Chicago children’s television for Baby Boomers were the most popular nationwide TV shows in the US. As a child, I was fortunate to be able to attend a couple of those shows live. The first was Here’s Geraldine in 1959 which was hosted by Jim Stewart bringing puppets to life on stage with his giraffe co-star and fellow puppets Rosemarie Bud Stewart. I remember thinking how small the performing area was where we sat on seats that actually were behind the giant cameras and lights. I was only 4 when I visited and my Mom said I was a little intimidated by all the equipment. I had a hard time concentrating on the puppets even though he was always one of my favorites.
Another Chicago children’s television show that I didn’t have to wait a lifetime for after my Mom ordered tickets was probably the most exciting because I was older, approximately 7 or 8. Some parents knew the routine. Some newlyweds quickly got their orders in for their unborn offspring! The wait time even back in the 1960’s could easily run 7-10 years.
For many, you know exactly which show I am talking…Bozos Circus is on the air! Beginning at noon on June 20th, 1960, Bozo( Bob Bell) began his journey with Ned Locke as Ringmaster Ned, a 13 piece orchestra and a 200 member studio audience. Though changing characters throughout the decades, Bozo lasted over 40 years.
It seemed like forever that we stood in the narrow hallway at the WGN studio where we waited to enter the small set in 1963. I remember heading in on the right while being directed to our seats and again, overwhelmed at the lack of size for all the skits. The orchestra was seated at the far left and I couldn’t take my eyes off the amazing cameras, lights and how much technology was being used that you never saw from your television screen.
During cartoons and commercials, we did not watch them on a screen but watched stage hands and the cast getting ready for the next live event. When it came time for the magic arrows, again, we could not see ourselves in any television on the set. The invisible arrows flashed and stopped over someone in the studio audience selected to play the famous Grand Prize Game where a young boy or girl would toss a ping-pong ball into a series of six buckets. Just like the television audience, we had no idea where the arrows would stop. And back in our day, whoever chosen to play made sure they stayed behind the line in front of bucket number 1 and did not bend at the waist when tossing the balls to successive buckets.
Besides Bozo and Ringmaster Ned, we were met by Oliver O. Oliver from the also popular Ray Rayner Show, Sandy, Band leader Bob Trendler and his Big Top Band. By 1963, the show had welcomed its 100,00th visitor and reached the 250,000 mark in 1966.
I don’t remember bringing in cameras or the luxurious 8 millimeter movie camera with attachable lights. In fact, I want to say that cameras were not allowed during the live production at that time nor did we receive a film or a copy of our visit. It was a live taping and, of course, with the exception of seeing a few captured vintage movie moments on You Tube today posted by visitors in later years, videos on our cameras just was not part of our childhood. Even after making my public appearance, it was a national tradition for me and other Chicago children to run home from school at lunch time to catch Bozo.
The show’s final telecast aired on August 26 2001. Children’s television would now be just a nostalgic reminder of it’s past. From the late 1940’s through the early 1970’s, local television stations created a golden age of Chicago children’s television unique in American broadcasting.
My memories also include Miss Francis and her Ding Dong School, Kukla Fran &; Ollie, Ray Rayner and His Friends and Garfield Goose and Friends. And if you were just a little more sophisticated and mature, it was Sunday afternoon in front of the TV, with your family watching Family Classics with Frazier Thomas.
For me, I will never forget……..WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE CLOWN?