MILWAUKEE, WI – There are no hand buzzers, trick flowers orballoon animals in this clown story. The issue is who created Bozothe Clown and the dispute is wiping the smile off some clowns’faces.
For years, promoter and entertainer Larry Harmon claimed to havecreated the character, and said he was the original.
Now the International Clown Hall of Fame in downtown Milwaukeeis formally endorsing a different version: Capitol Recordsexecutive Alan Livingston created Bozo for recordings in 1946, andthe late Vance “Pinto” Colvig was the first person to play theclown.
On Friday, the hall is posthumously inducting the Jacksonville,Ore., native as the first Bozo.
That reverses the hall’s “Lifetime of Laughter Award” given toHarmon in 1990 as Bozo’s creator. The hall has since taken Harmon’splaque off its honor wall.
Kathryn O’Dell, the hall’s executive director, said the hall wasduped to believe Harmon created Bozo and didn’t find out the truthuntil ABCnews.com columnist and entertainment producer Buck Wolfreported Harmon was wrongly laying claim to the character.
“It was something that was hinted at and hinted at and westarted to do research and sure enough the information we weregetting from outside sources was true,” O’Dell said.
While Harmon popularized the character since the 1950s,Livingston and Colvig were first to develop it, she said.
“He (Harmon) is the one who made Bozo as popular as he istoday,” O’Dell said, “but why take credit for something you didn’tdo?”
Colvig’s voice was used in the first recordings and he wrotesome of Bozo’s first songs, made the first live appearances and wasthe first Bozo on television, on a Los Angeles station.
Capitol Records Inc. sold all the rights, except the masters forthe previous records, to Bozo the Capitol Clown in the mid 1950s toHarmon, who a few years earlier had answered a Capitol casting callto be a Bozo.
Harmon ended up training more than 200 Bozos over the years andturning Bozo into a character for 156 cartoons that he sold in theUnited States and around the world.
Harmon, 79, said from his home in Los Angeles that he’s saddenedto have the hall remove his plaque and he denied misrepresentingBozo’s history.
“Isn’t it a shame the credit that was given to me for the work Ihave done they arbitrarily take it down, like I didn’t do anythingfor the last 52 years,” he said.
He said he has always acknowledged that Livingston created BozoThe Capitol Clown. But he said he created Bozo’s personality andimage today as Bozo The World’s Most Famous Clown.
“What I created for the world was me and my image, what I soundlike, what I look like, what I walk like, what the costume lookedlike, with my animation studio,” he said.
Harmon said whenever he has said he was the original Bozo orthat he created Bozo, it was always referring to what he did to thecharacter, both in animation and live action. “I am the original ofwhat I did,” he said.
Bozo The Capitol Clown had red mop hair and spoke with a drawl.Harmon’s Bozo had bright orange-red yak hair and spoke faster andmade up an entirely new vocabulary, like “wowie-kazowie.” The laughwas also different.
As for the dispute over Bozo’s creation, “I think the media sawa little spark and put a match to it and lit a fire,” he said,adding that a reporter along the way could have made an honestmistake that was blown out of proportion.
But O’Dell said she doesn’t think all the journalists whoreported about Harmon’s claims were mistaken, and that Harmon ischanging his story.
Livingston, 86, said from his Beverly Hills home that Harmonlied over and over, and he’s pleased the truth finally cameout.
“I never interfered because I was off to bigger things at leastin my opinion. I just let it go. I was the one who should havecomplained I suppose but I just didn’t care,” he said.
Pinto Colvig, who was also the original voice for Disney’sGoofy, died in 1967 of lung cancer and has never been honored forbeing Bozo.
Colvig’s grandson, Vance Colvig III, 57, of Los Angeles, said hewas delighted his grandfather was being recognized.
“Being that all of his sons are now dead, I’m really kind ofmore thrilled for them if they were to be around,” he said. Hisfather and grandfather were Bozos for two competing Los Angeles TVstations at one time.
He said his father, who worked for Harmon as a clown at a localtelevision station in Los Angeles, knew Harmon was claiming to bethe original Bozo. But he said his father wouldn’t speak up becausehe was afraid of the possible legal repercussions with hiscontract.
“It was a really sore point with my father,” he said.
The controversy never made huge headlines, said Ron Simon,curator of television at the Museum of Television and Radio.
“It’s very much inside television history,” Simon said, addingthat there are many similar controversies in the history of TV.
He said who Bozo is today resulted from a group effort ofLivingston, Colvig, Harmon and a host of clowns across thecountry.
“Bozo is sort of an embodiment of a certain type of clown,” hesaid. “The word has almost become a generic word in itself. It’staken on a life of its own and it’s become part of theculture.”