Amid all the talk -- and movies -- of Pennywise and other scary, murderous clowns, I'm wishing we still had Bozo around.
Gary Weir, the man who took on the popular, upbeat, red-nosed, big-orange-haired character of Bozo the Clown for two and a half decades in Arkansas, died Oct. 5 at the age of 75.
As was the case for many others who grew up in Arkansas in the '70s and '80s, The Bozo Show -- or "The Shozo Bo," as Weir jokingly called it while in character -- was a part of my childhood after-school routine. During the show, Bozo alternated between interviewing the young guests seated in the Big Top, playing games with them and leading them in seated hand-waving dances to songs like The Kirby Stone Four's version of "Baubles, Bangles and Beads," Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons' "Sherry" and Van McCoy's "The Hustle." Even the cartoons shown during the show stuck to my innards, cartoons I can't remember seeing anywhere else: The Ruff and Reddy serial, with its dog and cat characters; Beany and his friend, Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent, who were always battling their arch-enemy, Dishonest John, who had that distinctive laugh -- Nyah-ah-ah."
It may sound hackneyed, but I can think of no better way to say it: Bozo really did represent a simpler, happier time, and not just for the children. Look at all the crud going on in the world as well as on television. The Bozo Show wasn't the slick, sophisticated fare we see today. But, boy, slickness and sophistication gets old, too.
I wanted to be on The Bozo Show, but for some reason I never pushed my already-beleaguered mother to get me on it. I must have sensed that getting on the show was a process ... namely, a waiting list on which young would-be guests were placed and which, according to online stories, got to be as many as five years long.
I've mentioned Bozo and The Bozo Show several times during nearly 30 years of writing this column. I boldly concluded back at the beginning of the '90s that the youth "had gone to the dogs ever since Bozo's Big Top stopped coming on television in the afternoons." I noted in 2004 how Bozo always complimented the children who addressed him as "sir" when he interviewed them on the air ... something at which I was surprised, because, having had the "address all adults as ma'am and sir" thing drummed into me, I assumed all children did it.
I was also surprised to find out years ago that the Bozo character was not specific to Arkansas, but a franchise. According to one online story, more than 200 TV stations ran a Bozo show at one time or another. When I started getting the Chicago station, WGN-TV, on cable, I watched some episodes of that city's Bozo the Clown. This Bozo seemed more sophisticated and slick ... not the Bozo I knew.
There are so many things about our Bozo that I'd forgotten. Jay Grelen wrote a Democrat-Gazette story in the summer of 2016 about Weir and his memories of his Bozo days, including the baseball games between Bozo's All Stars and the Arkansas Travelers. I'd forgotten about Bozo's All Stars as well as all the Bozo-brand foods and bank savings accounts.
As Bozo, Weir was no Art Linkletter. There was no prompting of the children to reveal parent-embarrassing things about themselves and their families. But the silly interview questions Bozo asked were the stuff of local legend:
"You're awful short to be so tall, aren't you?"
"How old are you now? How old were you then?"
"Do you walk to school, or carry your lunch?"
"How smart is your mom? One hundred or 45?
"What's your teacher's name?" When the child answered, Bozo would tell the child to look at the camera and instruct him to greet his teacher by another name.
Not only do I wish Weir could still be with us, I'd love to have seen him do Bozo for adults:
"Do you drive to work or take a two-hour lunch?"
"Do you confess how old you are now, or how old you were then?"
"What's your boss's name? Ms. Dudley? Look at the camera and say, 'Hello, Ms. Smithers! This is how I'm spending my lunch hour/sick leave/personal time!'"
"How smart is your spouse? One hundred or 45? Bet I know what you'd better answer!"
Rooty kazooty, wowie kazow. Old Bozo will always be among my best pals.
Rest in love, Mr. Weir.
Style on 10/15/2017