Bozo the Clown

From Academic Kids

Bozo the Clown is the name of a clown whose widespread syndication in early television made him the best-known clown character in the United States. Partly as a result, the word "bozo" has become synonymous with a generic clown or a foolish person: For example, "I Think We're All Bozos on this Bus" was the title of a 1971 album by the comic group Firesign Theater. The word is said to have originated earlier among carnival entertainers.

Bozo was created in 1946 by Alan W. Livingston. He released a children's record titled Bozo at the Circus for Capitol Records, along with an illustrative read-along book. Pinto Colvig narrated this record and subsequent read-along records. They were extremely popular and by 1949, KTTV in Los Angeles was broadcasting a children's show featuring Pinto Colvig as Bozo with his blue-and-red costume, oversized red hair and classic "whiteface" clown makeup, appearing on the then-new medium of "television."

Bozo became even more famous after Larry Harmon purchased the licensing rights to the character in 1956, and franchised it to local television stations in 1959 as a daily half-hour show with a live Bozo the Clown — a different man in each city in front of a studio audience of children — as well as five-minute cartoons. Many people became famous locally such as Frank Avruch (1959-1970) at WHDH-TV (now WCVB-TV), in Boston, and Bob Bell (1960-1984) and later Joey D'Auria (1984-2001) at WGN-TV in Chicago. Willard Scott (1959-1962) at WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. later became nationally known as a weatherman on NBC's Today Show.

Helped along by the widespread local publicity, Bozo-themed toys and novelties were sold widely. By the mid-1960s, Bozo was reportedly grossing over $150 million in merchandise worldwide.


Bozo on Chicago TV

The Chicago Bozo franchise was the most popular and longest-running. It also became the most widely-known as WGN became a national cable television staple. Chicago's "Bozo" debuted in 1960 starring Bob Bell on a live half-hour show weekdays at noon, performing comedy sketches and introducing cartoons. It evolved into Bozo's Circus in 1961 as a live hour-long show with additional cast members, a 13-piece orchestra, circus acts, games and prizes before a 200+ member studio audience. It underwent various format changes in the 1980s and 1990s.

Other significant characters on the Chicago TV show through its 40+ year run included "Ringmaster Ned" Locke and fellow clowns Sandy the Tramp (producer/writer Don Sandburg) and Oliver O. Oliver (Ray Rayner). Later on, Frazier Thomas, Cooky the Cook (Roy Brown), Wizzo the Wizard (Marshall Brodien) and Rusty the Handyman (Robin Eurich) joined in as well. At the peak of its run, the WGN Bozo show was wildly popular. By the early 1980s, there was a 10-year waiting list for tickets to the show.

The show also featured contests including the "Grand Prize Game" created by Don Sandburg, where two child contestants were selected from the studio audience with the Magic Arrows and later the Bozoputer. The game involved tossing a ping-pong ball into a series of successively-numbered buckets until the contestant missed. If they reached the sixth bucket and made the winning toss, they received a cash prize, a new bike and a trip.

The Bozo Super Sunday Show was the final incarnation of the WGN show, airing from 1994 to 2001. The show's format was revised in 1997 in response to an FCC rule requiring broadcast television stations to air a minimum three hours per week of "educational and informational" children’s programs.

Bozo stories

Many rumors have arisen about misbehavior on a Bozo show making it onto the air although none have been substantiated and relatively few of the local Bozo episodes were preserved on tape. The most famous tale involves Bozo attempting to manage the behavior of an outspoken child by making the comment, "That's a Bozo no-no," which is said to have elicited the response from the kid: "Cram it, clownie!"

Ronald McDonald

Immediately following Willard Scott's three-year-run as WRC-TV Washington, D.C.'s Bozo, the show's sponsors, McDonald's drive-in restaurant franchisees John Gibson and Oscar Goldstein (Gee Gee Distributing Corporation), created "Ronald McDonald the Hamburger-Happy Clown" and hired Scott to portray the character for their local commercials. Although the character's outfit was different from Ronald McDonald as he's known today, the McDonald's mascot evolved from Bozo.

McDonald's Corporation replaced Scott with other actors for their national commercials and the character's costume was changed.

Bozo around the world

Bozo TV shows were also produced in other countries including Mexico, Thailand, Greece and Brazil. Larry Harmon has claimed that more than 200 actors have portrayed the clown.


In 1981, Brazil's famous TV show host Silvio Santos (founder and owner of today's SBT television network) decided to produce a national version of a Bozo the Clown show for the extinct TVS-Record TV station. Comedian Wandeko Pipoca was chosen by Larry Harmon to be the first Brazilian Bozo.

With the clown's large success in Brazil, two more actors, Luís Ricardo and Arlindo Barreto, were hired to play Bozo for additional shows which ran from mornings to afternoons and more comedians were chosen to play Bozo in other parts of the country. Bozo's TV show ended in 1991 following the death of Décio Roberto, the last actor to portray the clown in that country.

Brazil's Bozo won five Troféus Imprensa, a famous Brazilian award given to personalities and productions in the media (in 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1989), as well as three Gold Albums.

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