Bozo’s studio is full of barbecue grills, like five of them.
They’re tucked behind a powdery blue curtain, up against a yellow wall painted with trapeze rigs and a faint stab at a trompe l’oeil big top. A few of them are big, round coal-operated bad boys, a few others those boxy propane dealies. Someone’s probably picking them up soon, the WGN producer said, but for now that’s as good a place as any to toss them.
That’s because the studio of dreams — the studio kids across the Midwest ogled through TV screens dreaming of a shot at laughing with a clown, doing tricks with a wizard and, oh by the stones of Zanzibar, getting to play the Grand Prize Game — is now a WGN storage space.
That’s not to say the legacy of Bozo the Clown, a kids show that ran from the 1960s to the early 2000s, is lost on WGN. They idolize their clowny past. The hallways have little clowns shrines to the show, bits of memorabilia from past tapings preserved behind illuminated glass. On one strip of hallway, a taped-up sheet of paper warns crew not to leave anything blocking a brass plaque honoring Bozo, Garfield Goose and other bits of WGN’s kid show heritage.
The culprit is those powdery blue curtains, the producer told me. They are — and I can attest to this — ugly. “Faded old clown gear” is not a good color scheme for a working television studio.
So until they opt for the remodel, Studio One remains a shrine to Bozo and barbecue grills.
Bozo was a franchised character in the days before cable TV could take kids shows across a nation and when the big networks considered daytime kids shows beneath their dignity. Local stations would buy the rights to Bozo’s image, then put on their own Bozo show using local actors.
There have been more than 200 Bozos around the planet, including clowns in Thailand, Greece and Australia, according to early Bozo and aggressive clown marketer Larry Harmon.
WGN’s Bozo, Bob Bell, was one of the more famous Bozos, going national in 1978, although by the time I got around to glaring enviously at the kids who got picked for Bozo Buckets, a man named Joey D’Auria was WGN’s clown of record.
But now I’m just summarizing the “Bozo the Clown” Wikipedia page. Let’s talk about what it felt like to go in Bozo’s dressing room.
That was the first place the producer took me after I mentioned being geeked about all the Bozo stuff on the walls. It’s a small room lined on one side with multicolored lockers, the other with a table and mirror surrounded with light bulbs. The walls are industrial cinder block painted yellow.
I’ll post some pictures to the site’s Facebook page in a bit. [Edit: Here you go!]
Next to the table is a small bathroom, so I now have a photo of Bozo the Clown’s personal toilet.
I’m not posting that one to the Facebook page.
A Bozo lamp, clown memorabilia in that way that was delightful in the decade it was made but seems creepy since Stephen King’s “It” debuted, sat atop the lockers, as did a statue of Bozo made of plastic triangles that snapped together, a kids toy company’s failed bid to compete with Lego in the 1990s.
Between them was a large chest that said DO NOT MOVE.
The walls had other bits and baubles, a sign from a live Bozo taping at Disneyland and the like, but what caught my eye was printed on copier paper and taped to the wall using Scotch.
It was a picture some WGN staffer had taped up of Bozo getting dressed. Full clown make-up, a V-neck T-shirt and long loose slacks.
Bozo in a T-shirt and slacks.
I’ve long known our childhood heroes are people, that Bozo didn’t go home to Mrs. The Clown in full regalia each night, carpooling down the Dan Ryan with 30 to 40 of his clown friends in a tiny, tiny Mitsubishi.
But it’s nice to see that someone else, that some random WGN staffer from the years, had been as charmed by the concept of clown-as-man as I was.
I liked that someone printed off and taped up a picture of Bozo the Clown just being a guy.