Thursday, May 27, 2004 · Last updated 6:25 p.m. PT
Colvig to join Clown Hall of Fame as Bozo
By CARRIE ANTLFINGER
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
Vance "Pinto" Colvig portrays Bozo the Clown in this undated file photo. For years Larry Harmon claimed to have created the character, and said he was the original. Now the International Clown Hall of Fame in downtown Milwaukee is formally endorsing a different version: Capitol Records executive Alan Livingston created Bozo for recordings in 1946, and the late Colvig was the first person to play the clown. On Friday, May 28, 2004, the hall is posthumously inducting Colvig as the first Bozo. (AP Photo/Photo courtesy International Clown Hall of Fame)
MILWAUKEE -- There are no hand buzzers, trick flowers or balloon animals in this clown story. The issue is who created Bozo the Clown - and the dispute is wiping the smile off some clowns' faces.
For years, promoter and entertainer Larry Harmon claimed to have both created the character and said he was the original.
Now the International Clown Hall of Fame in downtown Milwaukee is formally endorsing a different version: Capitol Records executive Alan Livingston created Bozo for recordings in 1946, and the late Vance "Pinto" Colvig was the first person to play the clown.
On Friday, the hall is posthumously inducting Colvig as the first Bozo.
That reverses the hall's "Lifetime of Laughter Award" given to Harmon in 1990 as Bozo's creator. The hall has since taken Harmon's plaque off its honor wall.
Kathryn O'Dell, the hall's executive director, said the hall was duped to believe Harmon created Bozo and didn't find out the truth until ABCnews.com columnist and entertainment producer Buck Wolf reported Harmon was wrongly laying claim to the character.
"It was something that was hinted at and hinted at and we started to do research and sure enough the information we were getting from outside sources was true," O'Dell said.
While Harmon popularized the character since the 1950s, Livingston and Colvig were first to develop it, she said.
Colvig's voice was used in the first recordings and he wrote some of Bozo's first songs, made the first live appearances and was the first Bozo on television.
Capitol Records Inc. sold all the rights to Bozo the Capitol Clown, except the masters for the previous records, in the mid 1950s to Harmon, who a few years earlier had answered a Capitol casting call to be a Bozo.
Harmon ended up training more than 200 Bozos over the years and turning Bozo into a character for 156 cartoons that he sold in the United States and around the world.
Harmon, 79, said from his home in Los Angeles that he's saddened to have the hall remove his plaque and he denied misrepresenting Bozo's history.
"Isn't it a shame the credit that was given to me for the work I have done they arbitrarily take it down, like I didn't do anything for the last 52 years," he said.
He said he has always acknowledged that Livingston created Bozo The Capitol Clown. But he said he created Bozo's personality and image today as Bozo The World's Most Famous Clown.
"What I created for the world was me and my image, what I sound like, what I look like, what I walk like, what the costume looked like, with my animation studio," he said.
Bozo The Capitol Clown had red mop hair and spoke with a drawl. Harmon's Bozo had bright orange-red yak hair and spoke faster and made up an entirely new vocabulary, like "wowie-kazowie." The laugh was also different.
As for the dispute over Bozo's creation, "I think the media saw a little spark and put a match to it and lit a fire," he said, adding that a reporter along the way could have made an honest mistake that was blown out of proportion.
But O'Dell said she doesn't think all the journalists who reported about Harmon's claims were mistaken, and that Harmon is changing his story.
Livingston, 86, said from his Beverly Hills home that Harmon lied over and over, and he's pleased the truth finally came out.
"I never interfered because I was off to bigger things at least in my opinion. I just let it go. I was the one who should have complained I suppose but I just didn't care," he said.
Pinto Colvig, who was also the original voice for Disney's Goofy, died in 1967 of lung cancer and has never been honored for being Bozo.
Colvig's grandson, Vance Colvig III, 57, of Los Angeles, said he was delighted his grandfather was being recognized.
"Being that all of his sons are now dead, I'm really kind of more thrilled for them if they were to be around," he said. His father and grandfather were Bozos for two competing Los Angeles TV stations at one time.
He said his father, who worked for Harmon as a clown at a local television station in Los Angeles, knew Harmon was claiming to be the original Bozo. But he said his father wouldn't speak up because he was afraid of the possible legal repercussions with his contract.
"It was a really sore point with my father," he said.
The controversy never made huge headlines, said Ron Simon, curator of television at the Museum of Television and Radio.
"It's very much inside television history," Simon said, adding that there are many similar controversies in the history of TV.
He said who Bozo is today resulted from a group effort of Livingston, Colvig, Harmon and a host of clowns across the country.
"Bozo is sort of an embodiment of a certain type of clown," he said. "The word has almost become a generic word in itself. It's taken on a life of its own and it's become part of the culture."
Larry Harmon, shown portraying Bozo in an undated file photo, says the Hall of Fame has erased his legacy.
It's no wonder clowns have to paint their smiles on - with all the internal clown politics and power struggles going on, what to they *really* have to be happy or laugh or smile about? It's enough to make a clown take a [water] gun, raise it to his ear, and squeeze the trigger, over and over again, in a pathetic display of faith....
Hopefully, he can finally have his peace in the form of death from the related ear infection which has gone unchecked. Normally, I'm not pro-suicide, but these poor clowns *do* have it pretty bad.
Excerpt from my clown eulogy: "Poor clown guy, no matter how bad things got, he would always look at the bright side, was always smiling......." and then I'd squirt the clown widow with my lapel flower.
Christ I went to school at Marquette and live close to Milwaukee and go there all the time and never did I know the clown hall of fame was located in Milwaukee.
Course I could care less too but still.
Wisconson...wonderful place....if you mind the serial killers and the clowns.