I was surprised by two items in the newspaper this past weekend that brought up distant memories from my childhood. Unbelievably, goateed bandleader Mitch Miller, who I think once had his own TV show in the Lawrence Welk mode, was celebrating his 97th birthday–who knew he was still kicking? While my parents once enjoyed his easy listening/big band sounds, my most vivid memory of the man was that we called the aliens from the “Zantee Misfits” episode of The Outer Limits the “Mitch Miller ants.” I have no idea why this has stuck with me for so many years, but anyone who’s seen that classic episode and is familiar with the hip-in-his-day bandleader will get the connection.
The sad news was that Larry Harmon, the man credited with making Bozo the Clown “the world’s most famous clown,” died at the age of 83 of congestive heart failure. Harmon wasn’t the original Bozo (the character was launched as a Capitol Records recording artist in 1946), but from the early 50’s on he bought the rights to the name, developed it into the children’s icon we all knew and loved, and licensed it to television stations around the country. He cloned and trained over 200 local Bozo Show hosts the world over, and supposedly there was as many 183 individual live shows on the air at the same time in the U.S. Incredibly, the live Bozo Show was on the air without interruption for 47 years, making it the longest running family program in television history.
Growing up in the pre-Sesame Street era of the late 50’s and early 60’s, Romper Room, Captain Kangaroo, Shari Lewis, and Bozo the Clown all helped shape our very impressionable minds while educating and entertaining. It was a great time to be a kid, and Larry Harmon helped make it that way. R.I.P. to the man who was called “truly the goodwill ambassador of the world” — you’ve earned it.