Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Today is MY WIFE’s birthday. We are going to the last Celtics game of the season. This was by her request, oddly enough. She may be under some sort of mistaken impression that her birthday is actually my birthday. In any case, when you go to a sporting event, there is always the possibility of being seen on the telecast of the game. And that is today’s flimsy excuse for a segue, because…
Yesterday, I mentioned the times we’ve both appeared on television. You needn’t go there for reference. Here is the list again:
Bozo The Clown
A televised Catholic mass
A filmed review, on the news, concerning a play we attended
A WCW wrestling show
A quiz show on PBS
A cable talk show that I hosted for three or four weeks
And now, as threatened yesterday, the details concerning a couple of these fleeting moments of fame.
(This also qualifies as a continuance of the piece I wrote concerning children's television, some two weeks ago. Hah! You thought I just crapped out on that, didn’t you? Nope. I promised to come back to it and now I have. I’m not always timely in keeping my promises, but keep them I do.)
If you’re from Boston and over 40, you don’t need to be told what Boomtown was. You remember it and you probably loved it. If you’re from anywhere else and under 40, telling you probably won’t make you jealous of me for having appeared on it. In either case, I’m going to tell you about it, no matter how superfluous the imparting of such information may be.
Boomtown was a children’s show that aired on WBZ-TV in Boston during the 1950's, 1960’s and 1970’s. The host was Rex Trailer, a he-man cowboy type. The setting was a western frontier town. Rex, along with his trusty sidekick, Pablo (and, following Pablo's untimely death, Cactus Pete and/or Sergeant Billy), would ride into town each weekend to sing songs, show cartoons and do a few rope tricks.
I was a huge fan. Then, as now, I was one of those annoying morning people. I'd get up at 5:30 or so on Saturday morning, turn on the TV, and sit through the test pattern, a farm and market report, and a few public service announcements, waiting for Rex and Pablo to come on at 6. The show was on for as much as four hours each Saturday and Sunday. This varied a bit throughout the years, depending upon the sponsors and ratings.
Each episode would begin in the bunkhouse, where Rex and Pablo cohabitated. Some adventure or other would ensue, always culminating in Rex riding into Boomtown (to the tune of Hoofbeats, Hoofbeats, Hoofbeats) on his trusty steed, Goldrush. Pablo would follow as best he could on his donkey.
Once in Boomtown, there were segments with animals ("critter corner"); a naming of one lucky kid as the day's deputy; a contest wherein every kid would parade to the tune of Hey, Look Me Over, while the deputy tried to spot another kid who had been put on a wanted poster, with prizes for both parties; and plenty of other games, cartoons and the climax of whatever had started at the bunkhouse a few hours earlier.
(On the Sunday show, Rex would introduce the Davey & Goliath cartoons - produced by the Lutheran Church and each containing a solid chunk of sermon - by playing the guitar and singing the following song:
This is the story of The Lord
This is the story of The Lord
The way we tell it may be new, but every word is true
This is the story of The Lord
This no doubt assuaged many feelings of guilt parents may have been feeling for having their kids watching TV on Sunday morning rather than being in church.)
When I was 7 or 8, a few of us from the neighborhood were on the show. I’m not sure how we came to be on the show. It was probably somebody’s birthday. However it came about, it was quite a thrill. Rex Trailer was a veritable God to those of my age range. We looked forward to actually walking the streets of Boomtown and seeing Rex ride the noble Goldrush into town, spurs jingling and whip cracking, just as we saw it each week on TV.
In actuality, this particular show was taped on a soundstage in Brighton. The show did have a complete western set built outside of the studio, but that was used only during the Spring and Summer months. We were at one of the Winter shows, all of which were taped indoors.
Despite the extremely (in retrospect) cheesy sets, it was still somewhat of a letdown to discover that Boomtown was just a series of facades with no actual buildings behind most of the doors. Heck, some of them weren’t even wooden facades; they were painted cloth backdrops. And when Rex came roaring into town on the mighty Goldrush, he was riding the dusty trail on tape only. A stagehand gave poor Goldrush a slap on the rear and got him to scoot out onto the soundstage from the wings, where he had been standing for the first 20 minutes or so of the taping.
The worst part of the experience? Whereas the show seen on TV contained Popeye, Davey & Goliath, Hercules and other cartoons, the five minutes or so each one occupied was filled with little but Rex talking things over with his crew when you were actually in Boomtown. Ah, well. Even with all of these bummers, it was still a thrill to actually see Rex in the flesh.
(To be completely fair, from all accounts I’ve ever seen, Rex was [and is] a very nice fellow. He did a lot of charity work and I’ve never heard any stories about him kicking kids to the curb or anything. And he really was an honest-to-goodness singing cowboy, having spent childhood years in Texas and then toured with wild west shows before landing the TV gig. He wasn’t a phony. He actually did the rope tricks and had a mastery of the bullwhip and he played the guitar and it really was him riding Goldrush, even if only on tape.)
Next on the list is Bozo The Clown. MY WIFE and I both appeared on Bozo, although we assume it happened on separate telecasts. Our paths crossed many times before we met and fell in love, though, and it wouldn’t be shocking to find out we were both under Bozo’s Big Top at the same moment.
As I found out later, there were numerous Bozos throughout the country. The format of the show was syndicated and a local person pegged to play Bozo in each locale. Boston’s Bozo was a fellow by the name of Frank Avruch. A rather handsome man to be playing a clown, he later went on to some fame as host of a number of other locally-produced programs and tended to shy away from talk of his days as Bozo. Another member of the Boston show's cast, playing Mr. Lion, was Carroll Spinney, who went on to greater fame as Big Bird on Sesame Street.
(I found out the truth on a flight to Chicago when I was 10 or 11. My father, as he often did because of his gregarious nature, became engaged in conversation with a fellow passenger. When meal service began, my Dad told me about the conversation. It seems the fellow he had been chatting up was Bozo in Chicago. I was somewhat incredulous concerning this revelation, but my father patiently explained how it worked. I left that flight a wiser person, but perhaps not happier.)
Anyway, Bozo was a half-hour daily show, aired each day at 5:30, just before dinnertime in most homes. It was a way to keep your kids occupied while supper was being prepared. The show was taped in a mock-up of a circus tent, with seating in the round. There were cartoons of Bozo and his sidekick, Butch. The live segments often featured Bozo interacting with some visitor, perhaps someone with an interesting animal or a job that kids would like hearing about. And one lucky kid from the audience got to be “Butch For The Day.”
(Yes, there are numerous jokes available here, some of them quite filthy and most involving some sort of reference to lesbianism. I’ll forego them, thanks.)
Courtesy of MY WIFE, who never has forgotten a song lyric in her entire life, here is the theme song from Bozo:
I am such a funny clown
I like to travel round and round
The Circus is my home
I always seem to roam
In a rocket ship I soar
I explore the ocean floor
But you must know, I'll never go
Unless you come along!
Bozo, Bozo, always laughs, never frowns
Bozo, Bozo, Bozo the clown!
There aren’t any such shows now. They were a television staple at one time. Parents used to put their children’s names on waiting lists to be on such shows. In the case of very popular programs, such as Howdy Doody, some kids had their names placed on the lists prior to their birth, since the waiting time for tickets was so long. It was a big deal among us kids to be on Boomtown or Bozo or Major Mudd or Romper Room (and my Cousin David has a great story concerning that show.) I suspect that most kids would consider it an imposition on their time now.
We tend, as a society, to want our children to mature more quickly now. Silly orange-haired clowns and TV cowboys are not seen as furthering our children’s push toward success. At the same time, our kids reach a certain age and seem to actively resist accepting responsibility. These are blanket statements, of course, and there are mighty exceptions. However, I find it interesting that parents want their children to move out of young childhood very quickly and these same kids seem to want to hang on to childhood for more years later on.
Ah, well, enough sociological psycho-blather. I'm going to go have some Bosco and a fluffernutter.
Soon, with more better stuff.