Some people old enough to read this site grew up with Bozo the Clown. His show debuted in Los Angeles in 1959 and spawned a franchise of TV shows with different actors portraying Bozo in 30 different cities. It was broadcast via the nationally syndicated, Chicago-based super-station WGN until 2001. He also served as the inspiration for The Simpsons‘ Krusty the Clown. Bozo is old school.
Larry Harmon, who was the driving force behind Bozo, is the subject of biography The Man Behind the Nose: Assassins, Astronauts, Cannibals, and Other Stupendous Tales. As if creating a popular TV show and character beloved by millions wasn’t accomplishment enough, Harmon also ran for president, trained to be an astronaut and hung out with cannibals (see above). And he did it all in full costume and makeup, as Bozo the clown.
If you’re anything like us, you’ve got a few questions. We combed through the book to find out more about Bozo’s ridiculously awesome life.
Did Bozo Train to be an astronaut?
Kind of, but not exactly.
One of the cool things about Harmon was that he used his fame as Bozo to get access to pretty much anything he wanted. Then he’d make videos to teach kids about it.
So, when he wanted to train as an astronaut, all he really had to do was make a few phone calls. Eventually he’d reach a bureaucrat who had fond memories of watching Bozo as a kid. This is how Bozo got in with the space program.
While Bozo never did get to go into space, he was able to enjoy — if that’s the right word — the opportunity to fly (eight times!) in the “Vomit Comet,” the astronaut-training plane that simulated zero-gravity situations.
Was President Bozo going to sell us out to the communists?
Someone sure thought so.
When Harmon, who campaigned as Bozo in all 50 states during the 1984 election (to encourage voter turnout), was in Dallas, he gave a radio interview during which he pledged, as his first act in office, to go to Russia, meet its leaders and hold their grandchildren. He believed that by reaching the Soviets’ hearts via their grandkids, we could build a safer, more peaceful world.
That evening, just before he was scheduled to make an appearance as Bozo, Harmon received a phone call that said — no joke — “Sooner or later, clown, you gotta leave your room. And when you do, I’m waiting. I’m gonna kill you.”
At the event, police arrested a woman with a gun in her purse. She insisted that she had to kill Bozo to keep him from capitulating to the Russians.
Would Bozo survive among cannibals?
Would he ever!
Harmon’s belief that Bozo would reach the grandchildren of the Soviet leadership was rooted in a success he scored in the early ’60s during a trip to Australia and its surroundings. People around the world loved Bozo, and he was convinced that the clown could warm the hearts of even the famed cannibal tribes of Papua New Guinea. So, he hired an Australian pilot to fly him to a remote beach on the island and drop him off with a two-man camera crew.
“You ain’t coming out of them jungles, mate. Your head’ll be on a stick before nightfall,” were the pilot’s last words to Harmon.
But, he severely underestimated Bozo’s appeal.
Neil Strauss, whose publishing imprint, Igniter, is responsible for the book, says that, when he first heard the stories, he assumed Harmon was embellishing. The man, however, had photographic proof. “Sure enough,” says Strauss, “there was Bozo in full clown makeup in New Guinea with a tribe of cannibals.”
Was Bozo a clown as a young child?
No, but he was a little bit of a con artist.
Even before discovering his calling as a clown, Harmon’s story is pretty interesting. As a child in the ’30s, he ran a number of small cons.
As a 6-year-old obsessed with entertainer Al Jolson, he had a friend run interference so he could sneak into a movie theater for a new release. As a young teen determined to become a drum major, he faked his way into a job at a dry cleaners so he could afford to attend band camp. He even told his supervisor that the owner thought she was “the best thing to happen to dry cleaning since steam!” in order to garner some extra training.
The cons were pretty innocent (he even saved his money so he could pay the theater back for the ticket a few weeks later), but the meaning’s clear: Harmon, whether he was Bozo or not, wanted to make sure that life was always as fun as possible.
Pity the kids who grow up with The Wiggles. We’re pretty sure the cannibals would eat those things without a second thought.