No Bozo: Larry Harmon 1925-2008

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Larry Harmon, the actor and animation producer who acquired the rights to Bozo the Clown and turned him into a long running TV franchise and cash cow, died yesterday of congestive heart failure. He was 83.

Harmon purchased the licensing rights to the Bozo character, created by Alan Livingston and first portrayed by Pinto Colvig, from Capitol Records in 1956. In 1958, Harmon produced several Bozo TV cartoons. He later acquired the animation rights to Laurel and Hardy and produced a series of Laurel and Hardy cartoons through Hanna Barbera in 1966. Harmon also produced several Popeye cartoons for King Features in 1960.

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  • Gary Pearson

    I have fond memories of watching Bozo The Clown on Canadian station CKLW TV, Channel 9 in Windsor, years before it became a CBC owned channel. In those days they pretty much pretended the station was in Detroit, where they aimed their signal and scored their ad revenue. I enjoyed the combination of live audience interaction, magic, and songs mixed with the presentation of a Bozo cartoon. When we got a bigger aerial for our house we could suddenly get some stations in Cleveland and there was Bozo again…but was a different guy in a similar but different studio set. That was strange for me as a kid. It is like Harmon discovered franchising long before we saw McDonalds everywhere.

    I think if I were to see the show today I wouldn’t much like it, but I do miss those local shows with real live hosts that have a cartoon element. When I was a kid Bozo was just one of many such local shows. The Windsor station also had Poopdeck Paul who showed Popeye cartoons from his set styled to look like a ship and a Detroit station presented scary movies on Saturday Afternoons with a Dracula type character named Sir Graves Ghastly. In Toronto the favourite was Buffalo’s Rocket Ship 7 with a futuristic space ship setting consisting of maybe two flats with some plastic buttons glued on them. I think Paul Ruebens must have enjoyed those type of shows as a kid too as his Pee Wee’s Playhouse was a wonderful homage to the genre. Also SCTV sent them up beautifully with Joe Flaherty’s Count Floyd and his Monster Chiller Horror Theatre.

    Some years ago I got to meet Robert McNee, who was Channel 9′s Bozo. He told me that in the early 60′s there were only 5 Bozos in major markets, but by the 1970′s there were dozens of them and for him it had become ridiculous and devalued. He would go to public appearances and some kids who knew the Cleveland Bozo would be confused that he wasn’t that guy. He got out and became Oopsy The Clown and continued to have a successful kids show in the Detroit/Windsor area and then later at a station in Kitchener Ontario

    I may not specifically miss Bozo, but I do miss that genre and I wonder if one wouldn’t work again.

  • http://comicrazys.wordpress.com/ ComiCrazys

    Wow, I still have fond memories of watching Bozo on TV. Too bad that kind of innocent children’s television is lost today.

    In memorium, I quickly scanned and posted the Bozo Finds A Friend, Little Golden Book from 1962, illustrated by Hawley Pratt and Al White.

    http://comicrazys.wordpress.com

  • http://www.myspace.com/brandontoons Brandon

    “Cram it, Bozo.”

  • Willard Scott

    Mr. Harmon was also a tad litigious and would sue anyone who dropped the name “Bozo” in commercial media without his first vetting its use. Unless he left a watchful legal executor in place, look for the word
    “Bozo” to become as generic a part of the English language as ‘kleenex’, as it should have long ago.

  • Paul J. Mular

    Larry’s negotiations with Stan Laurel for the Laurel & Hardy cartoon series also included a clause that gave Larry all rights to the likeness of the Laurel & Hardy characters forever! Stan had not realized this until it was too late, Stan & Ollie’s families would make NO profit from any marketing of Laurel & Hardy’s images. Larry even tried to creat a “New Laurel & Hardy” movie series using actors impersonating the boys. Larry was well hated among Laurel & Hardy fans, and don’t mention his name to any of Stan or Ollie’s families.

  • http://www.autodaddy.blogspot.com tom

    My brother was a big fan as a kid, and in his adulthood came up with this great game for people who travel from one office to another in their work:

    When arriving at a strange, new office, smile at the receptionist and in a hushed, conspiratorial voice, ask “Where’s Bozo?” Odds are in favor of them softly answering with something to the effect of “He’s with a client”, or “He’ll be expecting you”, etc.

    That’s the kind of everyday fun Larry Harmon inspired. Rest in peace, Mr. Bozo. Thanks for everything.

    And Willard, your attitude about trademark infringement baffles me. Bozo was a character the man created for childrens’ entertainment. Why on earth shouldn’t he own the right to control its use by others?

  • red pill junkie

    In Mexico there was a “Bozo” clown with exactly the same costume, but then I guess was sued by this fellow, because He was never seen on TV again.

  • http://portapuppets.does.it uncle wayne

    i had the (extreme) honor & pleasure of meeting him at a (New Orleans) NAPTE convention 20 years ago!! I was very in awe. (And I adored the cartoons!)

  • Ken Layton

    Larry Harmon was one of those guys you either loved or hated, sort of the Woody Allen of animation. Sure I liked him for the Bozo cartoons I watched as a kid. But I hated him for what he did to the estate of Laurel & Hardy. The heirs get nothing from their famous relatives.

  • Mike Kazaleh

    Tom: As Jerry Beck said in his original post, Alan Livingston created Bozo for Capital records. Harmon aquired the rights. After about 1960, Harmon began to claim Bozo’s creation.

    Harmon would not just sue over the use of Bozo the Clown, he’d sue anybody for using the word “Bozo” in any context.

  • Mike Kazaleh

    Gary Pearson: You brought back a lot of memories. I’m from Dertoit too. Remember the other show that CKLW used to run with Bozo’s Big Top? “Magic Shoppe” with “Mr. Houdini.” Mr. Houdini’s real name was Larry Thompson. He appearently didn’t make enough money on TV because he moonlighted as a driving instructor. This I remember, because a lot of the mom’s in my neighborhood did not know how to drive a car. My mom and a few of the other moms decided to learn, and Larry was their instructor. (When I told my mother that it took a magician to teach her how to drive, she was not amused. I’m sorry, mom.)

  • http://www.itsthecat.com Mark Kausler

    Of course, the character of Bozo was actually the brainchild of Alan Livingston, the Capitol records producer. Bozo was the biggest star of children’s records in 1946, and one of the first characters created specifically for that medium. He introduced the concept of the “record reader”, which made kids want to learn to read so that they could follow the script along with the records and turn the pages BEFORE Bozo asked you to. Pinto Colvig created the voice and original personality of the clown. Bozo was originally a very warm and kindly character, who had Pinto’s trademark yuk-yuk laugh. Bozo spent most of the records introducing eccentric bird, animal and human characters voiced by Stan Freberg, June Foray, Billy Bletcher and other actors who also worked in animated cartoons. Bozo was always bemused by their quirks, and was most often sympathetic, never derisive. Larry Harmon’s Bozo copied the LOOK of Livingston and Colvig’s, but missed the character. Harmon’s Bozo was hyperactive and annoying, the laugh became a broad and crude imitation of Colvig’s. The cartoons Harmon made with Bozo were a complete waste of time. The live Bozos were always towering over the children they were supposed to entertain and throwing pies and squirting seltzer ala Clarabelle the clown. Often they were scary, not friendly. I prefer to remember the Bozo of the 78rpm record era, he was the friendly clown that the whole family loved. The original colorful paintings of Bozo in the “record-readers” were designed by Norm McCabe.

  • Rose

    I remember the Bozo shows of Providence, R.I., Boston, M.A. and Chicago, IL. All these men and their programing, had their vertues.

    As a child I watched the broadcasts that originated in New England and loved them. (Chicago’s viewing came a bit later in my life.) I remember wanting a color telivision just to see (what I was told) was Bozo’s red hair.

    I never liked the Bozo cartoons-despite a strong fondness of anything animated.

    …but I loved the charactor of Bozo and the men I witnessed playing him.

    Larry Harmon may have taken too much credit for Bozo’s legacy. (So much of it oweing to those who portrayed the clown in various outlets)

    …but he deserves thanks for mechanizing the sharing of joy that was Bozo. For bring us that type of joy.

    My sympathy goes to his family and friends in this time of loss.

  • Jason

    Wow, that really pisses me off about Larry’s exploitation of Laurel and Hardy. If that still holds, and there are still living heirs, it should be taken to court again. Shades of Siegel and Shuster!

  • Bill

    Mike & Willard are right. Harmon was a lawsuit machine!

    He even brought suit against the makers of “Killer Klowns From Outer Space” Because he thought the clowns resembled Bozo.

    They didn’t. Bozo was scarier.

  • philippe

    I haven’t seen much Bozo live shows and i have only seen scarce Bozo early limited animation material, but i did meet Larry Harmon five years ago and he was a real treat to interview. He was on the verge of securing rights with Hergé’s Tintin property back in 1959.

    I have very found memory of this man.

  • http://www.shawcartoons.com Scott Shaw!

    I won’t say anything bad about Larry Harmon, but he was certainly a “character”, even by Hollywood standards. I never met the man, but I knew a few who had worked for him over the years, and…well, like I said, he was quite a character, even out of greasepaint.

    For about ten years or so, back in the 1980s and 90s, Larry Harmon would place an ad in tbe industry trade magazines, usually a special “all-animation” issue. And every year, he would feature yet another weird “Bozo The Clown” cartoon concept. I remember “Mr. And Mrs. Bozo”, “Bozo Babies” and “Bozo And The Mini-Clowns”, among others. Whatever the trend, Larry Harmon was there, albeit a few years too late. Every one was hilarious in an utterly unintentional way; it was as though Larry was buying his concepts at Pic ‘N’ Save.

    But by far the Oddest of these was “00B Bozo”, with an illustration of a James Bondish Bozo The Clown dressed in a tuxedo, waterskiing on giant clown shoes while being chased by some sort of semi-morphous demon with huge breasts! I dunno what the show’s bible described, but that image alone was remarkably memorable!

    When the “00B Bozo” ad was published in the trades, I saw it pinned up all over Hanna-Barbera and other studios. Everyone thought that this was Larry Harmon’s wackiest concept ever. Needless to say, he never did re-launch new Bozo cartoons (the original series was, to be kind, less than overwhelming…less than whelming, even). But, in its own small way, “00B Bozo” achieved a small immortality, at least in some Hollywood minds…like mine!

  • Hulk

    Last year at Comic-Con Robert Smigel showed some un-aired pilots he had created. One of them was “Flozo the Clown” a spoof featuring Smigel himself as a drunken Bozo Imitator making odd, cruel , and quasi-racist jokes in front of an audience of real children and their mothers. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Does Jerry or anyone else on here know where I could find this on line? I haven’t been able to.

  • http://ofcourseyouknowthismeanswar.blogspot.com/ B.B. Bunee

    I remember the Bozo show from childhood.

    The cartoons were close to unwatchable and the live-action Bozo host himself had the charisma of an air raid siren.

    As for the Laurel and Hardy cartoons, they too were terrible and they did nothing but diminish the legacy of the classic comedy team.

    One of the greatest showbiz atrocities is that Larry Harmon used his ownership of that terrible L&H cartoon show to hijack the likenesses of arguably the greatest comedy team of all time. There oughta be a law.

    Mr. Harmon and his ilk should never be allowed to steal the intellectual property and valuable likenesses of talented celebrities.

  • Randy

    The locally-produced “Bozo’s Big Top” that aired where I grew up was quite successful, running for some twenty years and coming to an end only when the actor who owned the local franchise had a falling out with Mr. Harmon. Our Bozo show featured lots of cartoons, which is why I watched it. A Bozo cartoon–I never liked those–always led off the show, but after that things improved considerably, with both pre- and post-48 Warner Bros. cartoons, the Popeye theatricals, and Harveytoons being the core of their animation library. At various times, the MGM pre-48s (no Tom and Jerry) were featured on the show, as were Beanie and Cecil, Ruff and Reddy, the (yuck) made-for-TV Mister Magoos, and–toward the end of the show’s long run–Terrytoons.

    My cousin, who grew up watching Chicago’s Bozo on WGN, always considered our Bozo a poor imitation of what he thought was “the real thing,” but honestly, I always preferred our Bozo show to his. Our Bozo didn’t do silly comedy sketches or throw pies. Just regular short educational segments, usually with the clown talking to someone from a local museum or the zoo. There was little interaction with the kids in the “peanut gallery,” aside from an occasional low-key game. Just lots and lots o’ cartoons. What else could one ask for from a clown?

  • John A. Snider

    Imagine a concept so awful that Hanna-Barbera actually looked down on it. Larry Harmon set some kind of record with his “00B Bozo” art.

  • http://portapuppets.does.it uncle wayne

    Yeah! (We) L&H die-hards can never get thru even seconds of those God-awful L&H “cartoons!” Makes the 60s Popeyes look like Pinocchio!

  • http://www.detroitkidshow.com Ed Golick

    Mike Kazaleh,
    Larry Thompson was a science teacher for the Livonia school district. He now owns a company that produces programs for school assemblies.
    I invite you, Gary Pearson and anybody else who grew up in Detroit to check out my tribute to Detroit TV kids shows.
    http://www.detroitkidshow.com

  • http://www.perennialpictures.com G. Brian Reynolds

    To comment on Gary Pearson’s wondering whether it might all work again, I was there at the end of the whole local children’s show personality genre, and what killed it was television self-regulation before the goverment could step in and do it. I worked at WTTV Channel 4 in Indianapolis in the 1970′s and we had several successful local personality shows – the longest lived ones being Janie (who’s show I wrote and produced) Cowboy Bob.

    Local kids personalities sold products in between cartoons. Companies like Burger Chef and Pepsi depended on these local celebrities to basically endorse their products. That’s what paid the bills. These personalities could then go out and do personal appearances at the sponsor’s stores or whatever and bring people in.

    Just about the time I started on Janie, they said we couldn’t do live commericals in the wraps between cartoons featuring the star of the show. A specially made puppet could do them, or someone else, but not the star. The most the star could do was introduce the commercial. “And now, here’s another incrediburgable adventure of Burger Chef and Jeff.” Then, they couldn’t even do that anymore. Total separation of “church and state.” I can’t remember if they could do commercials in each others shows or not, but I don’t think so.

    Now, these live or taped wraps weren’t really expensive to do, and none of the local personalities made a lot of money (most of it came from personal appearances) but once they weren’t able to sell the sponsors product on the air anymore, the stations thought it cost too much to continue – especially when nearly the same ratings could be had by just running the cartoons. Then, the price of the cartoons started going up and up and up, until no one could afford them anymore, and the local kid show died.

    Channel 4 lasted longer than most. Both Janie and Cowboy Bob were taken off the air in the mid 1980′s. And with them went any semblance of personality the station had. It is a shame it’s gone. Great era and great experience to be a part of. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to see your favorite star and not have to travel to New York or Los Angeles to do it.

  • Steve Gattuso

    My favorite moment on the show:

    “That’s a Bozo No-No!”

    “Awwwwww, f___ off, clown.”

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    Re:
    –One of them was “Flozo the Clown” a spoof featuring Smigel himself as a drunken Bozo Imitator making odd, cruel , and quasi-racist jokes in front of an audience of real children and their mothers.–

    Wasn’t there a thwarted plan for a live-action CRUSTY THE CLOWN show along those same lines?

  • Jason

    Yeah, there was a local show in my home town too – not one starring Bozo, but Corky the Clown, played by the station’s meterologist. He was a great guy. It’s too bad local kids shows are no longer possible – thanks to cranks like Peggy Charron, that self-appointed guardian of children’s shows. God she bugs me. I remember that she raised hell of the idea of cartoons based on Cheesasaurus Rex and Chester Cheetah, because they’re mascots for food products. So what? One of the funniest cartoons from my childhood was “Linus the Lionhearted”, based on the cereal box character, and that show had such luminaries as Carl Reiner and Sheldon Leonard behind it. It was pretty funny. Funnier than those lame preachy puppets on Sesame Street parents feel obliged to shove down their kids’ throats IMO.

  • http://fieldofcandidates.blogspot.com/ Bill Field

    Mr. Scott, you always seem the exact opposite as Mr. Harmon’s reputation, you are responsible for creating a much more famous Clown than Bozo…Ronald McDonald! And you were not compensated justly, but you never complained, you just kept making folks happy- in every situation– even when they turn 100! Thanks Willard Scott, for all the joy you’ve brought the world over with Ronald McD– who is certainly NOT a Bozo!

  • http://classicshowbiz.blogspot.com Kliph

    I like the cartoons.

    And I love the No Bozos Allowed pic that is being used to mark his death.

    The live action Bozo is a pain, I’d much prefer to watch Harmon’s TV cartoons.

  • Mike Kazaleh

    Ed Golick:

    Very cool site! Thanks for the link!

  • Stewart

    Jason, I also recall “Corky’s Colorama” in St. Louis on KSD Channel 5 in the 1960′s. Clif St. James may still be alive, though retired. He was a great local host whose personality shone through every broadcast.

  • Daniel J. Drazen

    Nowadays, I wonder if the Bozo cartoons would let him have his prepubescent sidekick, Butchy-Boy?

    Couple that with the children’s record “Bozo’s Pocket Rocket” and …

    Lost innocence, indeed.

  • Gary Pearson

    Just to be clear, while I grew up watching Detroit and Windsor television, I lived on the Canadian side of the border and proudly do to this day.

    As far as the local children’s celebrities shilling products, I’m sure I saw plenty of that and don’t mind that it was regulated away. My point is that instead of endless bland adventure cartoons with no human presentation, I miss the world where a local station, or even a network for that matter, would have a little world we could visit with a variety of characters and puppets telling stories and setting up great cartoons like Popeye and Bugs Bunny. Now it seems whenever a network wants to have a human face, they hire an 18 year old who looks 14 so the kids can relate to their coolness. All the hosts I watched were mature professionals who were interesting characters.

    Bozo may not have been great, but the passing of Harmon made me think back to those type of shows and wish they still had a place on TV. Another legend in Detroit who got some greater notoriety was Soupy Sales, whose show was much like the later and admittedly more wonderfully twisted Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

  • Jon Forrest

    For the record, I invented the “No Bozos” image and caption in the early 80s. The people I worked with signed a deal with Larry Harmon, who made much more money from “No Bozos” than I ever did.

    Jon Forrest