Saturday, July 5, 2008

Goodbye to Bozo the Clown: Larry Harmon (1925-2008)

It's difficult to follow the appreciation of HBO's surely amazing portrayal of Founding Father John Adams. But here we go anyway to a polar opposite of sorts. However, we at The Nose now recognize someone who is still, post-mortem, a true American icon.

Who though that Bozo could ever die? Well, maybe he won't really EVER die, which is the lasting contribution of the Bozo character's most important inhabitant, Larry Harmon, who left us on July 3, 2008--nearly like Jefferson and Adams themseves: a true American. I won't wax philosopical about this passing of a childhood staple, except to say that I bow to Mr. Harmon for his contributions to my upbringing. He was a bright spirit, a loving TV presence, and a reminant of a regrettably long-past connection between children and their television companions (Pee-Wee, where are you?).

Here's an AP news report on the complicated life of Larry Harmon's Bozo the Clown, who became the world's leading mirthmaker for children based on Harmon's own belief in the character's appeal; his efforts led to scads of actors across America playing Bozo for their local audiences.

Clowns these days are seen as scary characters--witness the films Killer Klowns from Outer Space or Bobcat Golthwaite's Shakes the Clown. Sometimes I'm stringently with those who find white-faced clowns creepy and unpleasent (is Batman's The Joker a reaction to this?). But who could really be afraid of the zingy, joyous Bozo, with his upturned red hair and his honking red nose? When we think of clowns, because of Harmon, we think of Bozo. Hell, "Bozo" has even entered into the American lexicon as a term for a wacky, unfortunately often unwanted and unpredictable personality. But don't you dare lead that to hating on Bozo.

As proof of his universal worth as a character--which Harmon was instrumental in popularizing--here are two fascinating videos of a couple non-Harmon performers inhabiting Bozo's big, now sadly absent shoes. First is a clip of Bozo on the landmark TV game show What's My Line? and the second is a Chicago-made video of the "kidnapping" of Bozo. In the second one particularly, look at how everyone involved responds to seeing this unmistakable figure of American comedy.

So long, sweet clown (LOL!!), and keep on makin' people laugh!


Lisa said...

I of course recall Bozo from my childhood in L.A., and Chicago was certainly the most vibrant and long-lived Bozo market. Bozo somehow never was quite as creepy as other clowns; pretty funny and friendly rather than weird. There's an NPR feature from 2001 here on Bozo:

And since for me one of the most memorable things was the Bozo theme song, you can find it here:

Wonderful post, Dean!

Scott said...

Amy was once in the studio audience as a kid on Bozo and cried the whole time. As told by Millie. There's nothing quite as scary as a clown.

amy said...

I actually have a Bozo story that I must share, although sad to say it ends somewhat traumatically. Scott got it wrong. I did cry, but not the whole time -- only at the end, and it wasn't because Bozo was scary. So here's what happened -- when I was 3 or 4 years old and we lived in Manhattan, I was indeed on my beloved BOZO's show! Aside from the birth of my brother at that time, this is my earliest memory. I'm sitting in the bleachers - toward the back -- with at least 30 other pushy New York children about the same age. At the end of the show, do you remember when the kids got to kiss his big red nose? Well, I was waiting for that moment, heart pounding. I can remember the feeling. When the kids started to raise their hands and push forward to get to his nose, I wasn't pushy enough and missed the kiss. I was sad for years. Then I was mad. That was a turning point. Since then I've tried to more than make up for my lack of pushiness.

amy said...

By the way, Dean, I loved the clips! It was like a Stephen King movie.

Lisa said...

Wow, Amy -- your story is a psychological nightmare, but I think it made you a better person. All of us who never quite developed the ooomph that would have served us well in life probably needed just such a moment -- our own "missing the clown's nose kiss" -- and we're suffering because of it. Through adversity comes strength, and just think, you probably have Bozo to thank for your career and so many other things, too.

Amy, I am in awe! What a story! :-) I doubt many people can so clearly look back to such a young age and pinpoint a moment like that in their life. Wow!

Dean Treadway said...

I have to say, Amy, that your story is great! Best comment ever, as the Simpson's Comic Book Guy would say. And Lisa hit it...uh..on the nose...when she said we all have moments like that. However, I can't remember one that happened to me that would be as dramatic and vivid as yours, Amy. I don't think there's any competition there...

Dean Treadway said...

I suppose I could leave a positive memory from childhood that approaches the same vividness, now that I think about it. But, in its positivity, it's much simpler.

When I was a kid, my much older best friend, Jane, took me to see one of my then-idols Vincent Price speak at Emory University. Beforehand, she took me to a bookstore, saying that we should get him a gift. She asked me what I would think he'd like, and I answered that I knew he was a gourmet cook. So we found this book of Victorian recipes! Perfect for the Master!

I still remember watching the talk from the middle of the huge white auditorium and thinking WOW THERE HE IS! The one part of the speech I still recall with clarity is when he told a story about sitting behind two screaming girls during a then-new showing of HOUSE OF WAX. When the lights came up, he put his hands on their shoulders and said in his own inimitable way: "Did you LIKE it?" LOL!!!!

So we went up to give him the book. He was pleased, and he bent down to thank me. I don't even think I asked for an autograph! (Which now ranks as a disappointment, I suppose) But I still remember his face close to mine, and his hand patting my hair, and remember telling him I loved THEATER OF BLOOD (still my favorite Price movie). He said it was his favorite of all his performances too, and told me I had great taste. And that was all I needed. He was the first famous person I ever met...and I consider myself lucky in all regards.

Sandra Harmon said...

Goodbye to Bozo The Clown, My Ex Husband

Yes, it's true. I was the second Mrs. Bozo the Clown, but not the last. Many people ask me what it was like to be married to Larry Harmon and I can say it was no barrel of laughs.
Sandra Harmon