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Archive for the ‘People’ Category

LARRY HARMON (1925 – 2008) Bozo the Clown & Businessman

In Biography, Bozo, Clowns, People, Trivia, Uncategorized, USC Alumni on September 7, 2010 at 9:01 AM

Larry Harmon

Larry Harmon was born Lawrence Weiss in Ohio, the older of two boys.  His mom worked in an office, and his dad took anything he could find, from handyman to salesman. These humble beginnings were no match for Harmon’s vision and determination.  When Bozo decided to run for political office, people thought he was just clowning around, but Harmon had a mission.  Making people laugh and learn was no laughing matter.

As a young boy Harmon stuttered, and he knew he would have to overcome that to be successful.  He figured he could help prepare himself for his destiny by imitating what he heard on the radio. Whenever his parents listened to a program, their ambitious son copied all the sounds and patterns of the voices, from speeches by President Roosevelt to opera. 

THE BEAT OF A DIFFERENT DRUMMER     Harmon had a keen ear, and he heard rhythm in everything.  Beating on things was a natural outlet for a kid with rhythm.  He started with the pots and pans, banging out patterns with spoons.  When he was six he wanted a more sophisticated sound.  His first drum set was made up of a wooden breadboard, a cast-iron skillet, a metal mixing bowl, and an empty coffee can.  For drum sticks he upgraded to his mom’s butcher knives.  For his safety, his parents finally gave him a pair of real drumsticks and lessons with the renowned Charley Wilcoxon. 

In eighth grade Harmon was captivated by listening to the USC marching band perform during the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.  The announcer described the drum major in his colorful uniform and commanding showmanship, and Harmon decided that he would be a drum major as soon he got into high school.  Never mind that had never seen one and the position was always held by a senior.    

Through annoying persistence, a trait that often served him well, Harmon convinced the high school band director to let him audition at band camp that summer.  To earn the money to go to camp, Harmon, only 14 years old, talked his way into a job at the local dry cleaners.  On the last day of camp, Harmon fell, tore a tendon and was in a cast for the audition.  He made up for his immobility with a grandiose ending that got him the job, the only freshman in the history of the school to be drum major.

After a stint in the army Harmon had another dream come true.  He was accepted to USC where he studied theater and became the drum major for the Trojan marching band.  When he graduated he was ready for a career in entertainment and started using the stage name Larry Harmon.  His first gig was as Commander Comet in a kid’s show on NBC.  Television was still in its infancy, and Harmon not only played the spaceman, he also did the voices for six puppets, read the commercials and booked the guests, including pilot Chuck Yeager.

As busy as the actor was on his first show, he also needed a day job.  During that time he worked as a private investigator, home decorator, manager of a wholesale brokerage company and, when his parents moved to California, he opened a jewelry store with his father.  At night he played with a jazz combo.

SEND IN THE CLOWN                                         In 1952 Harmon auditioned at Capitol Records to be one of the Bozo the Capitol Clowns in public appearances.  He got the job and felt as comfortable in the oversized costume as in a favorite pair of jeans.  For a few years he played Bozo and maintained his survival jobs until one night he had an epiphany.  He envisioned transforming Bozo from just a clown to the World’s Most Famous Clown.  In 1956, he negotiated buying the rights to the character at a time when the clown was losing his relevance for the direction Capitol was going.

Immediately Harmon revamped the character into its iconic image.  He made him smart and energetic with the wisdom of an adult and the wonder of a child.  He changed the voice and created a laugh that crescendoed with each syllable.  He redesigned the costume, replacing the mop-like wig with a red wig made from yak hair and coated with Krylon.  He traded in his shoes for a size 83AAA.

Bozo the Clown

Once the new character was set, Harmon needed a TV show for him to appear in.  It was too expensive to produce a program on a major network, so he decided to create a show for the local market airing in Los Angeles on KTLA.  He added other characters and hired a different actor to play Bozo so he could concentrate on the production aspects.  To round out the program, Harmon wanted cartoons to give Bozo the opportunity to do crazy things a live actor couldn’t.  He borrowed money and opened a small animation studio.

It didn’t take long for Bozo to become a hit, and Harmon started stage two of his business plan.  He franchised the show at local stations all around the country, allowing it to adapt to regional differences and giving the kids in each market the opportunity to participate in the audiences. Advertisers had the advantage of buying time on a show that catered to the customers in their area.

In 1959 Harmon started licensing the Bozo TV shows, and he traveled around the country to train hand-picked actors to play the character.  Eventually, over 200 men in the US and other countries, including Thailand, Greece, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Australia, completed the rigorous training to learn the specifics of playing the world’s most famous clown.  And, playing Bozo launched at least one show business career.  In Washington, DC, Willard Scott wore the red wig and nose before becoming a celebrity weather man. 

FINDING OPPORTUNITIES                               Harmon occasionally played Bozo himself, and he used his alter ego to educate children as well as entertain.  This gave him the opportunity for some unique experiences, always in costume.  He flew in the zero gravity aircraft that trains astronauts.  He went scuba diving with Navy frogmen.  He threw out the first pitch for a Cleveland Indian’s baseball game.  He jumped out of a window while being chased by flames to demonstrate fire safety. 

Much of Harmon’s success was because he refused to take “no” for an answer.  Harmon persuaded an Australian bush pilot to drop the clown and a two-person film crew into the jungle of New Guinea so he could meet the cannibalistic aborigines and prove that laughter is a universal language.  When he came face to face with the chief, Bozo tried to explain that he came in peace, but he was at a loss for words.  After some tense moments, the two men discerned that they had something in common, an unusual headdress.  Then Bozo broke the ice with a magic trick which led to spending two days making friends with people the rest of the world feared. 

In 1984, Harmon was encouraged to use Bozo’s influence to get people to vote in the presidential election.  To do this he declared himself a write-in candidate for President of the United States and hit the campaign trail.  He had no delusions about winning, but some citizens feared his candidacy was more than symbolic.  There were three serious attempts to kill him. 

When Harmon was 60 years old he had a heart attack, the first in a long list of heart ailments.  He continued working on the business aspects of his enterprise for over 20 years supported by his second wife Susan. On January 1,1996 Harmon became Bozo for the first time in a decade to appear in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. 

In 2008 his heart gave out.  But even though Harmon has passed on, the laughter and lessons from Bozo live forever.

QUESTION:  What could you do if you refused to take “no” for an answer?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Harmon, Larry & McKenzie, Thomas Scott, The Man Behind the Nose: Assassins, Astronauts, Cannibals, and Other Stupendous Tales. New York: Igniter Books, 2010.

http://bozotheclown.org/blog/

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0363528/bio

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=28022262

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Harmon

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INA COOLBRITH (1841 – 1928) 1st Poet Laureate of California & Librarian

In Bohemian Club, California History, Mormons, People, Poetry, Trivia, Victorian Women, women, Writers on September 1, 2010 at 2:28 PM

Ina Coolbrith

Ina Coolbrith loved words, and she wasn’t afraid to use them.  When she got angry with her friend John Muir for setting her up on a disastrous blind date, she “rhymed him” as punishment, with 75 lines of humorous verse.  There was, however, one aspect of her life she was obligated never to reveal in any form: who her family was.

Josephine Donna Smith was born in Nauvoo, Illinois, the youngest of three girls. Her father, Don Carlos Smith, was the brother of Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Don Carlos died when Coolbrith was five months old, and when she was two, a sister died.  That left her mother, Agnes, with two mouths to feed and very few options. 

William Pickett was a lawyer and owner of a printing press in St. Louis. When Joseph Smith was murdered, he ventured north to get the story of violent anti-Mormon sentiment first hand.   He married Agnes and moved his new family to St. Louis where they welcomed twin boys.  For their safety, Pickett had one requirement of his new wife. He extracted a promise that Agnes and the children forget their past and keep it a secret for as long as they lived. 

THE PROMISED LAND             Gold rush fever tempted Pickett to move to California, so in 1851 he loaded the wagon train and headed toward sunshine and promises.  They set up their first home in Marysville, north of Sacramento, to be near the gold mines.  When they got exasperated with their lack of luck, they moved to the burgeoning city of San Francisco.  In 1855 their house was robbed and then burned, so they uprooted themselves again and moved to Los Angeles.

In the pueblo of Los Angeles, Coolbrith, 14 years old, did something she’d never done before: go to school.  She enrolled in the girls’ department of the first public school when it opened in 1855, and attended classes for three years.  The rest of her education was home study or from reading the classics in her step-father’s extensive library.  She showed an aptitude for writing poetry when she wrote her first English composition in verse.  She explained to the teacher that she thought it was easier than writing in a narrative style. When she was 15, she had her first poem titled “My Childhood’s Home” published in the Los Angeles Star.

When Coolbrith was 17, she married Robert Carsley.  He turned out to be a jealous, abusive man, and Coolbrith filed for divorce three years later.  The young woman received a lot of support during her marital problems, but there was one burden she carried alone.  She had a baby that died in infancy.  The existence of this child was never discovered until after Coolbrith died.  Like every young girl, she dreamed of being a wife and mother, but those dreams were dashed by the time she was 20 years old.

STARTING OVER                         In order to make another fresh start, Coolbrith and her family moved back to San Francisco. Perhaps as a way to reinvent herself or to create a nom de plume, she started using the name Ina Donna Coolbrith (her mother’s maiden name).  She got a job as an elementary English teacher, wrote and published poems and became friends with some important people of letters including Bret Hart, Joaquin Miller, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and Ambrose Bierce. 

Coolbrith had many poems published in the prestigious Overland Monthly, and she was asked to write the commencement ode for the 1871 graduating class of the University of California at Berkeley, the first woman to be accorded this honor.  The verse entitled “California” was a love letter to her adopted state.

In 1872, the all-male Bohemian Club was founded as a place for authors, artists, musicians and patrons of the arts to congregate.  Since they were women, Coolbrith and Mrs. Margaret Bowman made the curtains for their first location.   A few months later, acknowledging that although qualified the only reason the poet was not admitted into the club was because of her gender, the group elected Coolbrith and Bowman as their first honorary members.

GETTING A JOB                           Within two years Coolbrith’s life was affected by two major events: her mom died and she was hired as the librarian of the Oakland Free Library with a salary of $80 a month.  Her young nephew and niece were hired as first and second assistants respectively.  Despite having a limited education, she was responsible for acquisitions and created the first catalog.  But she got the most pleasure out of advising young people in what to read.  Two students who never forgot her caring, supportive advice were Jack London and Isadora Duncan. 

In 1881 the first anthology of Coolbrith’s poems, A Perfect Day, was published.  She found the time to continue to write until there was conflict at the library.  Over a period of ten years, the new Board of Directors made changes that seemed to be motivated by removing the head librarian from her post.  During that time, Coolbrith’s professional life was not all difficult.  In 1886 she helped to establish the first Arbor Day in California, and a branch library in Oakland was named after her.  But behind her back, her nephew was gaining more responsibility directly from the library Board. 

Ultimately, Coolbrith made have inadvertently caused the ax to fall on herself.  She gave an interview to a reporter of the Oakland Times illuminating some of the problems with the library.  Three weeks later the headline announced that Coolbrith was fired without cause with only three day’s notice.  Support for Coolbrith was widespread, and newspapers from Seattle to San Diego wrote editorials denouncing the decision.

After 18 years of service to the community and countless hours of inspiration to students, Coolbrith was forced to turn over her duties to her nephew, Henry Peterson.  Coolbrith’s ouster became a political issue and was a contributing factor in librarians and teachers becoming civil servants in California.1

The public’s affection for Coolbrith never diminished, and her lectures on early California writers were well attended.  When she was 57 years old she was hired as the head librarian at the Mercantile Library of San Francisco and held that post for one year until the Bohemian Club offered her a part-time position as librarian.  Even though it only paid $50 a month, she accepted to have more time to write a book based on her lectures. 

In 1906 Coolbrith was confined to bed with rheumatism.  When the earthquake hit at 5:00 am on April 18, she and her live-in housekeeper had just enough time to gather up the two cats and evacuate.  Later that morning, the fire that ultimate destroyed most of San Francisco engulfed Coolbrith’s house and burned all her manuscripts, correspondence with famous authors and books. 

HONORS AND ACCOLADES     Coolbrith bounced back and served as president of the Congress of Authors and Journalists at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915.  During the event she was named the Poet Laureate of California and was presented with a symbolic crown of laurel leaves.  It was an honorary title, with no stipend attached to it.  It wasn’t until four years later that a resolution was filed with the California Secretary of State making the commendation official and giving Coolbrith the distinction of being the first female poet laureate in the United States.

The poet received other honors both personal and professional.  Luther Burbank named a hybrid poppy “crimson eschscholtzia Ina Coolbrith” after her, and in 1923 Mills College awarded her an honorary Masters of Arts degree.

In February 1928, Coolbrith fell into a coma and died a few days before her 84th birthday.  The woman who was born to a Mormon family and married by a Methodist minister was laid to rest by an Episcopal priest.  A young man named Jesse Winter Smith attended her funeral.  Coolbrith had told him years earlier that she was not embarrassed by her Mormon background and he could reveal it after she died if he wanted to.  He did, and a story appeared in the New York Sun and all the Bay area papers making the connection, bringing Ina Coolbrith’s life full circle.

QUESTION:  If you only had a few minutes to evacuate from a fire, what would you take with you?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Digitized copy of her book of poems A Perfect Day  http://www.archive.org/stream/aperfectdaypoem00coolrich#page/n7/mode/2up

 Rhodehamel, Josephine DeWitt, Ina Coolbrith, Librarian and Laureate of California. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1973.

1Conmy, Peter Thomas, “The Dismissal of Ina Coolbrith as Head Librarian of Oakland Free Public Library and a Discussion of the Tenure Status of Head Librarians.” Oakland, California, Oakland Public Library, 1969.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ina_Coolbrith

MARY SEACOLE (1805 – 1881) Nurse and Businesswoman

In Biography, Crimean War, Entrepreneurs, Feminists, Florence Nightingale, History, Nurses, People, People from England, Trivia, Woman on August 16, 2010 at 10:37 AM

 

Mary Seacole in watercolor at about 45 years old

Mary Seacole believed that when someone wants to minister to the needs of others, she should be able to do so without interference.  So when she was headed to Crimea during the war to help Florence Nightingale nurse sick and wounded soldiers, she was determined not to let racism deter her from her mission. 

A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Mary Ann Grant’s father was a Scotch army officer. Her mother was a local healer who owned a boarding house and treated military officers and their families.  That didn’t seem to be a place for a child, so Seacole lived with an older lady and her grandchildren.  She often hung out with her mom, however, and played doctor with her dolls and the neighborhood pets. 

When her nanny died in her arms, Seacole moved back in with her mother and learned her Creole medicine techniques.  As her life unfolded, it’s evident that Seacole derived her greatest inspiration from that relationship.

Seacole remained single until she was 31 years old when she married Edwin Seacole, a Brit.  They opened a store in Black River, Jamaica, but after eight years of marriage they had to move back to Kingston for Edwin’s health.  He died one month after their return.  To compound Seacole’s grief, her mom died, and she assumed responsibility for the hotel, using work to cope with her loneliness.

Seacole’s stubbornness was one of her best and worst qualities.  In 1843 there was a devastating fire in Kingston which burned down Seacole’s house.  Defending it almost cost her her life because she didn’t leave until it was in flames.  She rebuilt and continued to live alone despite many potential suitors.  A cholera outbreak in 1850 gave her the opportunity to practice the healing skills she had learned.

FOLLOWING IN HER MOTHER’S FOOTSTEPS       Finally needing a change, Seacole went to Cruces, Panama to visit her brother.  Her experience had prepared her well to deal with the cholera epidemic that hit shortly after she arrived.  The only medically trained person who lived in the area was a dentist, so it was left to Seacole to diagnose and treat the afflicted.  She did save many patients, but the number who died was still devastating.  The most difficult death for her to deal with was an infant who died in her arms.  Seacole snuck to the gravesite of the baby before it was buried and conducted her own autopsy in order to learn more about the disease. 

Seacole opened a restaurant where the Americans loved to hang out and drink copious amounts of tea and coffee.  She took her brother’s advice to add a spoonful of salt after the sixth cup to curtail their intake.  After a while she got bored and decided to return to Kingston.

She bought a ticket on an American steamer, but because she was Creole she was told to get off the ship.  This was the first time she personally experienced blatant racism.   In order to keep the peace, the captain gave Seacole her money back, and she agreed to get disembark.  Two days later she traveled home on an English ship.

DETOURS ON THE ROAD TO HER DREAMS           When she was 49 years old Seacole’s restless, adventuresome spirit took her to England, and she landed in London in 1854.  The Crimean War was young, and she wanted to contribute her talents.  She applied to the War Office to be a hospital nurse.  She was rejected and told to apply to the medical department.  That was also a dead end, so she changed her tack.  She craftily found out the address of the Secretary-at-War, went to his house and waited patiently to speak to him.  When he did deign to see her, the Secretary said there were no nursing positions available.  Finally, she applied to the managers of the Crimean Fund to do anything that would get her to the war zone.  Even that didn’t work.  The obvious racial prejudice with which she was treated made her even more determined.

Seacole had one more option.  She and Thomas Day, a relative of her husband, created a partnership, Seacole and Day.  They planned to open a store and hotel in the area near the military camps in Balaclava on the coast of the Crimea, a peninsula at the southern part of modern-day Ukraine.  

FULFILLING HER DESTINY                                         En route from England, Seacole’s ship had a layover in Scutari, Turkey for one night.  She needed a place to sleep and wanted to be of service as well.  Florence Nightingale worked at a hospital there.  Seacole had a letter of introduction from a friend in Kingston to give to Nightingale.  When she was finally ushered in to meet Nightingale, she was not exactly embraced as a colleague.  Nightingale suggested that the only available bed was next to the washerwoman.  Seacole and her roommate got along great and talked for hours.  The bed itself was less accommodating as it turned out to be a flea infested couch, and Seacole was eaten alive during the night. 

In Balaclava, Seacole and Day built the British Hotel which included an apartment for each of the partners, a general store and stables for the animals.  A war zone is a dangerous place even for civilians.  Thieves, led by the night watchman, stole 40 goats and seven sheep during one night, and dozens of horses, mules, pigs and chickens over time.  The rats were huge and one attacked a cook while she was sleeping.  But none of this deterred the proprietress from her purpose: to serve the British army.

“Mother Seacole” was not shy about going to the front lines if necessary to tend to wounded soldiers.  The allied army planned to attack the Russians  at Cathcart’s Hill.  Seacole made sandwiches, packed up food, drink and medical supplies and on horseback led a caravan of two pack mules up the hill to the camp three and a half miles away.  She cared for their physical needs in as many ways as possible.  Since water was in short supply, she had to wash her hands in sherry. When bullets whizzed by overhead, Seacole hugged the ground until she got the “all clear.”  Once when she was protecting herself, she dislocated her thumb, which she never bothered to set.   

Seacole didn’t discriminate when it came to helping the needy.  In addition to British soldiers, she helped French, Sardinians and even some Russians into ambulances so they could get proper medical treatment.  One Russian thanked her by taking off his ring and giving it to her as he was being lifted into the vehicle.

LIFE AFTER WAR                                                             It was both a positive and negative thing when the Crimean War ended in February 1856.  The area was evacuated so fast, that Seacole and Day lost all their business virtually overnight. Russians raided the British Hotel which made Seacole furious.  In a desperate act, she smashed the crates of wine, wasting it instead of letting the enemy enjoy their booty. 

Upon returning to England Seacole and Day were forced to declare bankruptcy, and the war finally took its toll on Seacole’s health.  Several prominent people contributed to funds to help Seacole and her partner become solvent.  She wrote her autobiography describing her adventures and raised enough money to get out of debt.  During the final years of her life she worked in London as a masseuse and confidant to members of the royal family.  Seacole died in 1881 with an estate of over £2,500.

QUESTION:  Have you ever been discriminated against?  How did you handle the situation?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Seacole, Mary.  The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. http://www.gutenberg.org/ catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=588279

http://www.maryseacole.com/maryseacole/pages/aboutmary.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:March_to_Sevastopol_1854.png

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Seacole

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimean_War