Willard Scott originated the Ronald McDonald character
He also played Bozo the Clown.
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.
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When I was writing the centennial history of Graceland College (published in 1997), I got Frank to finally go on the record and give the details about this longtime campus rumor. Frank was very hesitant when I asked him to do this, explaining that he had always been low key about that story and his role in creating that iconic restaurant figure. But then Frank decided over the course of the call that it was important to let all the facts be known, in connection with this project about the college's centennial. I'm pretty sure Frank's exact words to me over the phone as he related the origin of Ronald McDonald was that he told the people during that McDonald's leadership meeting back in 1963: "Well, families have kids, and kids like clowns. Why don't you create a clown and call him 'Ronald McDonald'?" Frank also said at the time that he had received regular payments from McDonald's for coming up with the character.
Hough died of MS in 2014 at the age of 74. Outside of the standard obituary, the passing of the person who created Ronald McDonald was completely overlooked by anyone in the media.
Details of Frank Hough's Ronald McDonald story were written in the "Biographies" section of "The Graceland College Book of Knowledge." Use the online link below, and go to numbered-page 417 (or PDF page 427) for what is probably the most extensive account (as short as it is) about the origin of Ronald McDonald:
It certainly applied to certain presidential administrations.
''...don't bother, they're here."
That's a lot of Bozo's
At the circus, I liked clowns on stilts. "Killer Klowns from Outer-space" is watchable. Otherwise, I have no use for clowns.
If you go onto YouTube and search for Bozo the Clown, you'll see many of the TV Bozos with wider, taller, wilder and even droopier hair. It seems that Larry Harmon (at one point) either sought a change for the character's looks or just didn't enforce his standards that strongly, as long as he received his licensing fees...
Even Bob Bell [beloved to the Chicago market] had for a time wore a red suit instead of the standard blue one...
I don't suppose Larry Harmon is related to Mark, or Tracy Nelson's mother.