Will Clown Fight Spoil Bozo Bash?

Jan. 13, 2004 -- — The Wolf Files has learned that a first-class clown will be inducted into the Hall of Fame — and I'm certainly not talking about Pete Rose.

After a circus of controversy, Pinto Colvig will finally be inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame as TV's first Bozo. The announcement will be made later this week, sources tell The Wolf Files.

Let the custard pies fly! Just don't expect a painted smile on every clown — especially Larry Harmon, who owns the rights to Bozo and has been claiming for years that he created the TV legend.

A 1999 Wolf Files investigation concluded that Harmon's claims were highly questionable and his plaque at the Clown Hall of Fame has been removed from display.

"There's no longer any doubt Pinto was the original voice and face of Bozo," says Katherine O'Dell, executive director of the Clown Hall of Fame in Milwaukee.

In 1946, Colvig's Bozo became a top-selling recording star for Capitol Records. Three years later, the celebrity clown hosted a kiddie show on KTTV in Los Angeles.

"So many other clowns have been TV Bozos over the years, but Colvig was clearly the first and deserves the honor," says O'Dell, who plans posthumous induction festivities in May.

Greasepaint legends around the world are expected to honor TV's beloved clown. Harmon, however, is one Bozo who's not expected at the Bozo salute. Clowning With History

Harmon did not respond to several requests to talk about Colvig, who died of lung cancer in 1967.

However, Harmon recently reasserted his claim that Capitol Records chose him to star on a 1952 Bozo TV pilot.

"After auditioning as many people as I remember from New York, Hollywood and everywhere, I was fortunate," the 78-year-old entertainer recalls on a newly released Bozo DVD. "They decided to pick me."

But it's questionable these auditions even took place.

"Harmon is fantasizing, and this isn't the first time," says former Capitol executive Alan Livingston, who wrote and produced the first Bozo read-along records.

"We had a world-class clown in Pinto Colvig," Livingston says. "Harmon was an out-of-work actor who I hired to dress up as Bozo for promotional work … We sent him to shopping centers and schools."

Colvig led the quintessential clown life. Born in 1892, he ran of to join the circus as a teenager. Walt Disney hired him to be the original voices of Goofy and Pluto, as well as Grumpy and Sleepy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He also wrote the lyrics for "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"

As Bozo, Colvig was an instant success. By the early 1950s, Capitol had sold more than 8 million Bozo records, and the clown became the company's mascot.

"Those were great days in TV," recalls Lee Carrau, floor manager on the first Bozo TV show. "It was a live show, two cameras in a small studio, with animals and screaming kids. We never knew what would happen, monkeys jumping around everywhere. Every week was absolute pandemonium."

Carrau, 81, remembers Colvig well. "He used to go to the bar after the show in Bozo costume for laughs," he says. "He was a fun, fun guy." TV Franchising Becomes Child’s Play

In the mid-1950s, Harmon and some partners bought the rights to Bozo, and everyone agrees he did a great job franchising live clown shows to local TV stations across the country and even in select foreign markets.

Each local show had its own Bozo, the most famous being Chicago's Bob Bell, who played the clown for 24 years on WGN-TV, and famed weatherman Willard Scott, who put on the floppy shoes for a stint in Washington.

"Harmon's problem is that he can't bear another clown getting any credit," says Joan Roy, Bell's daughter. "That's his baby."

Harmon made it impossible for Bell to wear his Bozo costume when Bell was inducted in the Clown Hall of Fame in 1996, Roy says.

"My father was 74 and frail," she says. "Imagine how disappointed the kids were when the man known as Bozo came to the stage without makeup and in a suit."

Harmon has claimed he didn't bar Bell from wearing his Bozo costume. In a 1984 Chicago Tribune article, he even gushed over the closeness between the two clowns.

"He was a natural Bozo," Harmon said. "Bob was able to jump into my soul … He was able to reach into my mind and my emotions, because Bozo was me … And Bob has my love for the children, my sensitivity, my understanding."

In the same article, however, Bell recalled a cooler relationship with Harmon: "I haven't seen him for years. He never calls. He never comes around. Even when he's at the station, contracting for his cartoons, he never stops in and says hello. Never." Listen to Your Inner Clown

Harmon never portrayed Bozo on a TV show for a sustained period. He did provide Bozo's cartoon voice, and clowned around at U.N. functions and at zero gravity with Apollo astronauts.

More importantly, without Harmon's marketing skills, Bozo's "yowie-kazowie" custard pie fights and orange wing-tipped hair would never have reached a generation of children.

"You have to admire Larry Harmon for his skill at marketing Bozo," says Joey D'Auria, who took over for Bell on the last Bozo show, which went off the air in 2001. "I doubt that the Bozo name would be what it is today."

Indeed, Harmon has many achievements to his credit. But can he share the Bozo legacy?

On TV, Bozo often said, "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice." Now, once again, Harmon might want to listen to his own internal Bozo.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producerat ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files ispublished Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice whena new column is published, join the e-maillist.