Bozo, Bozo, Wherefore Art Thou?

Occasionally I like to write about subjects that are not UNC oriented. Among the many hobbies I have, one is researching word and phrase origins. Several friends who work for a living and don't have the time to do the research provide me with new suggestions for research and some of them dutifully check back for the results. It's sort of like I am running a word and phrase research business and they are my clients. The internet is extremely useful in this exercise and enables me to accomplish far more in less time than I could have before I "hooked up" to the net.

Several days ago, one of my 'clients' asked if I knew the origin of the word and character "Bozo." I have heard the word all my life but I had no idea where it originated . So I sprung into action and this is what I found out.

The word Bozo has traditionally been used in circus circles as a generic name for clowns. A clown may have a stage name of his own but clowns, in general, are referred to as Bozos. Some say the word Bozo comes from the name Bozokowski, whoever that was, but this fact has never been substantiated.

In 1946 Allan Livingston of Capitol Records introduced a clown character called Bozo with a children's read along record entitled "Bozo at the Circus". The record and book were a tremendous success and it wasn't long before Bozo made his appearance on television in the Los Angeles area with a show similar to the later day Howdy Doody and Sesame Street shows. The show was aired at a time so as to to catch kids as they arrived home from school and were tremendously popular with both the younger and older sets. I'm sure the adults claimed they were just watching the shows because the kids had it on the TV like I used to claim while watching the Mickey Mouse Club, Superman and Sky King.

The Bozo shows grew into a national phenomenon when Bozo was "franchised" and, at its peak, there were 180 local Bozos on television in local markets. I have never, to my recollection, seen a Bozo TV show so I must not have been at home when it was aired or maybe the cities of Raleigh, Charlottesville, Va. Nashville, Tenn. and Durham were not included in the 180 mentioned above. If the local station had their own children's character like "Sailor Bob" or the one Paul Montgomery used to have in Raleigh (can't for the life of me remember the name of the show), maybe they would not have been interested in having a Bozo. Incidentally, Willard Scott was the Bozo for three years on a Washington D.C. station and he was the very first Ronald McDonald. Talking about educational content.

Bozo also existed in several foreign countries and may even still exist overseas even though the last Bozo show to run in the U.S. was this past August in Chicago, probably the most famous of the U.S. Bozo shows. It had been bumped from a daily program to a Sunday morning only show and finally the ratings sealed its fate. Plans are in the works for a new Bozo which would contain more educational material and would help the tv stations meet their FCC requirement for children's programming. I am told the Bozo shows had little educational value and a lot of pie throwing and general silliness that young children love. Or at least they used to. Maybe younger children now are more sophisticated than in days gone by and crave more mature material.

There is an urban myth about a situation that either actually occurred or was fabricated into a good story that supposedly took place on one of the shows in Chicago. A kid was given a chance to perform some physical feat like tossing ping pong balls into barrels and he would win a bunch of toys. When he failed, he is reputed to have said to Bozo on the air, "Cram it Clownie." You know how urban myths go. There are several versions of exactly what the kid said but one thing is for sure. The shows were live so its not inconceivable that this incident happened.

I mentioned earlier that the most popular Bozo show was in Chicago where, over the years, several persons performed as Bozo. At one time, reservations to attend the show were booked 15 years in advance until the station discontinued taking reservations. Later they reinstated the reservations procedure and within 5 hours they had booked the show for 10 years in advance from telephone calls alone.

Since I always try to tie my stories to UNC in some way, my best effort, in this case, is that Jim O'Brien, a Maryland basketball player several years ago was given the nickname "Bozo" by opposing fans. I think this was because of his red hair and a general desire on the part of partisan fans to harass any and all opposing players. He was a good player and the nickname didn't seem to affect his play. I have a friend who met him long after he graduated and he says he was a really nice guy. I'm glad he was nice because I think that would be in the Bozo tradition.

So there you have it. Between UNC, travelogues, Southernisms, Taps and Bozo, there is no telling what you are going to find on this site. Anything to keep it fresh. Heck, I may even resort to controversial topics in the future like college coaches' salaries, the UNC Athletic Department, etc. Got to be careful though because I don't want to alienate the wrong people since I am being allowed admittance to the Chancellor's box for the first time time at the Duke game. I have a friend whose UNC leaning son is in the 8th grade and he will be attending the game with me and his father. I want to show off UNC to the max. His brother is a freshman at UVA and when he was invited to the UNC game, his response was that if he attended UNC, he and his brother could argue about which was better, UNC or UVA. I think we've got something to work with here and based on his comment, he ain't no Bozo either.