Bozo the Clown creator dead at 83

Larry Harmon, who turned the character Bozo the Clown into a show business staple that delighted children for more than a half-century, died Thursday of congestive heart failure. He was 83.

In this 1996 file photo

LOS ANGELES — Larry Harmon, who turned the character Bozo the Clown into a show business staple that delighted children for more than a half-century, died Thursday of congestive heart failure. He was 83.

His publicist, Jerry Digney, told The Associated Press he died at his home.

Although not the original Bozo, Harmon portrayed the popular clown in countless appearances and, as an entrepreneur, he licensed the character to others, particularly dozens of television stations around the U.S. The stations in turn hired actors to be their local Bozos.

“You might say, in a way, I was cloning BTC (Bozo the Clown) before anybody else out there got around to cloning DNA,” Harmon said in a 1996 interview.

“Bozo is a combination of the wonderful wisdom of the adult and the childlike ways in all of us,” Harmon said.

Pinto Colvig, who also provided the voice for Walt Disney’s Goofy, originated Bozo the Clown when Capitol Records introduced a series of children’s records in 1946.

Harmon would later meet his alter ego while answering a casting call to make personal appearances as a clown to promote the records.

He got that job and eventually bought the rights to Bozo. Along the way, he embellished Bozo’s distinctive look: the orange-tufted hair, the bulbous nose, the outlandish red, white and blue costume.

“I felt if I could plant my size 83AAA shoes on this planet, (people) would never be able to forget those footprints,” he said.

Susan Harmon, his wife of 29 years, indicated Harmon was the perfect fit for Bozo.

“He was the most optimistic man I ever met. He always saw a bright side; he always had something good to say about everybody. He was the love of my life,” she said Thursday.

The business — combining animation, licensing of the character and personal appearances — made millions, as Harmon trained more than 200 Bozos over the years to represent him in local markets.

“I’m looking for that sparkle in the eyes, that emotion, feeling, directness, warmth. That is so important,” he said of his criteria for becoming a Bozo.

The Chicago version of Bozo ran on WGN-TV in Chicago for 40 years and was seen in many other cities after cable television transformed WGN into a superstation.

Bozo — portrayed in Chicago for many years by Bob Bell — was so popular that the waiting list for tickets to a TV show eventually stretched to a decade, prompting the station to stop taking reservations for 10 years. On the day in 1990 when WGN started taking reservations again, it took just five hours to book the show for five more years. The phone company reported more than 27 million phone call attempts had been made.

By the time the show bowed out in Chicago, in 2001, it was the last locally produced version. Harmon said at the time that he hoped to develop a new cable or network show, as well as a Bozo feature film.

He became caught up in a minor controversy in 2004 when the International Clown Hall of Fame in Milwaukee took down a plaque honouring him as Bozo and formally endorsed Colvig for creating the role.

Harmon denied ever misrepresenting Bozo’s history.

He said he was claiming credit only for what he added to the character — “What I sound like, what I look like, what I walk like” — and what he did to popularize Bozo.

“Isn’t it a shame the credit that was given to me for the work I have done, they arbitrarily take it down, like I didn’t do anything for the last 52 years,” he told the AP at the time.

Harmon protected Bozo’s reputation with a vengeance, while embracing those who poked good-natured fun at the clown.

As Bozo’s influence spread through popular culture, his very name became a synonym for clownish behaviour.

“It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a character that old fresh so kids today still know about him and want to buy the products,” Karen Raugust, executive editor of The Licensing Letter, a New York-based trade publication, said in 1996.

A normal character runs its course in three to five years, Raugust said. “Harmon’s is a classic character. It’s been around 50 years.”

On New Year’s Day 1996, Harmon dressed up as Bozo for the first time in 10 years, appearing in the Rose Parade in Pasadena.

The crowd reaction, he recalled, “was deafening.”

“They kept yelling, ‘Bozo, Bozo, love you, love you.’ I shed more crocodile tears for five miles in four hours than I realized I had,” he said. “I still get goose bumps.”

— Associated Press writers Polly Anderson in New York and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

Just Posted

Man killed in collision near Markerville

A 55-year-old man is dead after a collision near Markerville Friday night.… Continue reading

La Loche school shooter carried out plan with ‘stark efficiency:’ Crown

MEADOW LAKE, Sask. — A Saskatchewan judge is weighing whether a teenager… Continue reading

Castor triple-murder trial resumes on Monday

Trial was delayed two weeks for two men accused of killing Castor-area family

Red Deer Royals are sending 1,000 letters to Trudeau

The band must pay for the last 20 per cent of fieldhouse costs

Central Alberta real estate market reflects Alberta’s slow recovery

Real estate markets will bounce back but incoming mortgage changes don’t help, say realtor groups

WATCH: A magical Harry Potter weekend in downtown Red Deer

Wizards, witches and muggles are flocking to downtown Red Deer to celebrate… Continue reading

B.C. ice rink where 3 people died remains closed due to safety concerns

FERNIE, B.C. — Residents who were forced from their homes because of… Continue reading

Trudeau condemns appointment of Mugabe as WHO ambassador

EDMONTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the appointment of Zimbabwe President… Continue reading

Friday Oct. 21: Winning Lotto Numbers

Friday, October 20, 2017 LOTTO MAX Winning Numbers 1 4 12 27… Continue reading

New northbound Hwy 2 lanes at Gaetz Avenue to open this Sunday

Drivers heading north through Red Deer on Hwy 2 will have a… Continue reading

Sockey Night at Saturday’s Rebels game

United Way Central Alberta is determined to provide warm feet for all… Continue reading

Canadian planet hunter seeking alien life

‘The shifting line of what is crazy’ says Toronto-born astrophysicist

All three victims identified in Fernie arena ammonia leak

Wayne Hornquist and Lloyd Smith were from Fernie and Jason Podloski from Turner Valley, Alta

4 B.C. prisons install body scanners to combat drug smuggling

The scanners are aimed to combat the smuggling of contraband including weapons and drugs

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month