Nearly 80 people gathered at Amore’s in Comstock Park Friday night to wish my second favorite clown (my wife is an occasional clown) a happy 80th birthday. From the 1960s through August 1999 on TV and later through dozens of local appearances, Dick Richards put on the blue suit, the red hair, the red nose and the make-up to become Bozo the Clown.
Dick was from Brooklyn and started his broadcasting career in radio, coming to Grand Rapids to be on WJEF back in the 1960s. Bill Merchant was Bozo for a short time here in Grand Rapids before Dick took over. How many of you remember Mr. Gorilla, goodie-bags with Wonder Bread and Hostess Twinkies and of course, bucket bonanza, where a child could get as many as six prizes by throwing ping-pong balls into buckets. The employees used to look forward to “snow days” when the show was canceled. Then we got to take home the bread and twinkies.
This painting of Bozo by Paul Collins hangs in the Amway Grand Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids. The party featured a highlight video (which included pics. of my wife and kids from over 30 years ago) and a call-in from former WZZM News Director Jack Hogan, who is retired and doing well living in Florida. Literally a hundred people could honestly say “Jack gave me my start in the business”. Here’s an old pic. of Jack, who I think I heard was 85 years old:
After Jack retired, he was looking for something to do that had a lot of people contact, so for a brief time he became a cashier/checkout man at Meijer. He said on his employment application, his two references were President Ford and Fred Meijer!
This is Dick blowing out the candles on his cake at the party. Many old friends were there from my days at WZZM (Craig James, Barry Shanley, Bob Trimble, Dave Whitford, Ken Kolbe, Mary Eileen Lyon, Scott Cohn – now with CNBC – and so many that worked behind the scenes). Here’s a picture of the cast of the Bozo Show in Chicago that I used to watch when I was a kid growing up in Evanston and Wilmette (left to right Ray Rayner as Oliver, Bob Bell as Bozo, Don Sandburg as Sandy and (Smilin’) Ned Locke as Mr. Ringmaster. Ned always seemed to be smiling. He reminded me of the Captain on Gilligan’s Island.
The character Bozo started in 1946 and came to TV in 1949. At the peak, the show was syndicated on television throughout the United States and in many parts of the world (Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, Greece…) The show in Grand Rapids was the 2nd to last Bozo show in the country when it ended in 1999. The Chicago Show lasted until 2001. For more, read the Wikipedia article on Bozo the Clown, the Bozo article from Scott Winter’s blog and the Bozo’s 80th birthday facebook page.
There is another party next Saturday (Oct. 13) and you’re all invited to come and say “hi” to Bozo. It’s at the Fifth Degree Lounge at the KC Banquet Center (5830 Clyde Park SW). This is an open house style event with light refreshments and a cash bar. Come Party and say hi!
Here’s the lyrics from the song at the beginning of the show (cue the banjo!):
“Hello world, every boy, every gal.
I’m Bozo the Clown, yeah this is your old pal.
I brought you a bag full of rooting, tooting, tricks.
One, two, three, four…five or six.
The funniest man on the whole human race,
Is gonna to put a smile on your face.
Just keep laughing, get rid of that frown,
Bozo is back. The one and only Bozo the Clown.”