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Originally created by Alan W. Livingston for a children's storytelling record-album and illustrative read-along book set and portrayed by Pinto Colvig, the character became very popular during the 1940s and was a mascot for record company Capitol Records.
The character first appeared on television in 1949 starring Pinto Colvig. After the creative rights to Bozo were purchased by Larry Harmon in 1956, the character became a common franchise across the United States, with local television stations producing their own Bozo shows featuring the character. Harmon bought out his business partners in 1965 and produced Bozo's Big Top for syndication to local television markets not producing their own Bozo shows in 1966, while Chicago's Bozo's Circus which premiered in 1960, went national via cable and satellite in 1978.
The most notable performers to have played Bozo, aside from Colvig and Harmon, include Willard Scott (1959-1962), Frank Avruch (1959–1970), Bob Bell (1960–1984) and Joey D'Auria (1984–2001). Bozo TV shows were also produced in other countries including Mexico, Thailand, Australia, Greece and Brazil. Larry Harmon claimed that more than 200 actors have portrayed the clown.
Bozo appeared in the series Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown.
Bozo was created as a character by Alan W. Livingston, who produced a children's storytelling record-album and illustrative read-along book set, the first of its kind, titled Bozo at the Circus for Capitol Records and released in October 1946. Pinto Colvig portrayed the character on this and subsequent Bozo read-along records. The albums were very 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 1948, Capitol and Livingston began setting up royalty arrangements with manufacturers and television stations for use of the Bozo character. KTTV in Los Angeles began broadcasting the first show, Bozo's Circus, in 1949 featuring Colvig as Bozo with his blue-and-red costume, oversized red hair and 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 longtime 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 that he fully owned 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 Boston at one point, though most television stations still preferred to continue producing 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 WGN version 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, WGN's Bozo returned to television in a two-hour retrospective titled Bozo, Gar and Ray: WGN TV Classics. The primetime premiere was #1 in the Chicago market and continues to be nationally rebroadcast annually during the holiday season. In 2003, Harmon released six of his Bozo's Big Top programs with Avruch on DVD and 2 box sets of 30 episodes each in 2007 retitled "Larry Harmon's Bozo, The World's Most Famous Clown Vols.1 & 2". The WGN Bozo shows have not been released commercially in any video format.
On July 3, 2008, Larry Harmon died of congestive heart failure at the age of 83. On March 13, 2009, Alan Livingston died of age-related causes at the age of 91. On October 2, 2010, the New York Times posted that the father of U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell "worked a series of small television roles before scoring his signature gig – playing Bozo the Clown."  But upon further investigation, a New York Times follow-up two days later reported that the father, Daniel O'Donnell, was an assistant and understudy for the full-time local TV Bozo in Philadelphia and would fill in for the full-time Bozo when the latter was unavailable.
The local WHDH-TV Boston production of Bozo's Circus with Frank Avruch aired from 1959 until 1970. In 1965, Larry Harmon became the sole owner of the Bozo licensing rights after buying out his business partners and produced 130 episodes between 1965 and 1967 and syndicated them to local U.S. television markets that did not produce their own Bozo shows. The half-hour syndicated shows were retitled Bozo The Clown (on episodes with a 1965 date) and Bozo's Big Top (on episodes with a 1966 date). Caroll Spinney appeared as "Mr. Lion" and "Kookie The Boxing Kangaroo," billed in the credits as Ed Spinney. He later went on to portray "Big Bird" and "Oscar the Grouch" on the PBS series Sesame Street. Harmon supervised the taping of these episodes, with Harmon-approved characters added, some based on characters in Harmon's classic animated Bozo cartoon shorts. These were the only Bozo shows Harmon fully owned. Bozo's exclamations on the show included, "Whoa, Nellie!", "Wowie Kazowie!" and always ended the show with, "Always keep laughing!"
In 2003, Harmon released six of these shows on DVD and, in 2007, 30 of them in a DVD box set entitled Larry Harmon's Bozo, The World's Most Famous Clown, Collection 1. A second box set was released later that year, also containing 30 of the half-hours; the second box set (Collection 2) includes the six episodes previously released on the two earlier single DVD releases, and also repeats one show from Collection 1, for a grand total of 59 episodes released on DVD altogether. Although the shows included on the two single-disc DVDs had contemporary computer-animated characters superimposed over some scenes, the 59 episodes included in Collections 1 & 2 are presented in their original form.
Dick Dyszel played the character on Washington, D.C. broadcast TV, WDCA channel 20, in the 1970s to millions of viewers. Dyszel also played TV horror host "Count Gore De vol" and hosted "Captain 20" afternoon kids TV shows in D.C..
The Chicago Bozo franchise was the most popular and successful locally produced children's program in the history of television. It also became the most widely known Bozo show as WGN-TV became a national cable television Superstation. WGN-TV Chicago's "Bozo" show debuted on June 20, 1960 starring Bob Bell on a live half-hour program weekdays at noon, performing comedy sketches and introducing cartoons. The series was placed on hiatus in January 1961 to facilitate WGN's move from Tribune Tower in downtown Chicago to 2501 West Bradley Place on the city’s northwest side. WGN-TV's "Bozo's Circus" debuted on September 11, 1961.
The live hour-long show aired weekdays at noon and featured comedy sketches, circus acts, cartoons, games and prizes before a 200+ member studio audience. The program began airing nationally via cable and satellite in 1978, and studio audience reservations surpassed a 10-year wait. In 1980, the series moved to weekday mornings as "The Bozo Show" and aired on tape delay. In 1994, it moved to Sunday mornings as "The Bozo Super Sunday Show" and became "education and information" in 1997 following a Federal Communications Commission mandate requiring broadcast television stations to air a minimum three hours per week of "educational and informational" children’s programs. The final Bozo show, a primetime special titled "Bozo: 40 Years of Fun!” was taped on June 12, 2001 and aired on July 14, 2001. Reruns of "The Bozo Super Sunday Show" aired until August 26, 2001.
Cast members throughout the program's 40-year run included Bob Bell as Bozo (1960–1984), Ned Locke as Ringmaster Ned (1961–1976), Don Sandburg as Sandy the Tramp (1961–1969), Ray Rayner as Oliver O. Oliver (1961–1971), Roy Brown as Cooky the Cook (1968–1994), Marshall Brodien as Wizzo the Wizard (1968–1994), Frazier Thomas as the circus manager (1976–1985), Joey D'Auria as Bozo (1984–2001), Andy Mitran as Professor Andy (1987–2001) and Robin Eurich as Rusty the Handyman (1994–2001). Bozo returned to television on December 24, 2005 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 nationally rebroadcast annually during the holiday season. Bozo also continues to appear on the WGN-TV float in Chicago’s biggest parades.
Allen Hall, the long-time producer of "Bozo's Circus" and "The Bozo Show" on WGN-TV, died September 6, 2011 after an 18-month battle with lung cancer at the age of 82. Hall worked at WGN for 40 years. He joined the station in 1961, a year after "Bozo" debuted on WGN, as the show's director until 1966 and returned to the program as producer in 1973 until 2001.
Few episodes from the shows' first two decades survive; although videotapes were made of the live shows to air as reruns, they were reused and eventually discarded. In 2012, a vintage tape was located on the Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection website archive list by Rick Klein of The Museum of Classic Chicago Television, containing material from two 1971 episodes. WGN re-acquired the tape and put together a new special entitled "Bozo's Circus: The Lost Tape" which aired in December 2012.
In 1979, Brazil's famous TV show host Silvio Santos (founder and owner of the SBT television network) decided to produce a national Bozo show for the former TVS-Record TV station. Comedian Wandeko Pipoca was chosen by Larry Harmon to be the first Brazilian Bozo. Brazilian characters were created for the Brazilian Bozo show, like Salsi Fufu – played by famous comedian Pedro de Lara – and Vovó Mafalda, played by Valentino Guzzo. With the clown's large success in Brazil, two more actors, Luís Ricardo and Arlindo Barreto, were hired to play Bozo for additional shows which ran from mornings to afternoons and more comedians were chosen to play Bozo in other parts of the country. Brazil's Bozo shows ended in 1991, following the death of Décio Roberto, the last actor to portray the clown in that country. Brazil's Bozo won five Troféu Imprensa, a famous Brazilian award given to personalities and productions in the media (in 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1989), as well as three Gold Albums. In the last years of the program, the UNESCO bestowed the Brazilian Bozo with its Ambassador of Goodwill recognition, as Bozo was recognized for its outstanding success among children and the youth.
In 2012 SBT decided to rehire the clown to a new building on the success of the program clowns Patati Patatá who also had a program on the same channel. But the character ended up being very poorly received by the public on his return being heavily criticized by the public to have its premiere in early children's program Bom Dia e Companhia, for having almost any program designed just for your cartoon. Bozo continued to show up to receive their own program in 2013 on Saturday mornings, but the program ended up being a failure and canceled after a month. After that the channel decided to return it pro Bom Dia e Companhia, but did not please the public again making it out of the air.
The contract with Larry Harmon Productions continues until 2015.
In 1961, Mario Quintanilla, chairman of XEFB-TV Channel 3 obtained the local rights of the Bozo Cartoons, including the authorization of the Bozo characterization. José Marroquín (who later became famous with his Pipo character) was chosen as the first Mexican Bozo. He portrayed the character on local XHX-TV Channel 10 Monterrey TV shows until 1963, when the licensing rights ended. After that, Jose Manuel Vargas Martinez, under sponsorship by Antonio Espino (famous comedy actor of the late '40s and '50s known by his surname, Clavillazo), portrayed the character. He was the most famous Bozo in Latin America and created his own version of Bozo's Circus, which traveled all along Latin America for decades. He started as a TV artist participating in a dance marathon he won dressed as Bozo. After his success as Bozo, he traveled to several countries representing the Bozo character. He made special presentations in Italy, Greece, Spain, Hawaii and Canada with his circus. In 2000 he received the ANDA's Arozamena Award for 50 years of uninterrupted career. He died one year later, October 19, 2001 due to a lung disease.
In Mexico, TV star, comedian and political commentator Victor Trujillo created the character "Brozo, El Payaso Tenebroso" (Brozo, the Creepy Clown) in 1988 as a parody of Bozo for a TV Azteca program with Ausencio Cruz called La Caravana (The Caravan). He pleased the audience with double-entendres and adult humor, telling sarcastic and sometimes obscene versions of classic children's tales. He became so popular that TV Azteca asked him to join the reporters and anchors during coverage of the FIFA World Cup in 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002. He also gave his commentary on the Olympics, starting with the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain until the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. From 2002 to 2004, Trujillo as Brozo was anchor of a popular and successful TV news show, El Mañanero. It was broadcast on Canal 40 XHTVM-TV and later Televisa. Trujillo discontinued the Brozo character following the death of his wife, producer Carolina Padilla, but brought back Brozo in a new TV program that began in early 2006 on Televisa's Canal de las Estrellas, "El Notifiero." He is considered an influential political commentators in Mexico.
Immediately following Willard Scott's three-year-run as WRC-TV Washington, D.C.'s Bozo, the show's sponsors, McDonald's drive-in restaurant franchisees John Gibson and Oscar Goldstein (Gee Gee Distributing Corporation), hired Scott to portray "Ronald McDonald, the Hamburger-Happy Clown" for their local commercials on the character's first three television 'spots.' McDonald's replaced Scott with other actors for their national commercials and the character's costume was changed. One of them was Ray Rayner (Oliver O. Oliver on WGN-TV's Bozo's Circus), who appeared in McDonald's national ads in 1968. In the mid 1960s, Andy Amyx, performing as Bozo on Jacksonville, Florida television station WFGA, was hired to do local appearances of Ronald McDonald periodically. Andy recalls having to return the wardrobe to the agency after each performance.
The following is a partial list of Bozo television portrayers since the original (Pinto Colvig):
(Produced at WHDH-TV Boston 1965–1967 and syndicated to U.S. TV markets that were not producing their own local versions at the time, including New York City, Los Angeles & Washington, D.C. These were the only Bozo shows that were wholly owned and syndicated by Larry Harmon Pictures Corporation, 60 of which are currently available on worldwide DVD distribution entitled "Bozo The World's Most Famous Clown" Volumes 1 & 2.)
(WGN's signal-reach throughout North America included the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean among others. 2005 retrospective titled Bozo, Gar & Ray: WGN TV Classics continues to air annually. WGN's Bozo show is recognized as the most popular and successful locally produced children's program in the history of television, boasting a 10-year-wait for studio audience reservations and over 40 years in production.)
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