For those of you who didn’t grow up in Chicago, I really feel sorry for you. Long before WGN America was on cable, there was Channel 9, WGN. It’s still there, a world-class local station befitting a world-class city. WGN itself was owned by the Chicago Tribune. The call letters stood for “World’s Greatest Newspaper”. When I was a kid, Bozo’s Circus was on during lunchtime! I would often get picked up to come home for tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Of course, I’d watch it if I were home sick, too. Mr. Ned, the ringmaster in my day, opened the show with a blow of his ringmaster’s whistle, announcing in his booming baritone: “Bozo’s Circus is on the air!”
There were so many things that made our Bozo show, starring Clown Hall of Fame inductee Bob Bell, superior to any syndicated version in the country. The show had layers and layers to be appreciated, but not in that gross way of some of the Adult Swim cartoons today.
When I was born, the waitlist to be part of the live audience was 8 years. My dad got us on the list the very day I was hatched! Since that day, we had moved from the city to Skokie. I remember watching a waitlist segment on the news when I was 7, pouting to my mom, “If you had put us on the waitlist when I was born, we’d be seeing the show soon.” My mom replied, “I think we did, but the tickets would have been lost in the move.” Then, she got the idea of calling the station to see if they kept records. They did! We went bananas crazy. My littlest sister had just been born, so we were admonished to settle down: “Don’t wake the baby.”
Bob Bell was not saccharine, that’s for sure. He inserted more than the occasional double entendre and had a wee bit of Don Rickles in him. As we gathered in our seats, Bozo came out with Mr. Ned to warm up the audience. He sighed a deep sigh. “It’s all gone. It’s all gone.”
“What’s all gone?” Mr. Ned inquired, worriedly.
“The hair on that man’s head!” Bozo pointed to my very own daddy. My dad looked exactly like another Chicago children’s character, Burr Tillstrom’s Kukla. Check out this wiki link and tell me I’m wrong.
We had brought along the neighborhood’s answer to Dennis the Menace, who is now super famous. That “kid” recounts the story to strangers, anybody’s he’s met. Possibly even to the President. I have no idea why, it irritates me to no end. Who’s daddy took him to Bozo? Certainly not his! Afterwards, my dad treated us all to dinner at The Parthenon, a much beloved and now shuttered restaurant in nearby Greektown. I think I remember the bill being about $100, which was a veritable fortune then.
Here we are that day in the audience. I’m cut off on the top, because my dad liked to make “artistic” photos.
Bozo’s Circus was kind of incredible. This children’s show had grad school vocab and French phrases, live classical and jazz band, sophisticated humor, saucy clown characters, acrobatics and dancers stopping in from Europe, dancing doggies . . . ALL ON A LOCAL TV SHOW!
Magician Marshall Brodien (of those magic cards fame) played a character, “Wizzo the Wizard”. When I was a kid, though, I didn’t quite make the connection. I thought Marshall Brodien was trying to steal Wizzo’s thunder by copying his voice!
They just aired a special this weekend, Bozo’s Circus: The 1960s. It was everything I said it was and more. A special encore of “Bozo’s Circus: The 1960s” will be seen Sunday, Feb. 24 at 12 noon CT on WGN-TV as well as WGNTV.com/live and the FREE WGN-TV News app. HERE’S A SAMPLE SEGMENT!
Photo courtesy of WGN – Chicago