From One Guy Hosting Kiddie Half-Hour Cartoon Fest to Big Time Type Operation and Share of Tube-Type Immortality
As I sit here puttering around with the ol' keyboard, I can't help getting some certain feelings of guilt about this little piece that follows. Hell, any kid who grew up in Chicago in the '50's, '60's and 70's would have enough experience with the Bozo Show to commit something to paper.
The character of BOZO started out on records as "BOZO THE CAPITOL CLOWN", obviously taking that name from the Record Label he recorded for. The voice, Larry Harmon, bought up the rights and arranged for a made for Television Cartoon series. It was circa 1957 that the Bozo cartoons hit our market via the future Super-station, WGN TV. The cartoons were shown on some of their juvenile programs; including their own BUGS BUNNY Show, which featured Host, Dick Coughlin and some puppets. There was a Bugs, of course; but also some others like: Radcliffe Raccoon, Numbers the Spaceman and some others that slip the mind at the moment.
Around early 1961, somebody got wind of the offering of Franchising the BOZO Character and Likeness, in order to build a Kids' Show all around it. They would get an exclusive on BOZO & the Larry Harmon produced Bozo 5 minute Cartoons. WGN took the chance on it and groomed their resident funnyman, Bob Bell*, for the part.
THE BOZO SHOW was the result, with Bozo (Mr. Bell) as host, fidgeting around and clowning between introducing those BOZO Cartoons. It was shown in the early evenings and lasted a half-hour. (It may have been on only one night a week, yo pienso!) But regardless of the length and frequency, the response from the Greater Chicagoland Metropolitan Area was good, promising and the stuff of which fortunes could be made. In an attempt to find a real niche where BOZO could be truly appreciated, the Suits at WGN opted to expand to an hour daily, Monday thru Friday. Realizing that this sudden growth would need more than a solo performer, the production crew added 'Ringmaster' Ned Locke, Mute Mime Clown Sandy (Don Sanderson) and Clown Oliver O. Oliver (Ray Rayner). The 4 men had mucho expierencio between them, and were all true pros.
With the addition of a studio audience, a "Bozo's Big Top Band", the booking in of circus & variety acts and some audience participation games; all was ready. The world was ready to meet BOZO'S CIRCUS.
It ran for some years at that noon hour time slot. It was perfect for a lunchtime companion for the Grade Schoolers; for the vast majority of them went home for lunch. The neighborhood school policy operated on principle of having the student bodies of the schools residing close to the school campus. Everything was great. Bozo, I mean WGN's version, owned the Noon Hour.
And then, somewhere in the 1970's, the schools began going "Closed Campus"; meaning that no one left school for lunch. Either the kids purchased their meals from the schools' cafeteria or they could brown bag it. This closed campus trend continued until the whole school system adhered to the policy. That meant their would be precious few little learners at home glued to the tube and munching on bologna sausage (aka "baloney") sandwiches. The ratings had to have really been suffering. Was this end of the Chicago-Bozo courtship? Will the arbitrary edicts of the Burecracy of the Board of Education spell the end of the line? Hell no, it would not. The Station just shifted gears; turning BOZO'S CIRCUS into a morning, hour, breakfast time show. It continued on, even more successful than ever.
BOZO continued on for years, decades even. And there was changing of the guard as the originals retired. Ned Locke was by "Circus Manager", Frazier Thomas. Roy Brown as "Cooky, the Cook" took Sandy's place and Magician Marshall Brodien as Wizzo the Wizard held down the position that Ray Rayner had filled for so long. Even Bob Bell gave way to newcomer, Joey DeOria as the Red Headed Clown with the Big Feet and infectious Laugh.
Today, there is very little local production done by individual stations, where it was once a very commonplace occurrence. A notable exception is our local station, WCIU which has Rich Koz doing two shows. He stars as SVENGOOLIE, a "Shock Theatre" type show featuring the old Universal Pictures as well as others; and he does STOOGAPOLOOZA, hosting and annotating the Columbia 3 Stooges Shorts.
Such a success was this BOZO that the waiting time for tickets ran into 7-8 years! We once figured out that tickets should be requested in writing by a guy or girl just as soon as they think that the person they're dating is going to be their spouse. That way, your kid would be just the right age to appreciate them and yet, would not know the anguish of waiting.
You know, kind of like that instant gratification that this new generation expects.
Oh yeah, MERRY Christmas!
NOTE: * Talented Radio/TV Announcer & All Around Funnyman, Bob Bell had been at WGN Radio & TV ever since the mid 1950's. He had done a morning Television Show along with the Legendary Radio Personality, Wally Phillips, which showcased both men's comedic talents. Starting in 1959 and continuing for about 3 years, Mr. Bob Bell hosted the WGN Channel 9's 3 Stooges show; portraying old-timer, "Andy Star", the custodian of the "Odeon Theatre". He also did the character of the owner of the Odeon, "Mrs. Finstermacher"and he did it in drag.
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