I recently lost an old friend. In fact, he was more than an old friend. He was a mentor, guide, teacher, adviser, coach, leader, advocate, educator and, to many, a legend. I don’t think much about those other roles he played … even though he executed each with a professionalism none other could duplicate. I still feel I lost an old friend. If you happen to be a baby boomer, you probably share my loss.
My friend’s name was Larry. Larry Harmon. He was 83 years old, and he died on the day before the 4th of July in the capital city of clowns, Los Angeles. You probably know him as Bozo the Clown … the World’s Most Famous Clown, a status once confirmed by a Harris poll. The story of his life and death was lost in the chaos of vacations, fireworks, and holiday festivities as the U.S. celebrated Independence Day.
When I heard the news, I was alone in my car driving to the mall. When the news bulletin finally sunk in, I felt as though a chapter had just closed in my life. I must admit I had mixed emotions. One was that of guilt for having forgotten my friend and the many roles he played in my early development. Another emotion was that of appreciation as I remembered the many life lessons he taught me every Saturday morning on his laugh-a-minute television show. Another emotion was sadness as I wished my children and grandchildren could have been exposed to his wisdom and wit … but then realized it just wouldn’t have been the same. Today’s children aren’t captivated by a circus or mesmerized by a magician as we were—and understandably so. It’s tough to compete with cell phones that take pictures, computers that shrink the world, iPods, video games, and cartoons guaranteed to stifle adult comprehension. Our children simply wouldn’t get Bozo. I can deal with that. Things change. My concern lies in speculating where these young minds will find the stimulation, support and life-lessons which they will soon desperately need. I’ll get back to that challenge in a moment.
Bozo emerged in 1946 as Capitol Records, a rather small company at the time, attempted to enter the children’s market. They hired a young man named Alan Livingston, who came up with an idea for a book that would have a record included—children would listen as they read, with an audio signal to turn the page. This was the world’s first “read-along” book and was a huge hit for the small company. It starred a clown narrator, named Bozo.
In order to meet the demand for personal appearances by Bozo, Alan Livingston had hired numerous actors in several cities to perform as Bozo at various events. One of them, named Larry Harmon, became a pivotal point in Bozo’s history.
Together with a group of investors, Larry later purchased the licensing rights to the Bozo character from Capitol Records. Although Larry was not the original Bozo, he was the Oz behind the curtain of success for this loveable clown character with an unforgettable name. His unique marketing ability led to the creation of local Bozo TV shows in nearly every U.S. market as well as Mexico, Thailand, Australia, Greece and Brazil by the late 50s. Over the years, Bozo was portrayed by more than 200 different actors including famed TV weatherman Willard Scott.
Bozo quickly became a show-business staple with his distinctive look consisting of outlandish, orange-tufted hair, the bulbous nose, and the outlandish red, white and blue costume grounded in his 83AAA clown shoes.
I remember going to the local shopping center (we didn’t have malls) and seeing Bozo comics, records, masks, books, lunch boxes, wigs, magic tricks, noses, playground balls, cars, magic slates, T-shirts, and just about anything else you can think of. This unique superstar delighted, entertained and educated children for more than a half-century. His TV show ran for 47 years, making it one of the longest running shows in history! He’ll be sorely missed … which brings me back to the challenge I mentioned earlier.
With today’s short attention span and obvious need for a role model similar to Larry’s alter-ego, who will emerge to play that critical role? If you follow our blog to any degree, you know that we strongly promote the importance of mentoring younger generations. That’s why we created Generational Gems for Future Leaders to assist those of you who accept the challenge. Study after study reveals the dire need for mentoring in our currently chaotic environment. You can find some revealing figures in our recent blog article by clicking on Give a Little – Get a Lot.
So, if you “wanna be a Bozo” and make a difference in the life of a young person, give some serious thought to the honorable role of mentor. Take the initiative, do some research and take the appropriate action. A young person will be forever appreciative, you’ll gain a great deal of self satisfaction, the world will be better off, you’ll broaden the smile on Bozo’s face, and my friend Larry will rest in peace!
P.S. For those of you who remember Bozo and, for old time’s sake, would like to see a clip of our friend in action, go here.