One of the most iconic characters in the history of children’s television is Bozo the Clown. The character was at its peak in the 1960s and is an obvious influence on The Simpsons‘ Krusty the Klown. One of the men responsible for his widespread notoriety is Larry Harmon. Compiled from interviews made to Thomas Scott McKenzie, Harmon regales the reader with his autobiography.
Influenced by a screening of Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer when he was less than five years old, Harmon wanted to be an entertainer and worked very hard at it, becoming very driven no matter what goal he created for himself. For example, he became the first freshman drum major at his local high school in Cleveland when the position had been previously restricted to seniors. After coming out to California, readers witness his struggles in Hollywood. He helped Fred Astaire create dance routines for Royal Wedding, played in a jazz band, and hosted a children’s program for NBC as the character Commander Comet.
Bozo the Clown was a character in children’s read-along records that appeared on Capitol Records. Harmon talks about getting the role as the company “decided to branch the clown into film and television” and shot a pilot, but this doesn’t appear to be completely accurate. Other sources indicate that Harmon was hired to play Bozo for promotional appearances. I give this more credence because Harmon doesn’t mention Bozo being created by Alan Livingston nor does he mention Pinto Colvig, who notably voiced Disney’s Goofy and Popeye’s nemesis Bluto, as the first to play Bozo on the record. Plus, Bozo has already branched out into TV in 1949 starring Colvig in Bozo’s Circus. There’s also no mention of the International Clown Hall of Fame awarding him the Lifetime of Laughter Award in 1990 only to have it reversed years later.
There’s no disputing Harmon later bought the rights to the character from Capitol Records, modified it, developed a television program complete with cartoons created by his own company, and then franchised the package to local TV stations, eventually turning the character into a global icon. Harmon also appeared as Bozo as well. He relates adventures that take him to meet a tribe in New Guinea, experience zero-g, train as a NYFD firefighter, and discusses the dangers associated with a python in Thailand and running for President in 1984.
McKenzie does a great job capturing Harmon’s exuberance as if he is right next to the reader telling these stories. He seems so engaged and fascinated by what life had and has to offer that he comes off as ageless. The pages have wide margins with the text printed inside frames are reminiscent of a kid trying to maximize the page count of a school report. The inclusion of black and white pictures illustrating different things being referred to pop up throughout the pages and their randomness is amusing. There is also a selection of color photos.
Man Behind The Nose would no doubt please Harmon who passed away two years ago before the book’s release; however, as is typical for the format, he paints himself to look better than an outsider would by focusing on, and possibly puffing up, the positives and overlooking the negatives. Yet, that doesn’t detract from the book being a very entertaining read.