Phil Hartman was a Canadian-American actor known for his Bill Clinton impressions on Saturday Night Live and his hysterical character voices on The Simpsons, most notably the voices of Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure. Hartman was a household name in the late ’80s and ’90s, and you’d be hard-pressed not to find a suburban family sitting in front of the television on Saturday night watching his comedic genius.
How well do you know Phil Hartman, aside from his fame from SNL and from his hit sitcom NewsRadio? Enjoy these facts about the man who is considered one of the best comedic improv actors of all time.
A Man Of Many Talents
Aside from being a comedic genius, Hartman dabbled in art and drawing. He harbored the skill in middle school, eventually studying art at Santa Monica City College before dropping out in 1969 to become a roadie for a rock band.
Hartman used his talents to design album covers for bands such as Poco’s “Legend” and America’s “America’s Greatest Hits: History.” He even designed a logo for Crosby Stills & Nash. Eventually, he returned to school in 1972, studying graphic arts at California State University, Northridge. He used his education to start his own graphic arts business, eventually creating over 40 album covers.
He Changed His Name For Good Luck
Born Phillip Hartmann, he later dropped the second N in his last name due to a belief in I Ching. An ancient Chinese book of Changes which calculates a symbolic numerical value to specific letters, the system is used to predict the future, and in Phil Hartman’s case, his career. The “destiny number” of Phil Hartmann is eight, symbolizing ambition and simple yet satisfying family life.
On the flip side, the name Phil Hartman has a destiny number of three, symbolizing the height of artistic fulfillment and the pinnacle of creativity. Considering his artistic background, Hartman legally changed his name in 1992.
He Was “The Glue”
Phil Hartman’s co-star and frequent scene partner, Jan Hooks, called him “the glue” that held Saturday Night Live together. The nickname was due to Hartman’s uncanny ability to hold the show together and help out his fellow cast-mates. Hooks recognizes him as the man who helped her conquer her stage fright, while other cast-mates know him as the one actor who never hogged the spotlight and always wanted to share the stage.
After eight seasons Hartman left the sketch comedy show. As a parting gift, the cast and crew gifted Hartman with a pedestal affixed with a bottle of wood glue.
He Was Cheap And Yet Excessive
Hartman owned several cars, boats, and even a personal plane, and yet his second wife, Lisa Strain, says he was “horrifically cheap” when it came to day-to-day items. He was stingy to the point of not sharing a special shampoo he used with his wife! Inquiring minds would like to know the brand of this non-shareable shampoo because that is strange.
Strain and Hartman even had separate bank accounts while they were married, which isn’t totally abnormal but is telling of the trust level the two had when it came to money. Hartman left his fortune to his two children.
He Borrowed A Fellow Comedians Style
Would you believe that Hartman claimed to have borrowed Bill Murray’s comedic style? Hartman was a huge fan of Murray, so much so that Murray’s style influenced him. He once said, “[Murray] He’s been a great influence on me – when he did that smarmy thing in Ghostbusters, then the same sort of thing in Groundhog Day. I tried to imitate it. I couldn’t. I wasn’t good enough.”
We all know that’s not true at all. Hartman made a career out of being the class clown! Nevertheless, Hartman joked that he made a career out of badly imitating another comic.
He Got Caught In The Middle Of A Feud
At a New Year’s Eve party at the Hartman’s in 1997, one of Phil’s NewsRadio co-stars, Andy Dick allegedly supplied Brynn, Phil’s addiction-prone wife, with drugs. Even though there is no hard proof, witnesses say they saw the two of them lock themselves in a bathroom for some time.
Hartman’s close friend John Lovitz believes Dick did supply Brynn, harboring a deep-seated 10-year hatred for the man. A hatred that eventually erupted at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood in 2007, when Lovitz “picked Andy up by the head and smashed him into the bar four or five times.”
He Refused To Bare Anything On TV
Refusing to even go shirtless for a sketch, Phil Hartman may have been the last conservative actor to grave the small screen. Though his SNL co-stars, including the comedic actor Chris Farley, were more than happy to strip down in front of an audience and the cameras.
Hartman’s parents raised him to be a devote Catholic, which most likely had something to do with his unwillingness to bare “private skin” to the public. His faith didn’t sway his fan base from watching him every Saturday evening. Or from receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014.
He Didn’t Let His Kids Turn Into Trust fund Babies
Hartman had two children, Sean and Birgen, with his third wife, former model and aspiring actress Brynn Omdahl. Unlike most people with more money than they know what to do with, Hartman was not going to hand the money over to his children. He wanted them to work for it, just as he did.
In his will, Hartman split his fortune between both of children, to be given throughout their lives. The catch was that they first had to finish college, earning their bachelors degree from a four-year university accredited by the Western Association of Schools and colleges.
His Parents Made A Tough Decision
One of Hartman’s younger sisters, Sarah Jane, was born in 1951 with a rare neurogenic disorder later named Angelman Syndrome. The condition is complex and has various symptoms, which include delayed development, intellectual disability, severe speech impairment, and problems with movement and balance. Sadly, this meant Sarah Jane required around the clock attention.
Doris and Rupert Hartman placed their daughter in a care facility. When they moved the rest of the family from Brantford, Ontario, Canada, to Lewiston, Maine, in 1957, they did not bring Sarah Jane with them. Making the decision to leave her behind must have been heartbreaking.
He Was Friends With Comedian Paul Reubens
After Hartman and Paul Reuben met, they became fast friends, often collaborating on their comedic materials. Together they created the character Pee-Wee Herman, played by Reuben, along with The Pee-wee Herman Show, a stage performance that aired as a special on HBO in 1981. Hartman played the character of Captain Carl in the act.
Reuben brought the idea to the big screen in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. The movie paved the way for Hartman’s reprisal of the Captain in Pee-wee’s Playhouse, a children’s show. Playhouse ended up being an Emmy-winning children’s series on CBS, running from 1986-1991.
He Performed Over 70 Different Characters On SNL
As many cast member of Saturday Night Live, Phil Hartman is best known for his character impressions and impressions and impersonations. His original SNL characters included Eugene, the Anal retentive chef, and an unfrozen caveman lawyer. Talk about diversity! His impressions were even more well known, as he did voices of some of the greats, such as Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Ed McMahon, Barbra Bush, Phil Donahue, and Bill Clinton. The latter is considered to be one of his best-known impressions.
When he met President Clinton in 1993, Hartman even remarked, “I guess I owe you a few apologies.”
His Favorite Fans Were Troy McClure Fans
What was supposed to be a one time gig, turned out to be an appearance in 52 episodes of The Simpsons. Making his first voice appearance in the second season’s episode, “Bart Gets Hit By A Car,” Hartman’s talent was quickly recognized, and the staff gave him the reoccurring characters of Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure, as well as several background characters.
Hartman once said that his favorite fans were Troy McClure fans, which makes sense since there was talk about doing a live-action movie based around the character. Hartman was even willing to buy the rights to the film to make it happen.
A Futurama Character Was Named After Him
Hartman was initially intended to voice the character of Zapp Brannigan in Futurama, the 25-star General in the Democratic Order of Planets, captain of his flagship, the Nimbus, and head of the DOOP Army. Due to his stellar reputation voicing characters on The Simpsons, Futurama’s Matt Groening created Zapp specifically with Hartman in mind.
Phil Hartman passed away a few weeks after the audition, leaving no recorded dialogue for the production team to use for the character. The part of Zapp was given to Billy West. In tribute to Hartman, the main character, Phillip J. Fry, was named after him.
He Was Described As A Regular Guy
Opposite of his usual characters, Hartman was described as “a regular guy, by all accounts, one of show business’ most low-key, decent people.” Hartman was known for playing vain, seedy, evil characters, and for never having a lead role, but supporting roles in both movies and TV shows. Jan Hooks, one of Hartman’s SNL co-stars, said, “It was a privilege for him, I believe, to play support and do it very well. He was never insulted, no matter how small the role may have been.”
Hartman is remembered by cast members as being hardworking, grateful, and the glue that held the show together.
He Was Stood Up
In 1979, Phil Hartman made his television debut as a contestant on an episode of The Dating Game. The original rules were simple: the bachelorette would ask pre-written questions to multiple bachelors, of whom were hidden behind a wall. The bachelorette would then choose one of the three men to go on a date with based solely on his answers. Some questions were off-limits, such as name, age, appearance, occupation, and income.
Hartman ended up winning the date with the bachelorette. She stood him up. Jokes on her because Hartman grew up to be pretty famous in his own right.
The Phil Show
In 1991, Hartman was planning on leaving SNL but was persuaded to stay on to raise his profile in the comedic and acting world. His portrayal of Clinton definitely helped accomplish that feat. The network got him to stay on by promising a comedy-variety show entitled The Phil Show. Hartman liked the idea, wanting to reinvent the variety show stereotype and make it more of a hybrid, fast-paced, high energy sketches, impersonations, pet acts, and performers showcasing their various talents.
It was scrapped before production because the network decided variety acts were not popular enough to build an entire series around.
He Saved A Loose Drum While Jimi Hendrix Rocked Out
In his 20s, Hartman worked as a roadie for Rockin Foo, a “psychedelic garage country band.” One night, the band performed a quick gig at a rock venue called Thee Experience, which was once crawling with up-and-coming acts such as Alice Cooper, Joe Crocker, and Poco.
Fate had it that Jimi Hendrix waltzed into the club the night Hartman was there, climbing onstage and proceeding to rock out. Hartman’s roadie instincts kicked in, seeing a broken bass drum that was threatening to cut Hendrix’s show short. Hartman crawled on stage and held the drum in place while Hendrix played.
He Narrated The Film Skateboard Madness
Chances are you’ve never seen the 1980s movie Skateboard Madness. A film about a lazy California reporter whose last chance at saving his job is to capture good photos for a story on skateboarding. Phil Hartman was a co-writer and the narrator for the film. You can see his name listed in the opening and closing credits as Phil Hartmann, with two N’s. This is because the film was made prior to Hartman legally changing his last name in 1992.
Remember, he wanted to have a destiny number of 3, which is “the height of artistic fulfillment.”
He Started Off At An Improv Club
At age 27, Hartman decided he needed more of a social outlet, so beginning in 1975 he attended evening comedy classes run by the California-based improvisational comedy group, The Groundlings. A name taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “…to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but dumb shows and noise.”
After several years of training, paying his way by redesigning merchandise, Hartman formally joined the cast of The Groundlings, eventually becoming one of the groups biggest stars. This improv group introduced Hartman to the comedic genius’ such as Paul Reubens and Jon Lovitz.
Hartman Entertained His Young Co-Stars
Hartman plays the character of Ted Maltin in the Christmas film Jingle All The Way. During filming, he would improvise songs to keep his younger co-stars entertained during hours of shooting boring scenes. E.J. De La Pena and Jake Lloyd would be in hysterics caused by the potty humor designed by Hartman. It looks like comedy and art weren’t his only two talents, he was able to get two eight-year-olds to focus, that is no easy task.
“De La Pena remembered, “When you’re an 8-year-old hearing that kind of potty humor, it was hilarious! And we had a lot of fun.”