The recent passing of the man behind Bozo, Larry Harmon, got me to thinking about those great kids shows of my youth. You remember, the shows with some wacky live host who played games with his studio audience, sang songs, and showed cartoons. Bozo was sort of the template of this type of program, and every city had several variations of this style of show with all kinds of different host characters and "themes".
In the Boston area, we were especially blessed to not only have Bozo, but also Major Mudd (a nutty spaceman, whose catchphrase, "I'll be blasting you!" seems ominous in retrospect), Captain America (who showed those crappy Marvel cartoons) Willie Whistle (a truly disturbing character), and the best of them all, Rex Trailer's BOOMTOWN.
Boomtown was set in the Old West, and did all the usual kid show stuff. This was my favorite show, mostly because Rex was a really nice guy and he showed the best cartoons. Yes, Mighty Hercules WAS my favorite cartoon, but hey, I was, like 5.
Imagine the thrill, when on my 6th birthday, my mother gave me the best gift ever: My sisters and I were going to be on Boomtown!
The dress code on Boomtown was cowboy gear, and my Super Mum spent hours making western outfits for us. Whereas most kids on the show made do with just a cowboy hat with jeans, we had head-to-toe custom made outfits. My outfit was black & red, complete with chaps. I was convinced I was the coolest cowboy ever.
Finally the big day arrived, and bright and early the whole family headed to the TV studio. We were going to Boomtown!
When we got to the studio, our parents were sent off to watch the show on a monitor, and we were ushered to the set. It was, of course, much smaller looking than it appeared on TV. Rex came out and introduced himself and his politically incorrect partner, the Mexican "Pablo". Pablo was the typical stereotype of the day. Lot's of siestas at inappropriate times and the like. This depiction of minorities is frowned upon today, but back in the 60's it was the height of hilarity. He also introduced his horse, who looked like it would rather be anywhere than in a hot TV studio surrounded by screaming children. So the show began. Then, something awful happened. Rex introduced the first guest of the day: A clown.
Now, as a child, I was terrified of clowns, and frankly I still am not exactly thrilled to be in their company. Bozo was, in fact, the only clown I never feared. Maybe because he was safely encased in my TV.
So when the clown made his entrance, everybody wondered where the high-pitched screams were coming from. They where of course, coming from me. Everything would have been fine, but the clown, in a misguided attempt to prove to he meant me no harm, approached me with his arms outstretched.
Bad move. I leapt from my seat and ran screaming out of the studio back to my parents in the monitor room. To her credit, my mother, who had busted her hump getting tickets, making us costumes, and driving us to the studio at 5 AM, only to see me make an ass of myself on live TV one minute into the show, was pretty understanding.
Finally, the clown left the set, so I hopped off my Mother's lap and returned to the studio. Rex was in front of the camera introducing another cartoon, when I walked up and announced, "I'm back!"
Rex looked as if he couldn't care less if I was back, and probably less than thrilled that this was the second time I had ruined his show that day. I was quickly escorted to my seat.
The rest of the show went fine, and my sister even won a board game.
Year's later, I saw Rex Trailer at a public appearance (Rex's appearance, not mine). I asked him if he remembered my "incident". He was very nice, but said not only did he not remember it, but what I described to him was nothing compared to some of the things that happened with kids on that show. He declined to elaborate, being the nice guy he is.
That made me feel better, but I still don't like clowns. Except for Bozo.
Rest in Peace, Larry.