SOUTHCOAST SOUNDOFF: Best Local TV Clown?
With the recent passing of Frank Avruch, Boston's Bozo the Clown, many on social media are sharing their thoughts about the children's television icon.
Avruch was the Bozo in the Boston market from 1959 until 1970; the man who purchased the rights to Bozo the Clown in 1956 from Capitol Records, Larry Harmon, chose to franchise the character to local markets, rather than just syndicate one person as Bozo across the country. This gave each individual market the opportunity to use local children as the live studio audience, and have a Bozo that could be part of the community itself.
Bozo aired on WCVB-TV, Channel 5, which used to be WHDH-TV until 1972. As a kid, I remember watching Bozo re-runs early in the morning on WLVI-TV 56.
Those in New Bedford, who grew up watching Bozo on WTEV-TV (later WLNE-TV) Channel 6, got a different person behind the makeup--Ben Schneider. Many SouthCoast children grew up going down to the Channel 6 studios on County Street and sitting in Bozo's audience.
And Providence children watching that Channel 6 broadcast got a different Bozo as well, Jeremy Bell.
But while Bozo was franchised (and eventually syndicated) across the country, there was another television clown in Boston that gave him a run for his money--Willie Whistle.
Dick Beach also began playing his television clown persona in 1959, at WSPD-TV Channel 134 in Toledo, Ohio. By 1960, he was portraying Salty the Clown in his own television show, using a tiny whistle sitting on his tongue that made his voice high and squeaky, and practically indecipherable. Along with his co-host Captain Cotton, the two became stars of children's television.
In 1967, WSBE-TV Channel 38 brought Beach and his Salty the Clown character to Boston, but changed his name to Willie Whistle, because "Salty" was already the nickname of one of Massachusetts' U.S. senators at the time, Leverett Saltonstall.
Willie Whistle was Channel 38's children's host for 20 years, when Beach was forced to retire due to a back injury in 1987.
Here on the SouthCoast, you probably grew up on Bozo, unless you had a good set of rabbit ears on your television set that brought in the UHF stations from Boston.
But for those of you who could pull in the signal from the Hub, who was the better television clown--Bozo or Willie Whistle? And why?
Sound off on our WBSM Facebook page under this story.