When I was a little girl, my sister waved to me from our television set … specifically from the fantastic world of Bozo the Clown.
I knew she was on a field trip with her class, but I had no idea they would be stepping into the nether, and then reaching out for me, too. It was amazing and unsettling all at once.
Even after I understood (a little) better how these things worked, that day continued to play in my mind, and my sister and I talked about it often. And Bozo became a personal hero, the guy who helped make my sister famous, even for just a couple of minutes.
So it was hard to choke back the tears when I read the headline earlier this year: “Bozo the Clown Dead.”
What? I had to verify this with my sister, who would surely know the details. She and Bozo were likethis, after all.
“Did u here Bozzo sdyed?” I fat-thumbed my text.
It took a few minutes for her to reply, so I figured she was off mourning, maybe up to her neck in Mr. Bubble.
Finally … “Yeah, like 40 years ago.”
Further texts went unanswered, and I was sure then she was in a bad place, grieving. She was delirious.
I couldn’t just leave that cryptic message of hers hanging. I had to know the truth.
And what I found … well, it’s a terrifying reality.
I’m willing to share these five awful truths about Bozo the Clown with you, but just remember … you can’t unsee them.
You Could Buy Bozo
There’s only one Bugs Bunny, right?
And one Santa Claus?
And one Captain Kangaroo?
So why would any belt-fearing kid worth her weight think anything would be any different with old Bozo?
But it was different. Very different.
See, when Capital Records created Bozo as a character to sell their wares in 1946, the company hired a few actors for promotional purposes. One of those dudes, Larry Harmon, bought the rights to Bozo from creator Alan W. Livingston when Livingston left Capitol for a spell in 1956.
And then, Harmon started selling franchises.
And that meant …
Bozo was Bozos
Most TV shows — and especially most kids shows — of the time were syndicated, meaning that local stations bought them and showed them as-were.
So, while I may have watched Gumby at seven and you watched him at seven thirty, it was the same show with the same actors, even though you were in Wichita and I was in Terre Haute.
It was the same show, dammit.
But Bozo …
Well, since it was franchised, each station did their own thing with everybody’s favorite (most feared) clown.
So, you may have seen a struggling actor take on the role and impart him with a tragic-clown streak in Hollywood, while kids in Rochester got a weatherman version who was most intent on squirting you in the face with lapel-flower water.
And dumping snow on your head. Lots of it.
Speaking of weather men …
Most kids of the 1970s and 1980s know Willard Scott as the over-the-top weatherman from the Today show, who showed up on an occasional cheesy guest spot in Hee Haw or Sisters.
He was fine.
But … honestly … there was always something a bit unsettling about him, to me at least.
Too happy. Too smiley. Too eager for bad weather news.
Like he was … I don’t know … a clown, or something.
And, well, turns out he was.
In fact, Scott was the original Bozo in Washington, D.C., from 1959 through 1962. Immediately after that gig ended, McDonald’s snatched him up to be their first Ronald McDonald.
With all that clown pedigree, it’s a miracle Scott has avoided a Presidential run all these years.
Whether or not Scott’s cheery exterior hides any darkness, it turns out that all that smiles is not happy.
Bozo Was Human
Underneath all the wigs and makeup and oversize clothes, all of these Bozos were just human bozos like the rest of us.
One of those fallible lot was a guy in El Paso named Howell Eurich, who handled the weather at local station KROD.
In addition to his weather duties, and his side gig as our beloved Bozo, Eurich also hatched a love affair with fellow weather human, Gail Gordon, also at KROD.
They were both married to other people.
They were open about their relationship … on the air.
They adopted a dog together, very publicly.
Eventually, there was a happy ending, though, as they cleaned up the loose ends in their non-them personal lives, and got married.
Eventually, after that first eventually, there was a tragic ending.
Gordon left the marriage, moved on.
But Eurich couldn’t.
So, on the morning of November 3, 1982, he dropped off Puffy the dog at a friend’s house, went to the station for a commercial spot, then drove home and left the car running while he sat in the closed garage, and died.
And it happens over and over, even if not so darkly …
Bozo Dies a Thousand Deaths
Maybe not a thousand, exactly.
But Wikipedia has the roster of Bozo dudes at 60+, and there are certainly some missing, like Bozo of the Bonanza out in Nevada (should be real even if he’s not).
These guys aren’t getting any younger, either.
And a lot of them are getting deader. Every time one of those actors gets that way, the headline is always the same: “Bozo the Clown Dies.”
And every time Bozo the Clown dies, a puppy — somewhere — is forced to kiss a kitten.
That just ain’t right.
Neither is reading about a childhood hero meeting his demise, over and over again.
Because let me tell you something — any man with the magic to put my sister in a box and get her to wave at me — well, that man is freaking immortal.