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Bozo’s entertainment reaches much further than TV

Kimberly Nicoletti
summit daily news

Bozo the Clown was so popular, people had to sign up for a 10-year waiting list to get tickets to “The Bozo Show.” More than 200 million viewers across the globe tuned in to watch the friendly clown, who wore size 83 AAA shoes. But few people know the rest of the story behind the colorful clown.

Larry Harmon, the man behind Bozo, lived from 1925 to 2008, and during that time, he packed a lot in.

Even as a child growing up in Cleveland, he felt compelled – almost destined – for greatness, and when his idol Al Jolson told him he was, indeed, destined to become a world-famous entertainer, he didn’t look back. His mission to extend a friendly hand to everyone took him to the most remote regions of the world – and almost into outter space.

“The Man Behind the Nose: Assassins, Astronauts, Cannibals, and Other Stupendous Tales” is full of amazing stories, which even co-author Thomas Scott McKenzie hardly believed, until he saw photographic proof. And, the layout of the book, with carnival font headlines and borders around the pages that range from stardust and umbrellas to musical notes, make the stories even more fun to read.

While interviewing Harmon, McKenzie thought he might find a frown behind the smile, but as it turned out, there was only smile upon smile behind the public oversized grin.

“I’ve done everything James Bond has done,” Harmon wrote, “but in a wig and makeup.”

He was the first freshman to become a drum major at Cleveland Heights high school, he snuck into Jolson’s dressing room to meet his idol (and later made such an impression, Jolson told him to believe in his dreams, telling him to, instead of becoming a doctor, be a “doctor of laughter”). In his 20s, he had so many irons in the fire, he wasn’t sure which direction he was going, but then he ended up on television and eventually invented Bozo.

He said he never got depressed because he always looked for strategies to solve problems. With Bozo, he aimed to create a character that lasted forever, so he didn’t show any human flesh, because nothing human can live forever, he said. Eventually, his character morphed into comics, toys and shows throughout the world.

Perhaps one of the most interesting stories is his trip into the primitive Aboriginal culture in New Guinea. At the time, outsiders hadn’t experienced much success visiting the tribal people in New Guinea- in fact, they didn’t survive. Though the Australian government literally told Harmon “they’ll eat you,” he believed that Bozo could connect with anyone.

After a tense encounter, “I had proven my theory: People may have cultural, economic and political differences, but at the core of our being, we really are the same.”

Other stories involve NASA training to go into space, being almost squeezed to death by a python, running for president and more – it’s a book worth its weight in gold, both inspiring and entertaining.

“If you find something you love, something you’re passionate about, and you pursue it with every ounce of strength in your body, nothing is impossible,” Harmon said, later adding, “I just had to try new things to experience life and to see how far my wit, my humor, my ambition and my ability to relate would take me.”

And, indeed, it took him far.


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