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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

JUAN BELMONTE (1892 – 1962) Spanish Bullfighter

In Biography, Bullfighting, Matadors, Spanish History, Sports, Uncategorized on August 24, 2010 at 9:55 PM

 

Juan Belmonte

The legs Juan Belmonte was born with were weak and deformed, not at all appropriate for a sport where you come face to face with an angry beast.  But instead of backing away from his one dream in life, to be a bullfighter, he invented a new technique for a torero* and was considered by many to be the “greatest matador of all time.” 

Belmonte was a rambunctious child who hung out with a gang of mischief makers.  On a dare, he climbed a wall in order to touch the exposed breasts of a statue, and fell off, cracking his head open.  His punishment was to have to go to school, which he did from ages four to eight.  In that short time he became literate, but it was a struggle.  

The young boy’s education continued outside the classroom.  As the oldest of eleven children, Belmonte was expected to help his father in the shop, but his shy, insecure personality was no match for the hagglers who bargained down the prices. His dad berated him for losing money the family desperately needed, but he also took some responsibility for his son’s maturity.  Every day until he was eleven, Belmonte went with his dad to the café and observed the other men, learning from them how a man with self esteem behaves.  From hanging out in the streets with his buddies he learned to smoke, drink, play cards and be with women.  

One group of Belmonte’s friends owned a printing press, and their love of cheap detective novels rubbed off on him.  He could read well enough to keep up with them, and the group would dramatically act out the stories.  This began his life-long passion for reading.  

GETTING AN EARLY START          Belmonte’s fascination with bulls started when he was a toddler.  While his family was dining in a restaurant, he wandered outside to a pen that had several calves.  He tried get a stubborn one to charge and was disappointed when the animal didn’t respond.   As he got a little older, he started playing around with a cape and found that it gave him the confidence that he lacked naturally.    

Bullfighting soon became a way to avoid working. He was easily tempted by his pals to go out to the country and find bulls to practice with.  After a while they had to go out on moonless nights so they wouldn’t be caught by the Guardia Civil patrolling the pastures and corrals.  The first time he found himself at the mercy of a bull, Belmonte was sporting the new suit his family bought him for Holy Week.    There was a lone bull in a ring, and Belmonte jumped in with it, even though he couldn’t see where it was.  He managed to lead the animal through two successful passes, but on the third one the bull hit him and threw him into the air.  The rookie tried to find the fence to escape, but the bull sent him airborne again.  The third time the bull made contact, Belmonte was sent flying, and he hit the fence on the way down, managing to crawl away.  For him, being knocked around by the bull was not nearly as bad as ruining his new suit. 

TURNING PRO                                           Belmonte’s first contract to fight was as a last minute substitute under a different name.  The posters were already printed with the name Montes II.  By the time he rented his costume and paid his banderillero, there was no money left for him.    

The technique Belmonte developed was contrary to every other torero, and to common sense. Because of his weak legs, he planted himself and forced the bull to go around him instead of moving away from the bull as it made its pass.  The bulls would go by so close that there would be hairs  stuck on Belmonte’s jacket.  

HIS FIRST KILL                                       In July 1910, Belmonte made his first kill.  All was going well, and he was ready for the final moment.  With the muleta in his left hand and the sword in his right, the torero cited the bull.  It passed so close that the horn went into the fighter’s forehead and ripped his eyebrow.  With blood blinding his vision, Belmonte reacted with a frenzied anger.  He pulled the dangling flap up skin back up to his forehead, instinctively got into position and thrust the sword into the animal’s neck.  When the bull started sinking to the ground, he knew he had made a perfect hit, and the crowd exploded with their approval.  Since he was the only bullfighter on the program that day, he was taken to the infirmary for some slap-dash surgery.  The doctor sterilized the wound by drinking some mineral water, mixing it with saliva and spitting it onto the fighter’s face.  After a few rough stitches, Belmonte took to the ring for his second bull, with considerably less luck.  

Belmonte could finally call himself a matador, the term for the bullfighter who kills the bull. His star was rising until an affair with a married woman became a total distraction.  He was used to casual relationships with fawning ladies, but now a lack of sleep and improper diet left him emotionally and physically unfit to face a bull. During a corrida before a demanding crowd in his native Seville, he got two warnings for a bad performance with the first bull.  When he tried to kill the second bull he couldn’t make contact, and in a fit of exhaustion screamed at the bull to just kill him.  Belmonte was removed from the ring in humiliation which led to his first retirement.  He worked as a day laborer until he could regain his passion practicing at night in the moonlit pastures, naked. 

By 1917, Belmonte’s reputation was firmly rooted in his success, although his career was not without injuries.  He was gored in the thigh numerous times and wounded in the chest at least once.  He often defied the odds and physical pain, always fighting two or three bulls during every corrida, and sometimes fighting every day, leaving little time to recover. But to Belmonte bullfighting was a spiritual practice, and strength of spirit was more important than physical strength.   He got invitations to fight in Mexico, Cuba and South America, and whenever he traveled he brought a trunk full of books with him. 

In Lima, Peru he met a woman at a party and fell in love.  He brought her back to Spain with him, where they were to get married.  Belmonte never stopped being shy and hated any kind of ceremony.  While he was fighting in Venezuela he arranged to be married by proxy.  

NEVER GONNA GIVE IT UP             In 1919 Belmonte was at his peak.  He was in 109 corridas and killed 234 bulls, a record he held until 1965.  He earned about $9,000 for an afternoon of battling two bulls. The following year he could feel his passion waning, and he took some time off when his professional rival and close friend, Joselito, died in the ring.  After ten years of his career, he could finally buy a ranch he called La Capitana.  He spent some down time there but got bored and started fighting again.  

During the season of 1927 he was forced to seriously consider retirement after spending a month in the hospital.   He lived on the ranch full time, farming, reading and fighting in a few charity events.  He came out of retirement again in 1934 and was gored 14 times.  In 1935, a bull split his collarbone, but he pulled himself together to fulfill his contractual obligations.  

Back at La Capitana, Belmonte enjoyed years of sparing with his own bulls, teaching future bullfighters and hanging out at the local bars.  In 1961 his weak health turned into a severe heart condition.  The following spring, the doctor told him to stop all his activities including riding his beloved horse.  He decided he would rather die.  In April 1962, he took one last ride around the property then locked himself in his study and shot himself in the head. 

 Videos of Juan Belmonte fighting bulls:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJ681LYgcOE 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZZFDQYC-8Y 

torero – a bullfighter 

    matador – a bullfighter who has killed a bull 

    corrida – a bullfight where one or two matadors each fight two or three bulls in an afternoon 

    muleta – a oval cape on a stick used in the last part of the bullfight leading up to the killing of the bull 

    banderillero – a matador’s assistant who places colorful darts in the bull 

 QUESTION:  What’s something that you have become good at because you didn’t give up? 

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Right Reserved 

Sources: 

Belmonte, Juan and Nogales, Manuel Chaves, Juan Belmonte, Killer of Bulls. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1937. 

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,873563,00.html 

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1073716/index.htm 

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

http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19250105,00.html

MANUELA SÁENZ (1797-1856) Simon Bolivar’s Mistress and Political Rebel

In Biography, Dictators, Feminists, History, Simon Bolivar, South American history, Trivia, Uncategorized on July 26, 2010 at 9:49 PM

Watercolor of Manuel Saenz wearing the Order of the Sun Medal

Manuela Sáenz would learn very early in her life that marriage was not as important as love.  Her mother, Joaquina Aizpuru, was not married when she became pregnant with Sáenz, the result of an affair with a family acquaintance in a higher social class.  To avoid the humiliation of such bad judgment, Aizpuru was sent away to keep her pregnancy secret, and forced to relinquish her daughter to the care of nuns in a convent in Quito.  She died by the time Sáenz was seven.  Simón Sáenz de Vergara was a wealthy businessman and successful politician with a wife and six children.  A scandal could have ruined his life, but to his credit, he acknowledged Sáenz, paid the one thousand-peso dowry for his daughter to be given a proper upbringing in the convent, and introduced her to his legitimate children, giving her life some family context.

Sáenz’s father took responsibility for his daughter’s future by arranging a marriage to a much older, wealthy Englishman, and the newlyweds moved to Lima.  As a young wife, Sáenz socialized with Peru’s social, political and military elite.  She became sympathetic to the rebel cause, and against her husband’s orders, she joined the patriots to liberate Peru from the tyranny of Spain.  For her involvement, Sáenz received the Order of the Sun, an award given to those who made an exceptional contribution to the campaign.

Her appetite for political adventure having been whetted, Sáenz left her husband and moved back to Quito in 1822. She unapologetically abandoned her marriage in a time when women had few options in life.  There Sáenz met Simon Bolivar, “El Libertador” of South America. 

Back in her hometown, Sáenz again immersed herself in the independence movement.   Bolivar was to parade through town to celebrate victory in the battle that gave Quito independence.  On a fateful day, Sáenz’s participation was not militant.  She had the decidedly female job of beautifying the homes along the parade route to make a good impression on the esteemed soldier.  That evening, the two met at a reception and began their legendary love affair.

FOLLOWING HER HEART        At first, Sáenz was assumed to be another notch on the belt of a great womanizer.  As scandalous as their affair was, the couple had an immediate deep, passionate connection.  When Bolivar left Quito, Sáenz did not retreat back to her family, or even her marriage, as a spurned lover.  She followed him and integrated herself into his life.

Sáenz and Bolivar’s romantic partnership could not be distinguished from their political alliance. She became the official keeper of Bolivar’s personal archive, guarding his private papers and personally maintaining the secrecy of the army’s military strategy.  Her commitment to the cause superseded any fear she may have had of battle.  Sáenz organized troops and rescued and nursed those injured on the battlefield.  In one letter to Bolivar, Colombian General Antonio José de Sucre called Sáenz a hero for her contribution in the Battle of Ayacucho, and he recommended that Bolivar make her a Colonel of the Colombian army, which he did.  This appointment was so controversial because Sáenz was a woman that, in an irate letter to Bolivar, Colombian Vice-President Francisco Paula de Santander accused him of nepotism.  But Bolivar defended the bravery that earned Sáenz the recognition.

WHAT SHE DID FOR LOVE       When the wars for independence were over, Sáenz was 29, and she moved into Bolivar’s official residence.  She was well known as his mistress, but her influence extended beyond the personal to the role of gatekeeper for those wanting to meet with Bolivar.  And she didn’t need permission to act on his behalf.  In 1827 in Lima, the conditions for the troops were so bad that the army officers threatened a rebellion that would totally undermine the new constitution that Bolivar had established.  While Bolivar was away, Sáenz visited the soldiers wearing a colonel’s uniform and contributed money for food to dissuade them from being influenced by rebels with an ulterior political agenda.  She was rewarded for her initiative by being arrested and expelled from Peru, but her commitment to Bolivar’s cause never wavered. 

Sáenz not only dedicated herself to Bolivar’s political mission, but she was directly responsible for saving his life on at least two occasions.  In August 1928 Bolivar was to attend a party that Sáenz was not invited to.  She had received word that at midnight he would be assassinated, and she begged him to skip the event.  He ignored her warnings thinking she was just jealous at not being on the guest list.  At about 11:00, Sáenz showed up wearing a military uniform, but she was denied entry by the guard who turned out to be one of the conspirators.  She made another desperate attempt to preempt the assassination attempt by dressing up in dirty rags like an old crazy woman.  She positioned herself outside and yelled, “Que viva el Libertador!” (“Long live the Liberator!”)  Sáenz’s behavior was becoming an embarrassment to Bolivar, so he left the party to reprimand her.  At midnight, when the conspirators came to kill him, Bolivar was gone. 

Six weeks later, the couple was at home when Bolivar’s enemies entered the house with the same goal.  Sáenz ran to the sleeping man, supplied him with a sword and gun and forced him to jump out the window.  Bolivar resisted, instinctively wanting to stay and fight, but finally he trusted her judgment and left.  When the would-be assassins confronted her, she said legitimately that she didn’t know where he was, and he successfully escaped.  For this heroic effort, Bolivar called her “Libertadora del Libertador” (“Liberator of the Liberator”). 

Bolivar was a hero for emancipating South America from Spanish rule, but there was trouble in determining the governments.  Bolivar proclaimed himself as the dictator of the Gran Colombia in August 1828 in an effort to save the unified republic he fought so hard to establish and maintain his leadership. That did not appease the insurgents in Venezuela and Ecuador.  In 1830 he resigned and prepared to flee to Europe in self-imposed exile.  He died of tuberculosis in Columbia before he could leave. 

A REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE   Sáenz’s association with Bolivar did not endear her to the incoming leaders, and she was exiled to Jamaica three years later.  Even from a distance, she attempted to stay involved in the political process of establishing the boundaries between Colombia, Ecuador and Peru through correspondence.  Over time, however, she became increasingly less relevant. 

Her final years were in stark contrast to the heady adventures with Bolivar.  After an attempt to return to Ecuador was refused, Sáenz settled in a port city in northern Peru, selling tobacco and translating letters for North American whalers to send to their lovers in Latin America.  She fell when the termite-eaten stairs of her home collapsed and became permanently disabled.  In 1856, at 59 years old, Sáenz died during a diphtheria epidemic and was buried anonymously in a mass grave.

Sáenz was eventually given proper respect for her role in South America’s liberation from Spain.  On July 5, 2010 symbolic remains of her body along with soil from her original grave were reinterred next to the tomb of her lover and compatriot, Simon Bolivar.  Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa presided over the ceremony at the National Pantheon in Caracas, Venezuela.

QUESTION:  What is the craziest or most daring thing you’ve done to show your love for someone?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

http://worldhistoryconnected.press.illinois.edu/7.1/foote.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuela_S%C3%A1enz

http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/liberators/saenz.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sim%C3%B3n_Bol%C3%ADvar

http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=94055

Murray, Pamela S. For Glory and Bolivar, The Remarkable Life of Manuela Sáenz                      http://books.google.com/books