Willard Scott originated the Ronald McDonald character
He also played Bozo the Clown.
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Like McDonald's, Bozo the Clown is a franchise. Pinto Colvig was the first fellow to play the character, shortly after World War II ended. The clown was used as a mascot for Capitol Records before making his television debut in 1949. A few years later, Larry Harmon bought the rights to Bozo, and began playing the clown on a syndicated series called Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown.
But Bob Bell is likely the man in the makeup that comes to your mind when you think Bozo. Harmon began licensing the Bozo character to location stations across the country (and, eventually, the world). Bell slipped into the giant red shoes for WGN in Chicago, and his Bozo's Circus became the most widely watched Bozo show in the land. You know, with Cooky and "The Grand Prize Game" of buckets.
Other cities had their Bozos. Frank Avruch in Boston… and Willard Scott in Washington, D.C.
Scott will forever be known for wishing happy birthday (along with Smucker's) to centenarians on The Today Show. However, he got his start in clowning.
Scott's role as Bozo in our nation's capital led directly into the creation of another iconic clown. In the early 1960s, the future weatherman came up with the character Ronald McDonald, the "Hamburger-Happy Clown." Ronald popped up in three ads in the D.C. area, the first-ever to feature Ronald.
"There was something about the combination of hamburgers and Bozo that was irresistible to kids," Scott told the Food Network in 2008. "That's why when Bozo went off the air a few years later, the local McDonald's people asked me to come up with a new character to take Bozo's place. So, I sat down and created Ronald McDonald."
Now, this early iteration of Ronald would likely look unfamiliar — if not strange — to modern kids. In his first ad, he had a paper beverage cup over his nose and a box with a combo meal atop his head. He wore a costume of yellow and red vertical stripes. However, he would eventually adopt the look of the more familiar garb — wide red grin, yellow vest, etc. — after Ronald received a makeover in 1966 courtesy of Michael Polakovs, a.k.a. circus legend Coco the Clown. Polakovs became the public face of Ronald, though Scott would continue to dress up as the burger-loving clown for D.C. TV.
Later in life, Scott became more associated with jellies and jams. But let's not forget he had fries with that.