The Bozo Phoenominon

When Detroit television legend, Art Cervi, passed away on February 15, a generation who grew up with Bozo felt the loss.

Art Cervi in his prime

Wikipedia notes that “The World’s Most Famous Clown,” was introduced in the United States in 1946, and to television in 1949, later hosting  franchised television programs where he was portrayed by numerous local performers. In Detroit, the man behind the grease paint was a respected television producer. Art Cervi was the longest serving of several Detroit Bozos, appearing from 1967 until 1975 on Windsor’s Channel 9 (CKLW-TV) moving to Channel 2 (WJBK-TV). The character and the performer left the air in 1980.

Born in Mount Pleasant, New York, Cervi began his broadcast career behind a control board at WKMH-AM, the station that would later become WKNR, Keener 13. It was at Keener that he met DJ, Robin Seymour with whom he developed “Swingin’ Time,” Detroit’s answer to American Bandstand, which  aired six afternoons a week on Channel 9 in Windsor. Some of the legendary rock acts of the day lip synced their hits on Swingin’ Time, including local favorites Bob Seger and Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Motown stars like the Supremes and Marvin Gaye, plus nationally known touring acts including The Lovin’ Spoonful, Paul Revere & the Raiders and Bobby Sherman.

Art Cervi and Robin Seymour at the 2019 Detroit Radio Reunion

Cervi’s edgiest decision was to feature Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, who’s performance generated the largest response, both positive and negative. Swingin’ Time attracted a huge teen following, with some 200 youngsters showing up each day for just 50 dancing roles on the show.

Capitol Records first owned the Bozo brand, spinning it off to business man Larry Harmon. Harmon created an empire with Bozo. Each actor attended the “Bozo Boot Camp,” and the actors to buy the costume exclusively from Harmon Whenever the clown made a public appearance, Harmon received 50% of the fee.

183 people played “The Worlds Most Famous Clown” around the world.

Bozo had competition in Detroit. The children’s TV market was a money maker, attracting well remembered names like Soupy Sales, Johnny Ginger, Captain Jolly, Poopdeck Paul, and grease paint favorites, Wixie the Pixie, Ricky the Clown and Milky the Clown.

At his apex, Bozo was seen on Channel 9 every weekday morning for sixty minutes with another hour every weekday afternoon, a half hour on Saturday and another hour on Sunday. In the cable era, many saw Bob Bell portray Bozo on Chicago “Superstation”  WGN-TV.  Bozo’s Circus, went national via cable and satellite in 1978. At the program’s height there was a ten year waiting list for studio audience reservations.

“In a sense, I am a teacher,” Cervi once said. “I teach love and respect. If that’s not educational, I don’t know what is. Cervi went on to host “Let’s Talk Cars,” before his retirement. He was an honored presence at every Detroit radio reunion and his death was front page news in the Motor City.

Larry Harmon died of congestive heart failure at the age of 83 on July 3, 2008. Detroit radio legend Robin Seymour passed away on April 17, 2020.

Some Bozo Trivia: NBC stalwart, Willard Scott, played Bozo in Washington, D.C., in the late 150s and early 60s. The future Today Show weatherman also holds the distinction of being the first Ronald McDonald.

Quick Takes:

When it’s 1964 and you happen to see Ringo Starr in the other car and he snaps your picture, you naturally recreate the same shot 5 decades later. Fans of The Beatles may age, but we’re still cool! Got any old group photos you might want to revisit with those who were in em?

On This Date in History:

1878: Thomas Edison patents his latest invention, a ‘music player,’ later called a phonograph.
1955: Pat Boone releases the single ‘Two Hearts,’ which became his first chart entry. It is also the first of his dozen cover versions of songs that been hits for black R&B artists.
1956: Elvis Presley, billed as ‘Country Music’s Mr. Rhythm,’ performs two matinees and an evening show at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa.
1958: Singer/songwriter Carl Perkins left the Sun label to sign with Columbia Records as their first rockabilly artist. His Sun labelmate Johnny Cash made that same leap two years later.
1958: Larry Williams records his composition ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzie.’
1963: ‘The Feminine Mystique‘ by Betty Friedan is first published.
1964: A British company ships a half-ton of Beatle wigs to the U.S. An American reporter asked John Lennon, ‘How do you feel about teenagers imitating you with Beatle wigs?’ John replied ‘They’re not imitating us because we don’t wear Beatle wigs.’
1964: Simon & Garfunkel complete work on their original acoustic version of ‘The Sounds Of Silence’ for their first album ‘Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.’ The track is later overdubbed with drums, electric bass and electric guitar, all without the knowledge or participation of Simon & Garfunkel, and re-released as a single in September 1965. By January 1966, the augmented version is #1 on the Billboard pop singles chart.
1968: Gerry Marsden, leader of Gerry and the Pacemakers, begins a 3½-year run in the London stage production of ‘Charlie’s Girl.’
1968: After three years hosting his ‘Mister Rogers‘ children’s program on CBC-TV in Canada and a brief stint on the Eastern Educational Network in the U.S., Fred Rogers began ‘MisteRogers’ Neighborhood’ on the National Educational Television network (NET). The weekday series continued with a move to PBS in 1970, the show’s title modified to ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ and new episodes were produced until 2001.
1972: On CBS-TV’s ‘All In The Family,’ Sammy Davis, Jr. makes a memorable guest appearance during which he gave the show’s main character, white bigot Archie Bunker, a surprise kiss.
1974: Dick Clark stages the first ‘American Music Awards.’ Hosts included Smokey Robinson, Helen Reddy and Roger Miller. The new awards show established an alternative and some competition for the industry-dominated Grammy Awards.
1976: Donna Summer‘s debut single ‘Love to Love You Baby’ is certified Gold.
1977: Fleetwood Mac releases the album ‘Rumors.’
1981: Five years after being found guilty of ‘subconscious plagiarism’ of the Chiffons‘ ‘He’s So Fine’ in his song ‘My Sweet Lord,’ George Harrison is ordered to pay $587,000 to plaintiff ABKCO Music.
1981: Dolly Parton’s single ‘9 To 5’ is certified Gold. It is the title song of the motion picture in which Parton co-starred with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dabney Coleman.
1985: The Coca-Cola Company introduced Cherry Coke.
1998: Country music singer/comedian (Hee Haw) Louis Marshall ‘Grandpa’ Jones dies after a stroke at age 84.
2001: Film director (Judgment at Nuremberg, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Inherit the Wind, Death of a Salesman, The Defiant Ones, The Pride and the Passion, On the Beach, Ship of Fools, Champion, Bless the Beasts & Children, The Men, The Domino Principle, The Member of the Wedding, The Four Poster, The Moon and Sixpence) Stanley Kramer dies of pneumonia at age 87.
2003: Country music singer (Take This Job And Shove It, She’s All I Got) Johnny Paycheck dies of emphysema at 64.
2016: Pulitzer Prize-winning author (To Kill a Mockingbird) Harper Lee dies at age 89.
2016: Los Angeles radio legend (KHJ-AM, KROQ-AM, KKDJ/KIIS-FM, KBIG-FM, KTNQ, KHTZ, KRLA, KODJ, KMPC, KIKF, KLAC, KRTH-FM)/TV host (Scrabble, the international edition of Inside Hollywood) Charlie Tuna dies at the age of 71.

Happy Birthday to: Lee Marvin, 1924 (d. 1987); Smokey Robinson, 1940; Lou Christie, 1943; Jeff Daniels, 1955; Seal, 1963

Much More Music:

1966, Lou Christie is at No.1 with ‘Lightnin Strikes’. Bernadette Carroll, Peggy Santiglia and Denise Ferri of The Delicates provided backup vocals. (Video)


1972, Harry Nilsson started a four week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with his version of the Badfinger song ‘Without You.’ His vocal was recorded in a single take earning the artist his second Grammy Award. Best known for his hit “Everybody’s Talkin’” and for composing such hits as Three Dog Night‘s “One“, Nilsson heard Badfinger’s recording of the tune at a party, and mistook it for a Beatles song. After realising it wasn’t, he decided to record his own version for Nilsson Schmilsson in 1971. (Video)

1977, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band was the second group fronted by the British artist responsible for “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” and “The Mighty Quinn”. They scored a No.1 with their version of the Bruce Springsteen song “Blinded By The Light.” The Earth Band’s version features several changed lyrics. The most prominent change is in the chorus, where Springsteen’s “cut loose like a deuce” is replaced with “revved up like a deuce.” Springsteen himself has said that it was not until Manfred Mann’s lyrical rewrite was mistaken for a “feminine hygiene product” that the tune became popular. (Video)

Today’s Quote Worth Re-quoting: “If your dreams don’t inspire and motivate you, then you need more powerful dreams.” ~Ranal Currie

We leave you with this 1972 release from the Staple Singers. “I’ll Take You There” was part of the Be Altitude: Respect Yourself LP, the introduction being lifted from “The Liquidator“, a 1969 reggae hit by the Harry J Allstars. In fact, the entire song, written in the key of C, contains but two chords, C and F. A large portion of the song is set aside for Mavis‘ sisters Cleotha and Yvonne and their father “Pops” to seemingly perform solos on their respective instruments. In reality, these solos (and all music in the song) were recorded by the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. (Video)

Thanks for listening!

Scott Westerman
Host and Producer – Rock and Roll Revisited
Author: Motor City Music – Keener 13 and the Soundtrack of Detroit