BOB BELL, THE FIRST "BOZO THE CLOWN" ON WGN-TV, DIES
It's a tremendous loss to the station and to all of our viewers. We have lost a great man today," commented Allen Hall, the longtime producer of "The Bozo Show" on WGN-TV.
In 1959, Bell portrayed Bozo the Clown on a 30-minute show consisting of one-man sketches and cartoons. The program went off the air in 1960 and returned as "Bozo's Circus" after WGN moved its studios from the Tribune Tower to its current facility on Chicago's northwest side in 1961. With an ample amount of circus greasepaint, a fiery red wig, and a flashy outfit, Bob entered into the world of the big top, amazing and amusing youngsters all over Chicagoland. He brought the character to national prominence when WGN-TV began broadcasting via satellite in 1978.
Mr. Bell's career in show business began out west prior to World War II, where he worked in movies such as Clarence Buddington Kelland's "Arizona." He not only performed as an extra in the role of a U.S. Cavalryman, but also helped to build the western city of Old Tucson, which became a major tourist attraction in Arizona.
Although he was almost blind in one eye, Bob succeeded in passing the Marine physical in 1941 by memorizing the eye charts. Less than a year later, however, he was given a medical discharge. The Navy accepted him in 1941, and he served in the Pacific until 1946.Upon receiving his discharge from the Navy, Bob joined a little theater group for a short period of time. Then in November of 1946, Bob returned to his home town of Flint, Michigan where he joined radio station WMRP.
A year later, Bell moved to South Bend, Indiana's WHOT (now WNDU). In 1950 he joined WFBM, Indianapolis, then to WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1953. In 1956, Bob Bell joined the staff at WGN Continental Broadcasting Company.
Early in his career at WGN, he played many different characters on the Wally Phillips Show. From there he joined the Bozo production and also played the character of the kindly old backstage custodian, Andy Starr, on the children's movie theater.
While performing as Bozo, Bell once commented, "I was always somewhat calloused about broadcasting, but this Circus is the doggonedest phenomenon I have ever seen. There's always the satisfaction that you have done something for somebody that goes beyond the commercial aspects of the show. I love my work and enjoy making children laugh. Laughter cannot be imitated. It comes from the heart." Bozo's sidekick throughout many years on "The Bozo Show" was Cooky the Clown (a.k.a. Cooky the Cook), played by Roy Brown.
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Last updated: May 21, 2005