Being called a “Bozo” isn’t normally a good thing. Unless, of course, you help popularize the term and endow it with an enduring comic cachet.
So it was for Larry Harmon, a Toledo native who bought the rights to Bozo the Clown in the late 1940s and turned his alter ego into a worldwide phenomenon.
Harmon spent his early years on Brentwood Avenue in Toledo’s Old West End and attended Fulton Elementary school. His family moved to Cleveland in 1933 when he was 11, where, as a teenage drummer, he created a clown character to entertain audiences during intermission. When he moved to the West Coast in 1949 he took his clown persona with him. There he encountered writer-producer Alan W. Livingston, who had created Bozo for a series of children’s records in 1946.
Bozo was simply a regional character at that point. Once Harmon bought the rights, he set out to make Bozo a national icon.
The first live Bozo TV show aired on Jan. 5, 1959, in Los Angeles. Over the next 30 years 100 million children in 183 American cities would watch daily episodes of the celebrated clown – not through syndication, initially, but licensing. Harmon would personally train more than 200 new Bozos, most of whom would host their own Bozo Show in their home city.
Eventually, Harmon’s L.A. studio produced an animated version of Bozo which would been seen in 40 countries.
After 30 years Harmon retired from performing as Bozo, but not before visiting his alma mater Fulton Elementary in 1984. In The Blade archive photo above by Luke Black, he regales Fulton students with tales of his birth at St. Vincent’s Hospital and his early childhood in Toledo.
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