Man behind Bozo the Clown remembered in new book

Wed Aug 18, 2010 2:39pm EDT
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By Emily Stephenson

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Long before reality shows and Big Bird or Dora the Explorer, Bozo the Clown entertained children on television shows broadcast throughout the country.

Larry Harmon, the driving force behind the immensely popular "Bozo the Clown" franchise, trained with fire departments and astronauts and ran for president to promote the locally produced Bozo television shows.

"Larry lived a reality show life before reality shows existed," said Thomas Scott McKenzie, co-author of Harmon's memoir, "The Man Behind the Nose: Assassins, Astronauts, Cannibals and Other Stupendous Tales," which was completed after Harmon's death in 2008 and released this week.

Capitol Records created the red-nosed, huge-grinned Bozo in the 1940s to narrate a children's storytelling record and read-along book. The first Bozo show, "Bozo's Circus", was launched in 1949 in Los Angeles as a children's comedy series.

Harmon, who was hired to portray Bozo at promotional appearances for Capitol Records, bought the licensing rights with a group of partners in the late 1950s for the character that became a franchise as television stations licensed Bozo for local shows.

In 1965 he became sole owner of the rights to Bozo.

The Chicago show was so popular it aired for 40 years and often had years-long waiting lists.

"It was harder to get than Oprah," said Kristen Lee Sohacki, an event marketing manager at Borders book store who said her mother put her on the waiting list when she was born. She finally got on the show when she was a teenager.   Continued...