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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown, Vol. 1
Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown, Vol. 1
Other // Unrated // July 17, 2007
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted July 13, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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Infinity has released a four-disc, 30 episode collection of Larry Harmon's Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1, featuring Harmon's own nationally syndicated version of Bozo, starring Boston's Frank Avruch. Doing a little bit of research on the character of Bozo, I was surprised to discover that there's a rather nasty rivalry going on between fans of the various Bozos who appeared on local stations during the late 1950s through 2001 (when the last official Bozo episode went off the air in Chicago). Evidently, those tough guys in Chicago (whom I label as such with deep affection) feel the one and only true Bozo is their very own Bob Bell, with all other Bozos seen as mere pretenders to the throne. As well, there are numerous postings all over the web that this innocent little box set of Avruch's Bozos is somehow an affront to Bell, and that these Chicago Bozo fans would rather die first than watch Avruch's incarnation.

Really? Is it really that bad, this rivalry? I guess I'm out of it; my local stations didn't have its own Bozo (or at least, I'm pretty sure we didn't), so I watched the various Bozos out of Detroit. As a little kid, they all seemed okay to me. But evidently, I'm not a true connoisseur of Bozos. Watching Frank Avruch here in the Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1, I thought he was pretty good, actually. My little kids certainly enjoyed him. But to be fair, maybe I really need to see Chicago legend Bob Bell as the world's most famous clown to get a more accurate take on all of this brouhaha. But since those famous Chicago shows apparently aren't available (email me, Chicagoans, if I'm wrong), these beautifully remastered color episodes of Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1 will have to suffice.

Bozo, the rather startlingly red-haired clown known all over the world, was created by Alan J. Livingston for Capitol Records, for the first read-along book and music record ever produced. Immensely popular with children - as well as advertisers - Livingston and Capitol started to franchise the Bozo character out to merchandisers as well as local TV stations (Pinto Colvig was TV's first Bozo). By 1956, Larry Harmon and various investors bought the licensing rights to the Bozo character, tweaked the clown's appearance, and coupled with original Bozo animated cartoons that Harmon produced through his own company, offered local TV stations across the country the chance to create their own locally produced Bozo shows. In those early days of television, anything even remotely aimed at kids took off in the ratings, and Bozo, The World's Most Famous Clown, became one of the most-watched characters on nationwide television, with participating towns airing the show to kids who thought their local Bozo was the only Bozo in existence.

In 1965, Larry Harmon secured sole rights to the character, and, in his bid to exercise more control over Bozo, personally supervised the filming of 130 half-hour episodes of Boston's WHDH-TV's Bozo's Big Top, starring Frank Avruch as the Bozo Harmon thought most like his own conception of the clown. The plan was to offer this syndicated version of Bozo to markets in the hopes of centralizing Harmon's operations (no more supervision over countless local incarnations), and thereby maximizing his profits. Unfortunately, what Harmon hadn't counted on was the popularity of local Bozos with local viewers, nor the wish of local TV station managers to exercise their own control over their own shows. Most local stations chose to keep their own Bozos (Chicago's WGN-TV's Bozo's Circus was a huge hit, with a production budget far larger than the syndicated version), while the syndicated version played in markets that didn't have a Bozo show. From these 130 syndicated episodes, filmed from 1965 to 1967, come the 30 episodes in the Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1 box set.

I honestly didn't know what to expect when I put the first disc in for Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1. As with any vintage kiddie show on DVD, I wrangled up a couple of my own younger kids to watch with me, to see how the show might play to contemporary audiences. Their reaction was instantaneous: they immediately gathered around the front of the TV and didn't move for over an hour. They loved Bozo. I had assumed that they would enjoy it, but after years of seeing the junk that passes for children's programming today, you start to second-guess the classics. After all, you're talking about clowns, and magic, and silly slapstick, and vaudeville-style blackout skits: entertainment that new producers of so-called "children's programming" would laugh at and dismiss outright as "old hat" or even worse, "not socially relevant."

Well, if you're a parent, then you know that's hogwash, and that young children today will like what young children have always liked. Watching Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1, I was struck again at how galvanized kids are when they see other kids - live kids, not animated ones - participating in some show or program. The cable network Nickelodeon used to know that, airing quite a few participatory games shows and stunt series that kids adored. During Bozo's Treasure Chest game, my kids were yelling and screaming at the TV, trying to let the various contestants (who are better dressed - suits and ties, dresses - than adults are today) know exactly which Bozo balloon to pop, to get the right key, to win the entire treasure chest full of cool toys. They love SpongeBob SquarePants cartoons, too, but they don't interact with them like they did with these Bozo episodes.

There's also that marvelous sense of not knowing what may happen next on the show. Of course, these were taped, so anything egregious like a kid picking his nose would most probably be edited out (although there was this one kid in the gallery who...), but the element of surprise, as well as ad-libs from Frank Avruch, keeps your anticipation level high. Avruch, constantly moving and talking and cajoling and complimenting the children ("What a nice smile! Do you always smile like that?") maintains the high energy necessary to sell the show, particularly during the hoary old vaudeville chestnuts (pantomime horses, tons of magic tricks, juggling, pies in the face, blackout comedy sketches) that pop up throughout the episodes. With a Bozo cartoon added to each twenty-three minute episode, Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1 is the epitome of old-fashioned, dated children's entertainment, and it's quite simply marvelous. Rough at times technically, colorful, good-natured always, and wonderfully simple and most importantly old, Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1 is necessary viewing for fans and for children of fans.

Here are the 30, twenty-three minute episodes of Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1, as described on their slimcases:

DISC ONE

Show #1
Watch Lady Ruth Carlsson and Zany Zebra do their trick riding under the Bozo Big Top! Laughter with the comedy of Willie the Worker and Special Guest Co-Co the Clown, Europe's best juggler!

Show #2
Watch the Wacky Professor introduce Bozo to Hippitie-Hoppitie-Harvey who can only be seen through the lens of his magic microscope! Lady Ruth Carlsson does some amazing magic tricks; then Bozo makes her float in mid-air!

Show #3
See the new Bozo-Mobile for the first time ever! Wanda Water wings in from the Water Planet, stops by for a visit, watch out! Don't get wet! The Wacky Professor does some magic. Lady Ruth stops by, and Bozo makes her vanish into thin air!

Show #4
Mr. Lion stops by to show you why he's the fastest draw-er in the world! The Wacky Professor and Lady Ruth show us some magic where a bunny disappears and birds reappear right in front of your eyes!

Show #5
Watch Lady Ruth do her amazing saucer and plate acrobatics! Be dazzled as Lady Ruth is tied in a sack, chained, and locked in a trunk!

Show #6
Kooky the Kangaroo stops by to show Bozo how to box; you'll laugh when little Stevie steps out of the audience and knocks him cold! Don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest and Bonanza Wheel!

Show #7
Watch the kids take their turn riding Zany Zebra! Step right up and take part in the doughnut eating/whistling contest! Meet Clank the Robot's new girlfriend Clankina!

Show #8
Strike up the band as we meet Mr. Whistler for the very first time! See Bozo and his pals put on a play with the kids from the audience! Don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest and Bonanza Wheel!

DISC TWO

Show #9
See the incredible juggling routine of Lady Carlsson and the Wacky Professor! Enjoy the cartoon fun of Bozo and the Wacky Professor as they try out the Professor's new invention: the hope chest! Lots of games and audience fun, and don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest!

Show #10
See the Wacky Professor's magic chest of drawers! Watch in wonder as young Billy knocks out Kooky the Boxing Kangaroo in the very first round! Plus lots of games and audience fun, and don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest!

Show #11
Come and see the Wacky Professor show Clank the Robot his new invention: his all-purpose tickle machine! Plus all new tricks and audience fun, and don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest!

Show #12
Watch the wondrous return of Zany Zebra! See Bozo help his pal Zany with his 'learnin' so he can finish school! The Wacky Professor's magic, all new games, audience contests and Bozo's Treasure Chest!

Show #13
Step right up and find out what the banana-ana game is! Think you know? Want to try it, blindfolded? See Bozo help Kooky the Kangaroo with his boxing skills! Lots of games and prizes and don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest!

Show #14
Mister Lion the fastest draw-er alive comes back to demonstrate the fastest sketch art this side of the Pecos! What's in the mystery box? Audience games, the Wacky Professor's magic, and don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest!

Show #15
Clank the Robot stops by to talk about his new job as a Hollywood director/producer and wants to make Bozo a star! Meet Gloria the Giraffe! Learn the old shell game with the Wacky Professor and don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest!

Show #16
Carl Carlsson, the best juggler in all of Europe, stops by to show everyone just why he's the best ever! Clank the Robot returns, and plays some pranks on Bozo with balloon animals. Don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest!

DISC THREE

Show #17
Clank the Robot visits after a shopping trip, and tries to fool Bozo with a couple of magic tricks of his own (thanks to the help of the Wacky Professor!). Watch as the Wacky Professor tries to show Bozo how to make easy money by squeezing all the children's noses!

Show #18
Zany Zebra returns to show Bozo his new dance moves! Bozo's puppet pal stops by to sing about the Wild Wooly West, and his adventures stopping a bully robbing a stagecoach! Lots of fun and games as kids compete for fun and prizes, and don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest!

Show #19
Clank the Robot is looking for the professor to give him his magic drawing board; with it the Wacky Professor can make anything he draws on it real! Lots of games and audience fun, and don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest!

Show #20
When the Wacky Professor turns up to show Bozo his juggling skills, Bozo ups the ante one ball at a time. The professor gets the last laugh when nine balls go flying! Watch for the return of Kooky the boxing Kangaroo, when he shows up for a rematch!

Show #21
Presenting the return of Mister Lion, the fastest draw-er this side of the Pecos! See Bozo's Puppet Theater for the first time!

Show #22
Clank the Robot and the Wacky Professor help Bozo with recycling by starting a paper drive; all goes well until Clark starts to malfunction! The spectacular return of Co-Co the Clown, Europe's champion juggler!

Show #23
Watch as the Wacky Professor and Rabbit perform their best their best tricks yet! Of course if anything happens to Bozo, the evil butler gets everything! Enjoy more of Bozo Puppet Theater!

Show #24
See the Wacky Professor demonstrate his magic beads on unsuspecting audience members! Clank the Robot and the Professor get into a Robin Hood-like duel!

DISC FOUR

Show #25
Step up and see the Wacky Professor's magic card tricks! Mister Lion returns to show everyone why he's the fastest draw-er the world has ever seen! Plus, Bozo's Puppet Theater, contests, games and don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest!

Show #26
Be dazzled as the Wacky Professor does his best Houdini impersonation when he's bound and chained and attempts to escape right in front of our very eyes! Lots of games and audience adventure!

Show #27
Come watch Zany Zebra as he gives the kids rides and shows Bozo his new ballroom dancing skills! When a beanstalk grows right up into the sky the adventure begins...Plus there's Bozo's Puppet Theater, the professor's magic, and don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest!

Show #28
Cartoon adventure as Bozo becomes a detective and must solve a disturbing grocery hijacking case! All this plus the Wacky Professor's magic, audience games, and don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest!

Show #29
Come watch as Kooky the Kangaroo stops by for another boxing rematch! Co-Co the Clown returns from the world tour to show one and all his juggling routine! Lots of games and audience fun, and don't forget Bozo's Treasure Chest!

Show #30
Watch in wonder as Clank the Robot demonstrates his magic lie-detecting box! Masseur Carl Carlsson, the world-famous French juggler drops by to showcase his amazing abilities!

The DVD:

The Video:
I was fairly astounded by the full frame video image of Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1. It's really unusual to see color kinescopes (I assume since these were meant for syndication), let alone ones of these caliber. Sure there are anomalies, but over all, considering their age and the fact that probably nobody ever thought they'd be shown again (except, obviously, Larry Harmon), the Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1 episodes look amazing.

The Audio:
Unfortunately, the mono sound mix for Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1 is quite awful, but it's not the fault of this transfer. The original source material track, obviously caught with general studio mikes, can come and go with quite a bit of distortion. Close-captioning would have helped, though.

The Extras:
Curiously, there are no extras for Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1, not even an interview with Harmon, as promised when the set was first announced.

Final Thoughts:
Wonderfully dated, with simple pleasures that will still entertain your children, Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1 brings back those early television days before cable, before entire 24-hour networks devoted to kid's programming, and before the professional gloss and blandness that rules today's local TV output. Antiquities such as clowns, balloons, juggling, magic tricks, custard pies, and well-dressed, well-behaved children -- all deemed laughable by today's hipper-than-thou producers - somehow managed to keep my kids occupied and entertained. Yours will be, too. I highly recommend Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown - Collection 1.


Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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