1 9 4 9 – 2 0 0 1 (USA)
In 1946, creator Alan W. Livingston and Capitol Records introduced Bozo the Clown to the world via a children’s record entitled Bozo at the Circus. The album, which featured an illustrative read-along book set (the first of its kind), lasted for an astounding 200 weeks on Billboard’s ‘Best Selling Children’s Records’ chart, and a clown star was born.
The first version of the TV show, Bozo’s Circus, appeared on KTTV in Los Angeles in 1949 and starred Pinto Colvig, the voice of Bozo on the records. The clown wore white face makeup, a red nose, tufts of red hair and a blue one-piece suit on this live half-hour circus show. This version of the show aired until 1950.
Capitol Records’ new TV head Elmo Williams produced 13 half-hour Bozo episodes which starred Syd Saylor as Bozo and Alan Livingston as the ringmaster.
In 1956, Larry Harmon bought the franchise rights to Bozo, which by this time had generated record sales in excess of $20 million.
Harmon adopted the idea of a daily half-hour show with a live Bozo, a studio audience of children, and five-minute cartoons, packaged and franchised to different markets across the US.
In 1959 the idea took hold, and Harmon soon had 100 Bozos across America with additional clowns in Germany, France and Japan. The new Bozos had to learn such phrases as “What are you doodly-do-doing?” and “Wowie kazowee!” (by the way, “Kazowee” loosely translated in Japanese is “Kazowee.” Really.) By the mid-1960’s, Bozo was grossing over $150 million in merchandise worldwide.
The most successful Bozo in the franchise aired on WGN in Chicago from 1960 until 2001. The show’s popularity created a ten-year waiting list and celebrated The Bozo 25th Anniversary Special in 1986.
The Los Angeles version of Bozo featured his sidekick “Butch” from the cartoons, but with a twist; one audience member won the coveted role of “Butch For a Day.” The lucky tyke was given a Butch suit and got to assist the great clown on stage for the duration of the episode.
This usually guaranteed the child great success in the school playground for many weeks afterward. Ironically, KTLA chose Vance Colvig, Jr., son of original Bozo, Pinto Colvig, to portray the character.
Over the decades, dozens of men have donned the big shoes, rubber nose and bright red wig. The most famous graduate of the University of Bozo was former Today Show weatherman Willard Scott, but producer Larry Harmon’s preference was for Boston’s Bozo, Frank Avruch.
Harmon tried to market Avruch as the only Bozo in 1965, but met with resistance from half of the stations as they all wanted to keep their own Bozos.
Bob Bell became the most successful portrayer of Bozo, starring as WGN’s Bozo from 1960 until 1984. Joey D’Auria took over the role until WGN cancelled its long-running Bozo show in 2001.
Pinto Colvig (KTTV Los Angeles)
Jim Chapin (WHBQ Memphis)
Vance Colvig, Jr. (KTLA Los Angeles)
Bill Britten (WPIX New York)
Frank Avruch (WHDH Boston)
Willard Scott (WRC Washington, DC)
Bob Bell (WGN Chicago)
Joey D’Auria (WGN Chicago)