Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Monday, December 15, 1997

I won’t live in a world
without Bozo

SOME friends and I raised our glasses the other night and toasted the departure of Bob Bell.

In case you missed it - and it was easy to do because it was just a small item in the "Deaths Elsewhere" section of the obituaries - Bob Bell, the guy who played Bozo the Clown for 25 years, died. He was 75.

That's obituary-style writing. You say that a guy is dead. And then you add a single sentence saying his age. "Joe Shmoe died after a piano dropped on his head. He was 52."

You don't do it in any other kind of journalism. You don't write, say, "Suzy Jones won the annual elementary school art contest. She was 7."

I wonder why you can't just say "Joe Shmoe, 52, and a bit shorter than he was moments earlier, died when a piano fell on him"

I guess stating the age starkly in its own little sentence adds some weight to the proceedings. As if a guy dying isn't weight enough.

Anyway, I would have missed the Bob Bell obituary, too, unless a staff member hadn't started laughing. I think its OK to laugh while reading the obituary for a clown. In fact, I'll bet most dead clowns would want it that way. "Leave 'em laughing," I think is the clown motto. Maybe not. But it should be.

The staff member was laughing at the line in the Bob Bell obituary which quoted a someone saying "This is a sad day in the history of Bozo."

That's a funny sentence. I don't know why. I mean, it's not funny that Bell died. Maybe it's just the whole idea that there is a "history of Bozo" that kind of hits your funny bone. Or maybe it's because that we know that many times there's a sad clown beneath the grease paint and the funny rubber nose. Many clowns got a lot of laughs pretending that they were sad.

I showed the clips to my friends after work and they all laughed. Then I guess we felt guilty about it. And so we toasted to Bob Bell, pausing for a second to consider the history of Bozo.

Like Larry Harmon, the creator of Bozo the Clown was trying to say in the obituary, there are a lot of Bozos out there. But Bell was a Bozo for 25 years out of the 50 years Bozo existed.

And yes, the passing of Bell was a sad day in the history of Bozo. But a friend pointed out that someone else will pick up the Bozo banner and march proudly on. There is probably a virtual battalion of Bozos out there to fight the forces of seriousness. And yes, Bozos die. Not all of them are as well known as Bob Bell. Perhaps somewhere there is a Tomb of the Unknown Bozo. Who knows? There are Bozo's who probably died in the service of their country who had more of a right to buried in Arlington National Cemetery than Clinton's Merchant Marine buddy. That guy was just a U.S. ambassador. Bozos are ambassadors to the world.

The thing is, Bozos don't take, they only give. They give till it hurts. And it hurts, especially when they are doing that bit about "a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants." You don't know hurt till you get a direct shot of seltzer in your pants, pal. Those big shoes aren't the most comfortable things in the world either.

So, yes, I started off laughing at the Bozo obituary. And then I started feeling like Bozo had been shortchanged. News of Bozo's death should have been on the front page. Any guy who plays Bozo the Clown for 25 years, making so many kids happy, deserves more than nine lines in the "Deaths Elsewhere" section of the paper. But there are happier Bozo days ahead. You can't keep a good Bozo down. For every Bozo that faulters, another Bozo will rise up. Eventually, we will be an entire country of Bozos. Proud. Free. With plenty of seltzer to go around.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

or send E-mail to charley@nomayo.com or

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