Hawked my book [The Me Generation... By Me] on the WGN-9 Mid-Day News. The station is God knows where. Certainly the cab driver didn’t have a clue. Drove by Wrigley Field and I think Wisconsin.Neither Levine nor his cabbie were Chicago natives. Growing up in Chicago in the 60s kids learned two addresses -- their home address and WGN's -- and not necessarily in that order.
|Ringmaster Ned, Bob Trendler, Bozo,|
Oliver O. Oliver and Sandy the Tramp
Kids could go home from school for lunch in those days and that's when Bozo was on. My mother would have sandwiches waiting and we'd watch the show. Because the show was live, there was a lot of spontaneous ad-libbing -- not all of it suitable for (or aimed at) children. My mother watched that show long after all of my siblings were grown.
The show was put on before a live audience and tickets were impossible to come by. Engaged couples would register for china patterns and Bozo tickets. Maybe the tickets would come in time for their kids to use. Maybe their grandkids. That's why kids send in so many postcards to be at-home players in the Grand Prize Game. After the "magic arrows" picked the day's lucky contestants Ringmaster Ned would shout, "Let's go over to the Bozo Drum!"
The Bozo Drum was a giant, hollow monstrosity. It looked like a Ferris Wheel, only a little smaller. The sides were clear so we could see all the postcards inside -- and it was stuffed. There was a little door in the side of the drum. The day's contestants would reach in and choose the at-home players -- the boy would pick a boy's card, the girl would pick the girl's. When the boy picked a girl's card, Ringmaster Ned would pluck it from the kid's hand and tell him to plunge in again.
|This is from a later iteration of the show. Ringmaster|
Ned was gone; even Frazier Thomas has come and gone.
I'll bet Professor Andy was all that was left of Bob Trendler's
Big Top Band. But the Grand Prize Game remained.
Those few kids who did beat the Grand Prize Game had icewater in their veins. They're probably cleaning up today on golf courses all over the country.
I never got to play the Grand Prize Game but I did get to go to Bozo once -- and I even got picked for a tug of war contest. Ringmaster Ned asked my name and everything -- but I must have mumbled because he called me by the wrong name. And my team lost the tug of war. Still, I was rewarded with a genuine Bozo decal. It was stuck to a dresser for years before some Philistine painted it over.
Fast forward nearly 50 years. Earlier this year I had to be at WGN for a political show (OK, I didn't have to be there; I was on the list to get by security because I'd arranged for one of the show's actual guests to be there). Anyway, on my way to the newsroom, I got to peek inside the old Bozo studio -- much of the set is still there -- and I was instantly transported. Hey, the newsroom was interesting, too -- but I saw the Bozo set.