Bozo "The World's Most Famous Clown"
by Fan of Bozo
Today I do an occasional clown gig as a ministry because I love to make kids smile. When I think of a favorite clown, I cannot name one, however when the word clown is mentioned, Bozo is the first name to my mind.
I found this information on Wikipedia:
Bozo was created as a character in 1946 by Alan W. Livingston, who produced a children's storytelling record-album and illustrative read-along book set which Livingston called a "Record Reader", the first of its kind, titled Bozo at the Circus for Capitol Records. Pinto Colvig portrayed the character on this and subsequent Bozo read-along records. The albums were extremely popular and the character became a mascot for the record company and was later nicknamed "Bozo the Capitol Clown." Many non Bozo Capitol children's records had a "Bozo Approved" label on the jacket.
In 1949, Capitol and Livingston began setting up royalty arrangements with manufacturers and television stations for use of the Bozo character. KTTV-TV in Los Angeles began broadcasting the first show, Bozo's Circus, featuring Colvig as Bozo with his blue-and-red costume, oversized red hair and classic "whiteface" clown makeup on Fridays at 7:30 p.m.
In 1956, Larry Harmon, one of several actors hired by Livingston and Capitol Records to portray Bozo at promotional appearances, formed a business partnership and bought the licensing rights (excluding the record-readers) to the character when Livingston briefly left Capitol in 1956. Harmon had the vision and drive to take advantage of the growing television industry and make a better future for Bozo. He renamed the character "Bozo, The World?s Most Famous Clown" and modified the voice, laugh and costume. He then worked with a wig stylist to get the wing-tipped bright orange style and look of the hair that had previously appeared in Capitol's Bozo comic books. He started his own animation studio and distributed (through Jayark Films Corporation) a series of cartoons (with Harmon as the voice of Bozo) to television stations, along with the rights for each to hire its own live Bozo host, beginning with KTLA-TV in Los Angeles on January 5, 1959 and starring Vance Colvig, Jr., son of the original "Bozo the Clown", Pinto Colvig.
Unlike many other shows on television, "Bozo the Clown" was mostly a franchise as opposed to being syndicated, meaning that local TV stations could put on their own local productions of the show complete with their own Bozo. Another show that had previously used this model successfully was Romper Room. Since each market used a different portrayer for the character, the voice and look of each market's Bozo also differed slightly. One example is the voice and laugh of WGN-TV Chicago's Bob Bell, who also wore a red
costume throughout the first decade of his portrayal.
The wigs for Bozo were originally manufactured through the famous Hollywood firm, Emil Corsillo Inc. This long time Hollywood company designed and manufactured toupees and wigs for the entertainment industry. Bozo's headpiece was made from yak hair, which was adhered to a canvas base with a starched burlap interior foundation. The hair was first styled, formed, then sprayed with a heavy coat of lacquer to keep its form. From time to time, the headpiece needed freshening and was sent to the Hollywood factory for a quick refurbishing. The canvas top would slide over the actor's forehead. With the exception of the Bozo wigs for WGN-TV Chicago, the eyebrows were permanently painted on the headpiece.
In 1965, Harmon bought out his business partners and became the sole owner of the licensing rights. Thinking that one national show would be more profitable for his company, Harmon produced 130 of his own half-hour shows from 1965 to 1967 titled Bozo's Big Top with WHDH-TV (now WCVB-TV) Boston's Bozo, Frank Avruch, for syndication in 1966. Avruch's portrayal and look resembled Harmon's more so than most of the other portrayers at the time. The show's distribution included New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and of course Boston though some television stations still preferred to continue to produce their own versions with the most popular being Bob Bell and WGN-TV Chicago's Bozo's Circus which went national via cable and satellite in 1978. Bell retired in 1984 and was replaced by Joey D'Auria.
The series successfully survived competition from syndicated and network children's programs for many years until 1994 when WGN management decided to get out of the weekday children's television business and buried The Bozo Show in an early Sunday timeslot as The Bozo Super Sunday Show. It suffered another blow in 1997 when its format became educational following a Federal Communications Commission mandate requiring broadcast television stations to air a minimum three hours of educational children's programs per week. In 2001, station management controversially ended production citing increased competition from newer children's cable channels.
In 2005, Chicago's Bozo returned to the national television airwaves in a two-hour retrospective titled Bozo, Gar & Ray: WGN TV Classics. The primetime premiere was #1 in the Chicago market and continues to be rebroadcast annually during the holiday season. In 2003, Harmon released six of his Bozo's Big Top programs with Avruch on DVD and a box set of 30 episodes in 2007 retitled "Larry Harmon's Bozo, The World's Most Famous Clown Vol.1". The WGN-TV Chicago Bozo shows have not been released commercially in any video format.
On Thursday, July 3, 2008, Larry Harmon died of congestive heart failure. He was 83 years old.