Hello, everyone. Today I will be writing my fond memories of Bozo’s Circus that first aired on September 11, 1961, on WGN-TV Channel 9 in Chicago. The local show was endearingly remembered by young children and for all countless ages. It aired in the Chicagoland metropolitan area for forty successful years. I will also write the history of the show and how it came to be.
WGN-TV’s first incarnation of Bozo’s Circus was a live half-hour cartoon showcase titled Bozo. Hosted the show was a man named Bob Bell. He was a character actor and staff announcer at WGN-TV. He performed comedy bits between cartoons, weekdays at noon for six-and-a-half months beginning on June 20, 1960. The show took a brief hiatus because WGN-TV moved from The Chicago Tribune Tower to a new facility at 2501 W Bradley St in the North Side of Chicago.
When the first show aired, the Bozo character did not appear. A management snafu occurred. He ultimately appeared in the second episode, and the rest is history. I thought it was kind of odd when I heard about this. Interesting. The live show hosted by Ned Locke was Ringmaster Ned. The show had a 13-piece orchestra, led by Bob Trendler and his Big Top Band, comedy sketches, circus acts, cartoons, games, and prizes before a 200+ member studio audience. Others in the cast were Don Sandburg as Sandy The Tramp, Ray Rayner as Oliver O Oliver, Roy Brown as Cooky The Cook, and Marshall Brodien as Wizzo The Wizard. Golly The Gorilla appeared in some sketches. Others in the show briefly were, Wimpey played by Bertram William Hiles, Pat Tobin as Oliver’s cousin Elrod T. Potter and magician John Thompson as Clod Hopper.
One of my favorite memories of Bozo’s Circus was when Ringmaster Ned blew his whistle and announced, “Bozo’s Circus is on the air!” He then subsequently introduced the cast, and then he said at the end, “A cast of thousands!” Bozo, Oliver, Cooky, and the others performed in comedy sketches. Some were hilarious, and most of the time involved pies and seltzer water. Later in the show, Ringmaster Ned would introduce The Grand Prize Game. He would say that and, the camera would zoom to him on those three words. The idea of the game came from Don Sandburg. It consisted of six buckets numbered with a ping pong ball.
One boy and one girl are selected in the audience, by the Magic Arrows and, The Big Top Band performed the music. They would sometimes land on an adult or one of the cast members. That was very entertaining. The boy and the girl are then carefully selected for the game and, Ringmaster Ned would ask them their names and ages. Ned would hand over a silver dollar to the boy and ask him to drop it in Bucket Number 6. That bucket would accumulate for weeks, sometimes for months for someone to throw the ball at the last bucket. The grand prize was a Schwinn bicycle. The girl would go first to play and then the boy. When they drop the ball in each bucket, they win a prize. The clowns would show what they won to the children, the audience, and the television viewers. That was a lot of fun to watch. They also had the would have The Bozo Drum. Postcards were sent there from children, with their names and addresses. When chosen, they have granted the same prizes the boy and the girl won on the show. When the boy or girl misses the bucket, the band will play a sad melody. Then the clowns give them the prizes and, they go back to their seats.
The circus acts were very entertaining. Magicians, acrobats, and people with dogs performed on the show frequently. The animated series: Bozo, The World’s Most Famous Clown aired weekly. Before the cartoon, Ringmaster Ned would say, “Give me a loud answer to this question, who’s your favorite clown?!” The audience would scream, “Bozo!” Then Bozo would say, “Hey, that’s me”! Then Bozo would be laughing and, the cartoon would begin. Later on, the show would have contests. The kids would be in teams and play a game. The winners from the team would win prizes. At the end of the program, Ringmaster Ned would say goodbye to the audience and the television viewers, and Bozo would lead The Grand March! The audience would receive a Bozo button as they leave the studio.
My earliest memory of Bozo’s Circus was when my family lived in the South Shore neighborhood in the late 1960s. I was four years old and knew what time and what channel Bozo’s Circus was on. A friend of my mother came by to visit our apartment for lunch. She next asked my mother if she could watch her favorite soap opera, As The World Turns, on our TV. While she was watching the soap opera, I raced over to the TV, saying, “Bozo!” “Bozo!” I changed the channel to Channel 9 and watched the show. My mother’s friend was angry and amazed at the same time. At the age of four, I knew what time and channel Bozo’s Circus was on.
As I got older, I still watched Bozo’s Circus in the 1970s. It was still on every day at noon. I watched it during my summer vacations when I was at school. The waiting time for receiving tickets for the show was an eight to ten-year wait. During the 1960s and 1970s, children ran to their homes from school at lunchtime and would watch the show. The noon time slot ended in 1980.
On August 11, 1980, Bozo’s Circus became The Bozo Show and moved to weekdays at 8:00 a.m., on tape, immediately following Ray Rayner and His Friends. On January 26, 1981, The Bozo Show replaced Ray Rayner and His Friends at 7:00 a.m. The program expanded to 90 minutes. No longer featured on the show were the circus acts and the puppets from Garfield Goose and Friends. The program added Cuddly Dudley and more cartoons.
Ned Locke retired in 1976, and Frazier Thomas from Garfield Goose and Friends replaced him as the Circus Manager. Frazier Thomas died unexpectedly in 1985. Bob Bell as Bozo retired in 1984. I was sad when Bob Bell left the show. Joey D’Auria took over the role of Bozo in the same year. New characters promptly joined the program. They were Professor Andy, Spiffy, Rusty, Peppy, and Tunia. The show moved to Sunday mornings and was called The Bozo Super Sunday Show on September 11, 1994.
The show went off the air on July 14, 2001, and I created a video called The 60th anniversary of Bozo’s Circus. You can watch it on my YouTube channel. I recorded some episodes on my podcast Vanished Chicagoland Stories. I talked about my memories of watching the show while I was growing up. I hope you enjoy my story on my blog. The fond memories of Bozo’s Circus will undoubtedly remain with me for the rest of my life. Thank you. Pete Kastanes. Admin for Vanished Chicagoland Facebook Page.