Bozo popularizer Larry Harmon, 83, dies
LOS ANGELES – Larry Harmon, the entrepreneur who brought Bozo the Clown to television as a children’s show host in the late 1950s and spent the next 50 years promoting the flame-haired circus character, died Thursday. He was 83.
Harmon, who suffered from heart disease, died at his home in Los Angeles, said his wife, Susan.
“Bozo and Larry were one and the same,” she said Thursday. “He’s lived it and breathed it since he bought (the rights) from Capitol Records in the ‘50s. He made it what it is, and it’s been his life.”
Bozo was created for a series of Capitol children’s records in 1946, with Vance “Pinto” Colvig, the voice of Walt Disney’s Goofy, providing the clown’s voice.
Several years later, according to a 1996 Associated Press story, Harmon answered a casting call for a clown to make personal appearances to promote the Bozo records. After landing the job, he took over as the voice on the records and then bought the rights to the character.
Harmon launched the first Bozo children’s show in Los Angeles in 1959, with Pinto Colvig’s son, Vance, playing the role.
From there, Harmon began franchising Bozo, and the bulb-nosed clown with the big feet became an iconic children’s show character. Harmon trained more than 200 men to portray the carrot-topped character on TV, including future “The Today Show” weatherman Willard Scott.
In the mid-‘50s, Harmon launched Larry Harmon Pictures Corp., which turned out animated cartoons featuring not only Bozo but Popeye, Mr. Magoo, Dick Tracy and Laurel and Hardy (Harmon acquired the rights to the comedy duo in 1960).
His company continues to license the names and characters of Bozo and Laurel and Hardy worldwide.
A Harris poll once recognized Bozo as the world’s most famous clown.
“Bozo is a combination of the wonderful wisdom of the adult and the childlike ways in all of us,” Harmon told the Associated Press in 1996. “Bozo is a star, an entertainer, bigger than life. People see him as Mr. Bozo, somebody you can relate to, touch and laugh with.”
Born in Toledo on Jan. 2, 1925, Harmon was raised in Cleveland. After serving in the Army during World War II, he moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California, where he majored in theater and was drum major in the marching band.
While at USC, he started acting in radio and in movies and, in the early ‘50s, he starred on the “Commander Comet” TV series.