Thursday, July 03, 2008

Bozo actor dead at 83 -

.....who in OC didn't grow up, hoping one day to be invited to be in Bozo's audience, or cherished Bozo dolls and toys?

Bozo actor dead at 83 -

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Larry Harmon, who turned the character Bozo the Clown into a show business staple that delighted children for more than a half-century, died Thursday of congestive heart failure. He was 83.

Although not the original Bozo, Larry Harmon portrayed the popular frizzy-haired clown in countless appearances.

His publicist, Jerry Digney, told The Associated Press he died at his home.
Although not the original Bozo, Harmon portrayed the popular clown in countless appearances and, as an entrepreneur, he licensed the character to others, particularly dozens of television stations around the country. The stations in turn hired actors to be their local Bozos.
"You might say, in a way, I was cloning BTC (Bozo the Clown) before anybody else out there got around to cloning DNA," Harmon told the AP in a 1996 interview.
"Bozo is a combination of the wonderful wisdom of the adult and the childlike ways in all of us," Harmon said.
Pinto Colvig, who also provided the voice for Walt Disney's Goofy, originated Bozo the Clown when Capitol Records introduced a series of children's records in 1946. Harmon would later meet his alter ego while answering a casting call to make personal appearances as a clown to promote the records.
He got that job and eventually bought the rights to Bozo. Along the way, he embellished Bozo's distinctive look: the orange-tufted hair, the bulbous nose, the outlandish red, white and blue costume.
"I felt if I could plant my size 83AAA shoes on this planet, (people) would never be able to forget those footprints," he said.
Susan Harmon, his wife of 29 years, indicated Harmon was the perfect fit for Bozo.
"He was the most optimistic man I ever met. He always saw a bright side; he always had something good to say about everybody. He was the love of my life," she said Thursday.
The business -- combining animation, licensing of the character, and personal appearances -- made millions, as Harmon trained more than 200 Bozos over the years to represent him in local markets. Share your 'Bozo' memories
"I'm looking for that sparkle in the eyes, that emotion, feeling, directness, warmth. That is so important," he said of his criteria for becoming a Bozo.
The Chicago version of Bozo ran on WGN-TV in Chicago for 40 years and was seen in many other cities after cable television transformed WGN into a superstation.
Bozo -- portrayed in Chicago for many years by Bob Bell -- was so popular that the waiting list for tickets to a TV show eventually stretched to a decade, prompting the station to stop taking reservations for 10 years. On the day in 1990 when WGN started taking reservations again, it took just five hours to book the show for five more years. The phone company reported more than 27 million phone call attempts had been made.
By the time the show bowed out in Chicago, in 2001, it was the last locally produced version. Harmon said at the time that he hoped to develop a new cable or network show, as well as a Bozo feature film.
He became caught up in a minor controversy in 2004 when the International Clown Hall of Fame in Milwaukee took down a plaque honoring him as Bozo and formally endorsed Colvig for creating the role. Harmon denied ever misrepresenting Bozo's history.
He said he was claiming credit only for what he added to the character -- "What I sound like, what I look like, what I walk like" -- and what he did to popularize Bozo.
"Isn't it a shame the credit that was given to me for the work I have done, they arbitrarily take it down, like I didn't do anything for the last 52 years," he told the AP at the time.
Harmon protected Bozo's reputation with a vengeance, while embracing those who poked good-natured fun at the clown.
As Bozo's influence spread through popular culture, his very name became a synonym for clownish behavior.
"It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a character that old fresh so kids today still know about him and want to buy the products," Karen Raugust, executive editor of The Licensing Letter, a New York-based trade publication, said in 1996.
A normal character runs its course in three to five years, Raugust said. "Harmon's is a classic character. It's been around 50 years."
On New Year's Day 1996, Harmon dressed up as Bozo for the first time in 10 years, appearing in the Rose Parade in Pasadena.
The crowd reaction, he recalled, "was deafening."
"They kept yelling, `Bozo, Bozo, love you, love you.' I shed more crocodile tears for five miles in four hours than I realized I had," he said. "I still get goose bumps."
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Harmon became interested in theater while studying at the University of Southern California.
"Bozo is a star, an entertainer, bigger than life," Harmon once said. "People see him as Mr. Bozo, somebody you can relate to, touch and laugh with."
Besides his wife, Harmon is survived by his son, Jeff Harmon, and daughters Lori Harmon, Marci Breth-Carabet and Leslie Breth.


  1. Yes, Bozo is to be lamented, however when I think of early TV kids’ shows I remember growing up in OC I have good memories of the local icons from the LA stations rather than Bozo.

    For me it starts with Stan Freberg, Daws Butler and Bob Clampett doing “Time For Beany” on KTLA. One of KTLA’s first shows. The original Beany and Cecil. Not the cartoon version but the live puppet production. Freberg’s slurring dialogue as Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent still echoes with me.

    Then came others. Almost everyone’s favorite – Sheriff John. I was fortunate to see the good sheriff about a decade ago where he had relocated – Boise, ID.

    How about Bill Stulla as Engineer Bill? Kids chocking on their milk with “Red Light – Green Light.” Couldn’t do that now. If a kid were to choke on their milk these days then it would be an instant law suit. Also it encouraged drinking milk so it would now be deemed prejudicial against any child labeled lactose intolerant. (Just joking about the suits and prejudice folks).

    Then there was Webster Webfoot – the tongue-tied duck. Chucko the birthday clown, Hobo Kelly – just a few of the folks who kept kids entertained with their simple live TV shows.

    I really have a soft spot for Frank Herman, better known as Skipper Frank. The good skipper used to make the rounds of supermarket openings. I remember when he was showing up almost weekly at a new chain – Raisin’s (sp) Markets. My mother took me to one of the events – a mob of screaming kids clamoring over the skipper. He gave away a cornucopia of toys that made the kids hyper and salivating for more. When he came to the grand prize Skipper Frank awarded it through a number guessing game. Kids jumping up and down shouting out numbers. Better than the first time, as a child, I went to Los Alamitos. Frank acknowledged the winning shout and handed out the prize. I don’t recall what that largess was but I do recall that the number was that day’s date! I cracked the code!!

    Soon there was another market opening and I still remember the date – the 15th. I arrived early and stood at the front. When the skipper brought out that day’s grand prize, a boxed set of a futuristic “Jetrail Express,” he commenced the guessing. I shouted “15!” as loud as I could. Skipper Frank smiled at me and stopped the game. I won. Now guess what my favorite number has been for over half a century?

  2. How well I remember the original show with the "peanut gallery" and my favorite: Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring!"


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