Friday, November 5, 2010

"The Man Behind The Nose" by Larry "Bozo" Harmon

I never knew that there was a real "Bozo" the clown. By that, I mean I thought that each city had it's own version of "Bozo", and I was probably of the opinion that these guys were like department store "Santas" at Christmas, mostly guys that couldn't hold a real job. Drunks. Was I ever wrong!

The "real" Bozo the Clown was a man named Larry Harmon, born Lawrence Weiss on January 2, 1925 in Toledo, Ohio. As a child he "discovered" Al Jolson and the course of his life was changed forever. He became hooked on the limelight that comes with entertainment.

After a few stints in school marching bands, he had a thing for the drums, the future Bozo went to war. He served in the Army as a Private in World War Two. Working in the Entertainment Corps gave him the opportunity to meet Al Jolson, his boyhood idol. Mr. Jolson takes an interest in him, encouraging his ambitions to become an entertainer. When they meet a second time, Mr. Jolson tells him that he has improved greatly and should really consider show businesss in lieu of Mr. Harmon's desire to be a doctor. He tells him, "Being a doctor of Medicine is honorable, but you'll touch so many more lives as a doctor of laughter."

With this encouragement, Mr. Harmon goes to USC on the GI Bill, majoring in Theater.Upon graduating he auditioned at NBC studios in Los Angeles. He is chosen to play "Captain Comet", one of the first space characters to appear on TV. His character was a space pilot from Venus who comes to earth as a guide for the Universe. Ironically, Mr. Harmon was a tremendous fan of the race to break the sound barrier, and later, a strong enthusiast of NASA's Space Program, an interest which he managed to incorporate into his show. He actually flew in the Zero Gravity plane with the Mercury Astronauts, reporting about it on his show.

In 1956 he bought the rights to the "Bozo" character. He then set out to license other "Bozo's" to take the show to other cities across the country. From there it was a non-stop journey, with trips around the world. His adventures with the Cannibals in New Guinea, after his plane crashed, are extraordinary. After meeting the tribesmen, who are fascinated by the size of his feet, he is wined and dined. He then entertains them as Bozo, and leaves alive, proving that laughter is the Universal Cure for all that divides us.

This is a very unusual book about a very unusual guy. At first I found it hard to take "Bozo" seriously, since my memories of him are all tied up with the image of his size 83XXX shoes and the red hair and nose. But beneath this facade was a very deep man, with vision and dreams.

When all is said and done, Al Jolson was right. Larry Harmon did become that "Doctor of Laughter", and he did touch many more lives in his journey as Bozo the Clown.

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