Bozo's Circus
Debut: January 01, 1961
Ended: January 01, 1980

The Chicago Bozo franchise was the most popular and successful locally-produced children's program in the history of television. It also became the most widely-known Bozo show as WGN-TV became a national cable television Superstation in 1978. Chicago's Bozo debuted on June 20, 1960 starring Bob Bell on a live half-hour show, weekdays at noon, performing comedy sketches and introducing cartoons. It evolved into Bozo's Circus on September 11, 1961, as a live hour-long show with additional cast members, a 13-piece orchestra, circus acts, games and prizes before a 200+ member studio audience. Erstwhile WGN-TV children's show host Ned Locke of Lunchtime Little Theater and Paddleboat presided as "Ringmaster Ned." Although Bell had previously portrayed Bozo, the character did not appear on the September 11th telecast due to a budgeting error by producer Jim McGinn. Hal Taylor, an NCAA trampoline champion from the University of Wisconsin, performed and served as Locke's foil in comedy sketches. Bell returned as Bozo the next day. In the early months of the series, a respected English acrobatic clown, "Wimpey" (played by Bertram William Hiles) worked on the show, providing some legitimate circus background and performing opposite Bell's Bozo in comedy sketches. Hiles continued to make periodic guest appearances on the show into the mid-1960s. In October 1961, Don Sandburg joined the show as producer and principal sketch writer, and also appeared as the mute clown "Sandy", a character partly inspired by Harpo Marx. (He was announced by Locke at the start of each show as "Sandy the Tramp", although Sandburg himself preferred to be called "Sandy the Clown"). By November, another eventual Chicago television legend joined the show's cast, Ray Rayner, as "Oliver O. Oliver", a country bumpkin from Puff Bluff, Kentucky. Rayner was hosting WGN's Dick Tracy Show (which also premiered the same day as Bozo's Circus) and later replaced Dick Coughlan as host of Breakfast with Bugs Bunny, which was rechristened Ray Rayner and His Friends. WGN musical director Bob Trendler led the WGN Orchestra, dubbed the "Big Top Band." Games on the show included the "Grand Prize Game" created by Sandburg, whereby a boy and girl were selected from the studio audience by the Magic Arrows, and later the Bozoputer (a random number generator), to toss a ping-pong ball into a series of successively-numbered buckets until they missed. If they made the winning toss into the sixth bucket, they (and an "at-home player") received a cash prize, a bike and, in later years, a trip. It became so popular, Larry Harmon adapted it for other Bozo shows (as "Bozo Buckets" to some and "Bucket Bonanza" to others) and also licensed home and coin-operated versions. Over time, new characters were introduced to the cast. Some made a lasting impression while others were briefly tenured. In October 1968, Bell was hospitalized for a brain aneurysm and was absent from the show for several months. Meanwhile, Sandburg resolved to leave the show for the West Coast but stayed longer while Bell recuperated. To pick up the slack, WGN floor manager Richard Shiloh Lubbers appeared as "Monty Melvin", named after a schoolmate of Sandburg's, while WGN Garfield Goose and Friends and Ray Rayner and His Friends puppeteer Roy Brown created a new character, "Cooky the Cook." Magician Marshall Brodien, who had been making semi-regular guest appearances in which he frequently interacted with the clowns, also appeared as a wizard character in an Arabian Nights-inspired costume and by the early 1970s evolved into "Wizzo the Wizard." Sandburg left the show in January 1969 and Bell returned in March. Lubbers left as well with Brown staying on as a permanent cast member. Rayner left Bozo's Circus in 1971 and was briefly replaced by Pat Tobin as Oliver's cousin "Elrod T. Potter", and then by magician John Thompson (an acquaintance of Brown's and Brodien's) as "Clod Hopper." (Tobin previously had played Bozo on a local production on KSOO-TV in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.) Rayner periodically returned to guest host as himself in his morning show's jumpsuit as "Mr. Ray" when Ned Locke was absent. By 1973, WGN gave up on Thompson and increased Brodien's appearances as Wizzo. In 1975, Bob Trendler retired from television and his Big Top Band was reduced to a three-piece band led by Tom Fitzsimmons. Ned Locke also retired from television in 1976 and was replaced by Frazier Thomas, host of WGN's Family Classics and Garfield Goose and Friends, at which point Garfield Goose and Friends ended its 24-year run on Chicago television with the puppets moving to an abbreviated segment on Bozo's Circus. As the storyline went, Gar "bought" Bozo's Circus from the retiring Mr. Ned and appointed "Prime Minister" Thomas as the new Circus Manager. By 1980, Chicago's public schools stopped allowing students to go home for lunch and Ray Rayner announced his imminent departure from his morning show and Chicago television. Bozo�s Circus was renamed The Bozo Show and moved to weekdays at 8:00 a.m., on tape, immediately following Ray Rayner and His Friends. See the bozo show for more info.

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