You’d think that after 50 years of clowning around, Larry Harmon might consider slowing down.
With the energy of a 21-year-old, the exuberant 71-year-old Harmon, better known to kids of all ages as Bozo the Clown, believes that the best has yet to come. He excitedly ticks off a list of projects and product ideas, from a food line to CD-ROMs, that he hopes will ensure Bozo’s existence for another half-century.
The character of Bozo first appeared on records in the late 1940s. Harmon bought the rights and began producing Bozo cartoons in the 1950s, translating the animated character to a live-action personality and into the longest-running kids show on TV.
Harmon has been instrumental in developing new and cost-effective concepts in animation and franchising. He’s seen licensing grow from an almost non-existent industry to the big business it is today. In the process, Harmon’s relentless drive to promote his alter ego has made him a success. Combined Bozo sales from licensed products and franchised shows total in the billions.
Harmon feels that the unique aspect of licensing Bozo is that he has a squadron of over 75 ‘cloned’ Bozos that can be dispatched to retail stores to interact with and relate to consumers in a one-on-one manner. Currently, about 100 Bozo licenses exist.
‘I think the major reason Bozo has sustained itself as a character is that Bozo is the kid that’s in all of us . . . but he also has the wisdom of an adult,’ says Harmon. He adds that Bozo’s always-positive spirit he describes it with the acronym PULL (peace, understanding, love and laughter) serves as a common denominator that bridges generations and cultures.
Although Harmon d’esn’t put on the fright wig and bulbous nose himself anymore, his enthusiasm to spread Bozo’s gospel of goodwill keeps him young. ‘I have such a love for what I do. How can I retire?’
Wowee Kazowie! Here are some of Bozo’s breakthroughs:
- 1946: Larry Harmon takes over as the record voice for Bozo and eventually buys the rights to the character.
- Early 1950s: Harmon forms an animation studio to create Bozo cartoons. Other properties include Dick Tracy, Mr. Magoo and Popeye.
- 1956-57: The live-action Bozo show launches in Los Angeles. It runs to this day (currently on WGN in Chicago).
Harmon develops the concept of show franchising. He trains local Bozos at his Bozo University to host live shows in every market the program airs. At their peak, live Bozo shows aired in 183 markets. One of his first hires was an unknown Washington, D.C. announcer named Willard Scott.
- 1960s: Bozo’s fame is used by leaders globally to spread hope. His efforts for UNICEF help the organization win the Nobel Peace Price in 1966. UN head U Thant says, ‘Bozo truly is the goodwill ambassador of the world.’
- 1995: As Bozo approaches 50, Harmon maps out plans to establish a line of Bozo food products. He partners with ice cream supplier Wells Dairy to create Bozo Float Bars, which appear in supermarkets in January 1996, and teams with Venus Wafers Co. to create Bozo’s Animal Crackers, available during the summer.
Additional expansion plans in the food area include cereal, bread, jams, canned and frozen food products.
Trendmasters is brought on to create a Bozo computer coloring book, available for the fourth quarter of 1996. Harmon continues exploring CD-ROM and other new media applications.
- 1996: Target Stores makes Bozo its spokesclown. Harmon appears on Target’s award-winning float in the Tournament of Roses parade. Ironically, 50 years before, he had led the parade as the drum major for the USC marching band.
The Bozo TV show grows internationally, debuting in India, Pakistan, Malaysia and the Philippines. Harmon continues discussions for a live-action Bozo movie.