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.