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Not Being Bozo

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The Chicago Television Project does not clown around.

The group's previous endeavor was last November's heartfelt tribute to writer Studs Terkel in a re-enactment of his late 1940s early 1950s television show "Studs Place." The Chicago Television Project has the financial support of the Propeller Fund. The project is an arm of the popular Pocket Guide To Hell series of interactive walks, talks and re-enactments celebrating Chicago's history.

The project's second installment is the "Chicago Children's TV Show" which hits the stage at 3 p.m. (kids and families) and 5 p.m. (everyone else) Sunday, April 14 at the 60-seat Gallery Cabaret, 2020 N Oakley. Each show lasts 75 minutes. Shows are free.

The show will feature Kenneth Morrison as "The Clown," Martin Billheimer as "The Star" and Professor Justin Amolsch and his Big Brass Band.

"The Clown" and "The Star" sound like West Grand Avenue mobsters.
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It wasn't supposed to be this way........

.....The project initially was planning a tribute to Bozo's Circus--until they got a cease and desist from the Larry Harmon Picture Corporation, which owns the Bozo character as well as Laurel & Hardy. The show was to be launched at another Chicago venue---event producer Paul Durica requested the venue remains unnamed.

Tony the Bartender first told me about the Bozo Blowup a few weeks ago. It sounded strange but I figured if Larry Harmon Pictures wanted to protect the images of Bozo, Cookie the Clown and others, it is their right even if the real life characters are dead.

But I could not believe the project was forced to cease and desist with "The Grand Prize Game."
It is now "The Game."

"Apparently they've copyrighted the concept of throwing a ping pong ball in a bucket," Durica said on Tuesday. "So the way we're going to do it is with kids dropping random things in flowerpots and other things besides buckets. And instead of putting it in a straight line--that would be a copyright violation -we're going to put the children in the center so they can drop whatever object they have. Everybody will get prizes." Prizes for "The Game" were donated by the Busy Beaver Button Company, the Uncle Fun store, Barrel of Monkeys, the Hansen House Mansion Bed and Breakfast, Victory Gardens, the Chicago History Museum and poster artist Kathleen Judge.

I couldn't believe Bozo Corp. would be this picky.

So I talked to Marci Breth, Vice-President of Larry Harmon Pictures Corp in Woodland Hills, Ca. She dealt with the Chicago Television Project.

"Honestly, The Grand Prize Game was never discussed," Breth said on Wednesday. "That wasn't the issue. They were producing 'The Bozo's Circus Show' where they were going to have a performer performing as Bozo, and they were going to show footage from the WGN (TV) show. This was copyrighted and trademarked material. All we said, 'If you had come to us to ask permission to use this material, we may have had something to discuss'."

Even though the Bozo show is off the air, WGN-TV still has a licensing agreement for a present day Bozo to appear in parades. festivals and Chicago city council meetings. "If we allowed these people to do it, it would be going against our license that we have with WGN. We're simply protecting our rights," Breth explained.

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Don't mess with my Bozo.

So what would happen if the kids actually used buckets in a linear fashion for "The Game?"

"I hate to answer that," Breth answered. "I would have to consult with our attorney. It's not even something we thought about. Our attorney was angry, but we feel happy. We're proud they were trying to honor Bozo and the legacy of Bozo in Chicago. But if we allowed them to do it without our permission, it opens the door for anybody to do it."

After all, look what happened to "The Harlem Shake."

Durica is finishing up his doctorate in American Literature at the University of Chicago. He said, "It is still a kid's variety show. But the characters are going to be our characters. The idea was to use that format to talk about how there once was this rich history of locally produced children's programming and it disappeared."

Now, "The Chicago Children's TV Show" will also celebrate Chicago kid productions like "Kukla, Fran and Ollie," Ray Rayner and "Garfield Goose and Friends," celebrating a time when there were more laughs and less lawyers. Durica will comment on the history of those shows accompanied by public domain photographs.

Local children's programming is making a comeback with the organic Chic a Go Go and (Lilly Emerson and Jon Langford's imaginary, live action puppet series) Adventure Sandwich which echoes aspects of Garfield Goose. They will be on on hand for "The Chicago Children's TV Show" as will kids from the Old Town School of Folk Music's Young Stracke All-Stars.

Durica said, "Once I explained the situation to everybody they still wanted to do it. It's an educational event, a historic event and I understand copyright law. But it was also a one time performance that was free. Our (Propeller Fund) grant covered the production costs."

The Pocket Guide's most ambitious project has been the April, 2011 full scale re-enactment for the 120th Anniversary of the Haymarket Riots. More than 1,000 people showed up at the original Haymarket site at Des Plaines and Randolph. "We worked with the city to have permission to close down the street," Durica said. "We had more than 200 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds to play 1886 Chicago police officers. Other people played the historic audience. Historians commented on the event."

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This is not a Bozo attorney, it is a Pocket Guide to Hell re-enactment of the Battle of Halsted Viaduct, 2009 (photo by Jacob S. Knabb)

The cadence of his voice moved slower than an elephant in a center ring. "I'm definitely worn out," said Durica, 35. "I could see if I was reviving the show, doing a web series. But this is just a one-off thing. I've never had trouble before. The Haymarket thing involved so much more logistics and with the Terkel thing I worked with The Studs Terkel Committee. This was deeply frustrating in that they wouldn't work with us. We couldn't even get a temporary license."

I wondered if the magic arrows were deep sixed.

"Calilie Roach is playing the anamorphic arrow," he answered. "She is now a character who looks like an arrow and interacts with the kids. She'll banter with people in the audience and we'll kind of spin her around and she will lean towards the lucky person who gets to go up there. I can't see there will be any copyright infringments."


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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

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