing commercials. He did a lot of commercials for huge bucks. As a matter of fact, he did a Coca-Cola commercial that he got $600,000 for and they never even went on the air.

KING: What was the concept?

HARTMANN: They were slams at Pepsi. And when they got to Coca- Cola's board, they said we can't say this about Pepsi. They'll come after us. And so they canned them all. But he got the $600,000.

KING: Was he on camera in some of these commercials...

HARTMANN: Almost all of them.

KING: And then the -- he did a lot of voice-overs, though. He did voices, didn't he?

HARTMANN: Voices. He would have had, he would have been a multi-millionaire on voices alone.

KING: He did "The Simpsons."


HARTMAN (voice-over): Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You may remember me from such educational films as "Two Minus Three Equals Negative Fun!" and "Firecrackers: The Silent Killer."


HARTMANN: "The Simpsons" and many other cartoons.

KING: Did he do Saturday morning cartoons?

HARTMANN: Yes, he did on "Dennis the Menace" he was the next door neighbor and the dog. And he was brilliant. And...

KING: So he got money sources from many areas?

HARTMANN: Yes. Now, not only did he do commercials, but he was also a very gifted screenwriter. He co-wrote "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" and that established him as a writer in Hollywood and he wrote half a dozen scripts that he got large money for that never got made. You know, when in turnaround is...

KING: So there were no financial problems at the Hartman house?

HARTMANN: No, they left a very, very substantial estate.

KING: Those kids are well off, then?

HARTMANN: They're extremely well off.

KING: Is that estate being managed well?

HARTMANN: Yes. I receive documentation from the attorneys guaranteed by the courts in the state where they live. And I read them and they're, it's growing, not being depleted.

KING: Was he happy with "NewsRadio?"

HARTMANN: Loved it. Absolutely worshipped it. He worshipped the gang. Loved to go there every day.

KING: That is, indeed, a scenario that had him die, right?

HARTMANN: Yes, and...

KING: They had the character die.

HARTMANN: And every episode that was produced afterwards, I don't know if you ever noticed, but his photograph as Bill McNeal was on the back shelf behind Dave's desk in his office.

KING: Where did you see Phil Hartman going?

HARTMANN: I'll tell you exactly where I think Phil would have ended up, in the pantheon of stars had he fulfilled his career. I pictured him, and I told him this, as a professional manager. I told him you will end up directly between Bob Hope and Jack Benny. That's where he was headed.

KING: You think he had that kind of genius?

HARTMANN: Absolutely. No question about it.

KING: All that he did, what did he like best?

HARTMANN: He liked some of his movie roles. He liked working with Steve Martin on "Bilko." He liked that a lot.

Actually, he gave me the elements of a story that I wrote that was supposed to be Steve Martin, Phil and Jon Lovitz in a story called "The Dummies," which I did write a 20 page story on and we were going to turn that into a screenplay eventually working together. But that didn't happen.

KING: He was writing, though, too, wasn't he?


KING: Did he like all the things he did?

HARTMANN: He loved all the things he did. He loved to write. He loved to do the voice-overs. He loved acting. I mean was never a stand up like most...

KING: No, he never was a (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HARTMANN: Right. He strictly was an actor and he started out, one day he went to the Groundlings, the wonderful little theater on Melrose that is our "Second City" or equivalent to The Committee in New York. And he was in the audience. And that company invites audience participation.

And so he started throwing out one-liners. He was funnier than the guys on stage and they sensed it and they tried to lure him up, but he wouldn't go. So they went out and physically they took him up.

KING: When we come back, we'll find out what other kind of things you hear on "Phil Hartman's Flat TV," what the concept was. Don't go away.


FOLEY: What will you sing?

HARTMAN: Oh, a little satirical songs about the world of politics and current events.

FOLEY: So like Mark Brussell (ph)?

HARTMAN: I don't know who that is.


FOLEY: All right, well, fine. But just don't let it interfere with your work, OK?

HARTMAN: Oh, of course not.

FOLEY: Thank you.

HARTMAN: William Clinton came to town riding on inflation. Took a town named Whitewater, introduced to our nation.


HARTMAN: It's a lot better when I'm wearing the red, white and blue tuxedo.




HARTMAN: Maybe I've made too many of these war movies. Maybe I should take a rest, huh, Harry?

JON LOVITZ, ACTOR: Well, I'm glad you brought that up, Johnny. I think you should take a rest too, a permanent one.

HARTMAN: What do you mean?

LOVITZ: I'm letting you go.

HARTMAN: You mean...

LOVITZ: Yes, your contract isn't being renewed.

HARTMAN: But, Harry, I...

LOVITZ: You're finished, Johnny!

HARTMAN: Don't mince words!

LOVITZ: I think you stink!

HARTMAN: Listen, Harry, if you're unhappy with my work, tell me now!

LOVITZ: You're through, do you hear me? Through. You'll never work in this town again!

HARTMAN: Don't leave me hanging by a thread. Let me know where I stand.

LOVITZ: I think you're the worst actor I've seen and I get 500 letters a day he telling me the same.

HARTMAN: What's the word on the street?



KING: We're back with our remaining moments with John Hartmann. The newly released CD is "Phil Hartman's Flat TV." Available now...

HARTMANN: Any record store. If they don't have it they'll order it for you. And if you got to, spelled L-A-U-G-H, instead of the...


HARTMANN: ... F-F version. And you can order it. You'll save $5 if you do it that way.

KING: How did he get the job on "Saturday Night?"

HARTMANN: He came out of the Groundlings experience. Jon Lovitz had gone on from the Groundlings to "Saturday Night Live," and he brought Phil to the attention of Lorne Michaels. Lorne came out and watched Phil perform and just thought, wow, I need this guy.

And Phil was the first and only person ever hired on "Saturday Night Live" who was hired simultaneously as a writer and as a performer. Now other guys did one or the other or did both jobs, but Phil got two paychecks for the first couple of years.

KING: He also lasted a long time, didn't he?

HARTMANN: Nine years. Longer than anyone else.

KING: That's the longest running act on...

HARTMANN: On "Saturday Night Live." On the day -- I remember this as clear as a bell -- on the day that the Rodney King verdict was announced, I was on Phil's boat with he and Dana Carvey. And we were just messing around in Santa Monica Bay. And we were looking out and we saw all this smoke all across the city of L.A. and went, What's going on back there?

And you know that's just a side effect. But what happened was that Dana said to me, You know what we call your brother on the show? I said, No, what do you call him? He says, We call him the Glue.

I said, Why do you call him the Glue? He says, Because he holds us all together.

And that was the most wonderful compliment that I ever heard about Phil. That he was the guy that the whole team counted on to anchor the sketch, make everybody else appear better than they might have been, and yet he played not necessarily the lead in these sketches.

KING: Was he that way in the family too?

HARTMANN: Phil was the star of the family.

KING: When he did "Saturday Night Live," how did he react to what everyone on the show describes as that pressure?

HARTMANN: He didn't have pressure, because Phil did approach it in a kind of a unique way. Phil never read the cards. Phil rehearsed and learned every line every time. And that was an enormous task, because...

KING: They hold up cards throughout that show.

HARTMANN: Yes. Especially for the guest stars, because they don't want to learn the lines, usually. It's a quick process. But Phil learned every line for every sketch. And they overproduce the show. There's like more material produced each week than they can use. And the pure genius of Lorne Michaels is that he watches this material unfold, then juggles it all down to the wire, then fits the right pieces together to make the appropriate amount of time.

And the show -- the reason that the show wasn't as effective when Lorne took his sabbatical for a couple of years was because that skill is not something that everybody can just pick up.

KING: Why did Phil leave?

HARTMANN: He wanted to come back to California. He wanted his kids to grow up here and live here. And he felt he had done everything he could do there, and he already held the record. And no one will ever beat that record, I don't imagine. And he had a lot of offers to do other things.

KING: Since he never got to be Jack Benny or Bob Hope or -- who are the others, Fred Allen?

HARTMANN: Those are some of the greats. I saw him as the person standing between Hope and Benny.

KING: What do you think he'll be remembered for?

HARTMANN: I think Phil will be remembered for his heart. He was a very loving and decent guy.

KING: So everybody liked him?

HARTMANN: Everybody liked him. I always said Phil is the nicest guy I ever met in show business. And it was the truth.

KING: Brother aside?

HARTMANN: That was an incidental luxury of mine. But the fact is everybody loved Phil. He made everyone feel like you're my best friend. And they believed it. And you wouldn't -- those were the people who came out of the woodwork after he died and had that very conviction.

KING: Some comedic actors -- not monologists -- some comedic actors are not funny at lunch. Was he funny at lunch?

HARTMANN: Phil was funny everywhere he went. There's a wonderful photograph in the package for "Phil Hartman's Flat TV" of he and Daryl Hannah at 16. I had produced a movie that she -- it was one of her earliest features. And she used to come by the office.

I was in the rock 'n' roll business then right down here at the crossroads of the world. And whenever the circumstances allowed, Phil went into action. And Daryl comes into the office one day, there's a beautiful, lovely young lady, and he immediately puts on this big long wig and gets a hairbrush and sun glasses and becomes this character John C. Biggs (ph), who is a hairdresser, and starts working on her. And that turned into a half-hour bit, where everybody in the office gathered to see Phil do his thing.

KING: The life and times of Phil Hartman. The newly-released CD is "Phil Hartman's Flat TV" and we'll be back with our remaining moments with John Hartmann right after this.



HARTMAN: What the? Oh, hi, Billy. Let's find out together. DNA is God's recipe for making you.

You take a dash of dad, a pinch of mom, then we bake for nine months and mmm, that's good Billy!




HARTMAN: I quit acting. I work for several years trying to make it as an actor. Had that kind of mediocre success that most actors experience, you know, the drudgery of going on a hundred auditions, maybe getting two or three...

KING: You quit to do what?

HARTMAN: To screenwrite because I had co-written a movie called "Peewee's Big Adventure," a little goofy...

KING: You co-wrote that?

HARTMAN: Yes. And it did very well at the box office and suddenly doors in Hollywood were open to me in the screenwriting arena and I thought, boy, I want to make a living. I mean, I can always do the ground links to enjoy myself as a performer.

KING: Since you left how did you come to "Saturday Night Live?"

HARTMAN: It was one of those ironic things, Larry, where as soon as I quit acking I started getting every part I went up for.

KING: Ain't it the truth?

HARTMAN: Yes, because I was relaxed. A casting director and producer can smell the desperation of someone who really needs the job and I started going in on auditions and not caring if I got it. I was relaxed, natural. Started getting a series of parts.


KING: It might interest you to know about Phil Hartman's multi talents. He studied design at California State University. Did the cover ad on Poco's "Legend" album. That's one of your favorites, right?

HARTMANN: Oh, yes.

KING: How good an artist was he?

HARTMANN: Brilliant. I would go to Phil and say Phil, I need an album cover and it has to be like this and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I'd point him in the direction. He would come back 10 miles past what I'd asked for and blow my mind every time.

One of his most brilliant covers was on, I used to manage the band America. And we did a "Greatest Hits" album called "History" and Phil did what he thought was a rough for the album cover. They were a series of water colors. And I'm sure many people have seen them. And he walked in and said look, here's a rough of the cover and the band went that's not the rough, that's the cover. And it became the cover.

KING: All right, what do we hear on "Flat TV?"

HARTMANN: Well, what you're hear when it starts out is Spam and eggs frying. And a family called The Sphincters, who are not unlike "The Simpsons"...

KING: Is this concept of an album or he could see this as a preparatory to some sort of show?

HARTMANN: It was a unit, as an album.


HARTMANN: And it was not a collection of bits. It was an entire concept album. And so the Spam and eggs is frying; the mom's creating breakfast; the kids, two kids come, and the father. They gather around, they do the morning ritual, which is most of them don't eat it. They put it in a seal a meal. They put it in the fridge and go off to school and work. The mom is left home alone.

She clicks on the TV. It's "War Movie for a Monday Morning," starring John Wayne. And so there's John Wayne in this scenario, which is sort of a combination of Flying Tigers and "13 Rue Madeleine," the great James Cagney film.

So then, she's watching "War Movie for a Monday Morning." She goes through the bit, and then she clicks off to -- it's the Galloping Gourmet doing a commercial for Nesacaine (ph). And the bit is that -- it rapidly accelerates because of the influence of the Nesacaine (ph), and then the wonderful last line is, "So get some right now." He calms way down again.

And then she goes on to a soap opera, another commercial, a newscast.

KING: So it's this mother, family off, watching TV, and Hartman doing all of the things on the show that she's watching on TV. HARTMANN: And then a knock comes at the door and this is a salesman. And he flatters the mother and she kind of gets prissy and he talks her into going for a ride in the sports car.

Now when they produced this, it wasn't canned sports car noise. They took a mike in a sports car and drove around the block. I mean it was terrific. It was just like old radio, where, you know, you had to make every sound effect fit.

KING: Obvious. Why wasn't it released?

HARTMANN: It got lost.

KING: It got lost?

HARTMANN: It got lost. I'm telling you. I heard it once. The tapes -- the studio that it was recorded in folded immediately after it was done, as Phil was going off to "Saturday Night Live." He got very busy and forgot about it.

The producers went -- the engineer took the tapes home, put them in a storage unit in a box in his backyard and forgot about it. And the producers couldn't find him, didn't know where they were. They were afraid to tell Phil, we lost your album. And so they just ignored it.

And it wasn't until after he died. I called up Chad Stuart (ph) who -- Chad & Jeremy were the very first act I ever signed to William Morris. And we have remained friends for our whole lives.

And I called him and said, Whatever happened to that record that Phil made? And he tells me the story, Well it got lost. I said, You find it. It's the only extant piece of material on Phil that comes strictly from him without committee, without censorship, without anything. It's pure, pure Phil.

KING: We'll see his likes again. Thanks, John.

HARMANN: Thank you for having me, Larry.

KING: John Hartmann. The newly-released CD is "Phil Hartman's Flat TV" and we thank him for reliving these sometimes difficult moments with us. We'll be right back. Thank you for joining us. Don't go away.


KING: Thanks for joining us tonight. I hope you enjoyed John Hartmann. Again, the CD is "Phil Hartman's Flat TV."


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