Larry Harmon, who played Bozo the Clown for over 50 years, has died at the age of 83.
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, was the first Bozo the Clown, a character created by writer-producer Alan W. Livingston for a series of children’s records in 1946. Livingston said he came up with the name Bozo after polling several people at Capitol Records.
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.
“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.
I guess that means that the version of Bozo that I recall watching from my childhood featured some other dude as Bozo. Not that it really matters, I suppose, since whoever it was had been trained by the master himself. Rest in peace, Larry Harmon.