I was thinking about something that would be scary for Halloween. I’m not usually into really gory horror movies, but I’m starting to ease into them. One thing that I know a lot of people are afraid of are clowns.
I admit some are (or intend to be) genuinely scary: real life serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Twisty from American Horror Story: Freak Show, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and both versions of Pennywise (Tim Curry and Bill Skarsgård).
I have too many positive memories of the good pop culture clowns for the worst of them to spoil the whole barrel. Here are some of my favorites.
1. Bozo the Clown (Bozo’s Circus)
Every summer vacation or school holiday morning in my house started with cartoons and then Bozo’s Circus. The highlight of most episodes was The Grand Prize Game. A child would stand behind a line and drop or toss ping pong balls into small tin buckets. Sometimes the contestant made it all the way to the last bucket and would win, for both themselves (and their lucky at home player) a Schwinn bicycle.
One of my favorite of Bozo’s fellow clowns was Cooky, the company cook. Ray from Wrasslin’ Grenade recently reminded me of Cooky’s tendency to break into laughter during skits. Sometimes he did it while showing prizes for the game too.
There was also Wizzo, who had the Stone of Zanzibar. Wizzo claimed his stone “spoke” to him and his magic words were “doody doody doo”. Wizzo usually appeared in skits with Bozo and Cooky, but I don’t remember him participating in showcasing prizes during The Grand Prize Game segment very often. Quite a few sketches ended with someone either getting a whipped cream pie in their face or squirted with some seltzer water.
Toward the end of the run, they added a dog puppet called “Cuddly Dudley.” Cuddly Dudley was a puppet of a Golden Retriever who read jokes children had submitted to The Chicago Tribune. The dog was a promotional premium for the newspaper. When my parents were growing up, Cuddly Dudley had been part of The Ray Rayner show, another Chicago-based kids’s variety show featuring cartoons and puppets.
Bozo’s Circus was definitely a Chicago favorite. Thanks to the magic of cable television, we could watch Bozo’s Circus on Superstation WGN while growing up in Georgia.
I don’t have my Bozo doll anymore, but I do have this nifty inflatable mini-Bozo.
2. Ronald McDonald
I have to say, the decision to put Bozo over the more nationally recognized and beloved fast food spokesman was not an easy one. I had toy dolls of both Bozo and Ronald, but my Ronald doll came with a little felt Grimace and a whistle!
I also had these slippers with plastic Ronald McDonald heads on them.
Ronald and his friends made appearances every Saturday morning during cartoons and hourly on Nickelodeon, USA’s Cartoon Express, and syndicated cartoons. Some of the commercials were funny with a lot of puns or silly situations while other commercials tugged at the heartstrings.
One of my favorite funny commercials was a Halloween McNuggets spot. Dracula McNugget is showing Ronald around the McNugget lab. There’s an explosion in the lab (I think the McNuggets were trying to invent a new sauce) and a Lady McNugget’s hair changes to a hair-raising “Bride of Frankenstein” style complete with white stripe.
There were other McDonald’s commercials that make me feel more sentimental, but those are a better fit for a merry season rather than a spooky one.
3. Krusty the Clown (and Sideshow Bob) from The Simpsons
I’m old enough to remember The Simpsons’ original time slot on Thursday nights. Say what you will about Fox in their early days, but their Thursday night lineup (The Simpsons, In Living Color, and Beverly Hills 90210) put a sizable dent in NBC’s long-time domination of Thursdays.
If Krusty was a stand-in for Bozo, Sideshow Bob was most likely the “Cooky”/“Wizzo” counterpart and “Frasier Crane” himself, (Kelsey Grammer) provided the voice. It was always interesting to see what kind of scheme Sideshow Bob had to destroy Krusty, but it was equally fascinating to see how his plot would be foiled.
4. Coco from Pinwheel (Nickelodeon)
Technically, Coco was a mime, but mimes are kind of like clowns who don’t talk. According to an interview with C.C. Loveheart, she specifically designed Coco with the awareness that many children are afraid of clowns. The heart designs on her cheeks and light lip color were concessions to these fears. Both Loveheart and her successor Lindanell Rivera performed Coco in this manner.
There’s a Pinwheel episode on You Tube featuring a scene with Coco dressing as a doctor and stitching up an ear on a puppet character’s teddy bear. The sweet scene reminded me the ones I saw on Sesame Street or Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when a human character would gently comfort a puppet like Big Bird or Daniel Striped Tiger.
5. “Mr. Clown” in Animaniacs
“Clown and Out” started with Warner Brothers’ CEO character on the show, Thaddeus Plotz in a therapy session with Dr. Scratchansniff. Plotz is upset about being a grown man afraid of clowns and Scratchansniff assures him that the fear of clowns is very common and mentions that Wakko Warner is afraid of clowns.
Plotz gets all cartoon villain happy as he has just sent a clown to the water tower as a surprise for Wakko for his birthday. Cartoon hijinks ensue as Wakko repeatedly dismisses Mr. Clown from the water tower, causing an exhausted clown to plead with the younger Warner brother: “Puppy boy, please don’t with the mallet hurt!” By the end of the cartoon, the viewer actually sympathizes with the clown!