When I was growing up in Alabama we had several local shows that were made for children. Two that I can remember were the Cousin Cliff Show and Sergeant Jack . Both were adult men who played a character that interacted to the children in the studio audience and showed cartoons between the segments when they were talking to the kids. (Most of the cartoons were Popeye with a Three Stooges shorts thrown in as well.)
It was years later that I found out this format was being used all around the world. I love talking to people who lived outside the US and seeing what the names of their local children’s entertainer was.
One the first to establish this format was Larry Harmon, who portrayed frizzy-haired Bozo the Clown for years and licensed the character to dozens of TV stations around the United States.
Larry Harmon has taken his Final Taxi at 83.
Bozo the Clown was created in 1946 by Alan W. Livingston who produced a children’s storytelling record-album and illustrative read-along book set for Capitol Records. The albums were extremely popular and the character became a mascot for the record.
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. 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 with his Larry Harmon Studios cranked out 156 five-minute Bozo, The World’s Most Famous Clown cartoons for syndication. He provided the voice of Bozo in the series.
“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. By the late 1960s, Harmon had licensed local Bozo TV shows in nearly every major U.S. market, and across the world in places as far away as Thailand, Greece and Brazil.
Born in Toledo, Ohio in 1925, Harmon grew up in Cleveland. A University of Southern California alumnus, he was its only freshman to win the title of drum major. He led the Trojan Marching Band in the first televised coverage of the Rose Bowl Parade in the mid-1940s.
“I started out to be a doctor,” he once said. “I love medicine. I always did.”
“I did radio, big band, and when I came out to California, motion pictures and TV. Deciding between medicine and theater was a tough decision.”
Harmon first assumed the Bozo character by answering a casting call to make appearances as a clown to promote Capitol’s Bozo records. Harmon helped solidify the Bozo look, which combined orange hair, a bulb nose, and a red, white and blue costume.
Bozo’s last appeared on TV when a version of the series ended its 40-year run on Superstation WGN 9 in Chicago in 2001. I remember watching that last episode. As an adult I still enjoyed seeing Bozo on Sunday morning with my kids before heading out to church. It was still special to me.
“I felt if I could plant my size 83AAA shoes on this planet, (people) would never be able to forget those footprints,” Harmon once reflected. I won’t forget them.