Bozo the Clown

Bozo the Clown

Few clowns have ever enjoyed the same enduring popularity as the lovable red-haired, white-faced icon known as Bozo. For over half a century, literally dozens of men have donned the floppy shoes and red nose for the television cameras and endeared Bozo the clown to generations of young viewers.

Bozo, a character created by Alan W. Livingston in 1946, first caught the attention of little tykes on a children’s album released by Capitol Records called Bozo at the Circus. Packaged with a read-along book, the record spent an astounding 200 weeks on the Billboard Children’s Records charts. Following this unexpected success, it was inevitable that there would be a lot more Bozo on the horizon. In 1949, Bozo finally made his way to television screens via Bozo’s Circus, which appeared on KTTV in Los Angeles and starred Pinto Colvig, the voice actor who had portrayed Bozo on the hit record. This incarnation would only last a year before Colvig was replaced by Syd Saylor, who appeared as Bozo for 13 episodes alongside Bozo creator, Alan Livingston, who played the ringmaster.

By 1956, Bozo had generated a whopping $20 million in record sales and Larry Harmon bought the rights to the character. His idea was a half-hour daily show, that would be shot before a live audience and then syndicated across the country. Within three years, he had an army of 100 Bozos across the US and in countries as far as Germany, Japan and France exclaiming such catchphrases as “Wowie Kazowee!” and “What are you doodly-do-doing?” to kids around the globe.

Into the 60s, Bozo merchandising was grossing $150 million and the most-successful version of the show began airing on WGN in Chicago. It would continue to run for a total of 41 years. During the height of Bozomania, there was a ten-year waiting list to be an audience member. Back in Los Angeles, kids that were especially lucky might have a chance to be “Butch for a day” where they would don the costume of Bozo’s faithful sidekick, Butch, and assist the red-nosed entertainer for an entire episode.

Over the years, there have been a few memorable Bozos. Bob Bell is perhaps the most successful, having played the character for 24 years in Chicago before handing it over to Joey D’Auria, who played Bozo for another 17 years in the Windy City, up until the show was cancelled in 2001. And, one particular Bozo made his way to the world of adult television, former television weatherman and star of The Today Show, Willard Scott.

And the world may not have heard the last of Bozo. When a two-hour retrospective titled Bozo, Gar & Ray was aired by WGN in 2005, it rose to the number one slot in the Chicago market and is now rebroadcast every holiday season. You just can’t keep a good clown down and, if history is any indication, it would appear that Bozo might remain around, in one incarnation or another, for the foreseeable future.

Did you grow up watching Bozo on television? We’d love for you to share any and all memories of the show in our comments section, as we tip our hats to a true icon in the clown world.

6 Responses to “Bozo the Clown”

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  1. Watched Bozo on WGN in the 1970s…absolutely LOVED the show and never missed it! It would be great to have him back, as many kids would love to see the show, time to introduce it to a new generation.

    LONG LIVE BOZO!

  2. John Ptacek says:

    Growing up in Chicago, I got a chance to see Bozo live more times than most kids. My uncle at the time worked for the Tribune Company (WGN’s owners) and would give my dad tickets. So I became jaded, especially when classmates said they were going to Bozo and were missing school. To this day I still schedule my holiday tv watching around “Bozo, Gar and Ray.”

    • Dana Visak says:

      That’s so cool! I, too, grew up near Chicago (Highland, Indiana, about 35-40 miles south of Chicago) and was able to see the Bozo show live (just once). I remember thinking how small it seemed in real life compared to how it looked on TV. (lol) I have SO many wonderful memories of the awesome children’s shows we were blessed to have back then. Remember Ray Rayner while eating breakfast before school and Garfield Goose and Friends with Fraizer Thomas? (I think that was after school). And there was Family Classics with Frazier Thomas in the evening. And how I loved BJ and the Dirty Dragon and HR Pufnstuf!!! And of course we can never forget Hard Rock, Coco, and Joe and Suzy Snowflake. Oh, the memories!

  3. Ken says:

    I loved the WGN Bozo program. While I was never ever able to attend as a child, the first thing I did as a new parent was send for tickets. My oldest son got to go just before the shut down production. It is this time of year I miss it the most. I loved the parade appearances, holiday themed shows, and those Bozo Christmas specials. It just made the holidays that much more exciting. I am sorry kids today do not have local heroes like these anymore.

  4. Sara says:

    I watched Bozo the Clown as a child in the early 60’s. I even had a stuffed Bozo doll with a voice box and felt feet that I dragged around with me so long they got holes won in them. I loved the show and doll. I was around 3 or 4 years old then.

  5. Sarah says:

    Does anyone remember Joe Mays who used to do the spinning tops on the show? Apparently he sells peanuts in Indiana. I buy them from him all the time. Just found out today who he was! He even has a street named after him! Neat

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