a candid conversation with
addition to his responsibilities on the noon time "Bozo's
Circus," Sandburg was also instrumental in the production and
development of the short-lived prime time version of the show called
"Bozo's Big Top." Here he recalls one of the
problems getting a new opening main title produced...
DS: I thought I gotta come up with a different title. So I hired a trampoline guy in a white outfit. I didn't show the trampoline on camera while he bounced up and down. His job was to configure with his body with the letters spelling out B-I-G-T-O-P. And as he did that, we'd pop in white letters over a black background, for instance, for the "I" of course he'd be straight up and down. A "G" he would be curled over with his knees up. That sort of thing. But my engineer couldn't sync the chromakey letters with the gymnast's configurations so by the time we got a decent take the guy was so tired we had to drag him off the trampoline.
By 1968, Sandburg was getting the itch to move on. He started looking west to the sunny skies of California, but he had one last idea that he thought would change the show for the better...
DS: As a matter of fact, about a year before I left I came up with a scheme where we would eliminate Bozo. Not Bob Bell, mind you, but Bozo. And we'd do it over a six to eight month period so the children would get used to it. Because what they were watching really was not Bozo, but Bob Bell. He was so magnificent. His delivery and his warmth and his attention to what children could understand. He was a great ad-libber which he had developed during the days of the Phillips show. So anyway I was gonna change him. We'd find that his birth certificate had spelled his name wrong. It's Ozob or something like that! And he gets a haircut because he's tired of putting his hair up in curlers. And he changes his outfit. Anyway over a period of time we'd change him. Then we could syndicate. We'd keep all the other characters- Golly The Gorilla, Grand Prize Game, and the circus setting because all that belonged to us. I created them but didn't own them. I submitted about five pages outlining the changes. There were no super stations at the time. But here was a chance to syndicate. Which meant more dollars. Which meant bigger budgets. Which meant better shows. There was no response from management. Now after I resigned, the last thing they said to me was if you stay with us you can change the show the way you wanted to. So I said I didn't resign because I wanted to gain leverage for money or whatever. I'm going because I want to go to California! And spread my wings hopefully.
Later I was out in L.A., Marshall called me up. He had a new product out called "TV Magic Cards" and he asked me if I would represent him out on the west coast. I said I'd do it. So I did and sold Thrifty Drugs a couple a hundred gross to start with and we ended up selling a lot of cards and somebody had heard I was good at selling. I met him at his hotel. He says I got this new game and I was wondering if you could get it on the market? And I said what is it? And he says it's called The Grand Prize Game. Have you ever heard of it? And I said Yea I heard of it! Where'd you hear of it? I said I invented it!
VV: I talked to Bill Jackson about his show and he mentioned one of the reasons he left Chicago was because he felt that the days of local children's television had come to an end. Was that one of your reasons as well?
DS: I felt the show was at a peak. And I saw evidence of possible cutbacks. I thought I can't do anything more in Chicago. For seven years on the Circus I wore four hats: producer, writer, performer, and occasional director.
Producing was an administrative position, which meant when things went wrong I was responsible. Directing was gratifying on an infrequent basis. Performing as Sandy was fun but often demanding because of the physical effort I wrote into my own scripts. However it was always rewarding to hear the children laugh at our antics. I must also confess to enjoying the accolades that went along with being a television personality. The hours devoted to clowning were far less than those spent as producer/writer, yet the income derived from each was about the same.
Then there was the writing. It was by far the most taxing of the four jobs. As every television writer who works on a daily deadline knows, there are few things more stressful than being alone in an empty office staring at a blank page with pen in hand, knowing that tomorrow demands another show. The creative burden is always with you, always on your mind whether you are weeding your garden or lying awake at night thinking of ideas.
After seven years, two hundred and fifty days per year, four sketches a day and three million words on paper, I was mentally stagnant and exhausted. It was time to rejuvenate myself...time to pursue new challenges...and at the age of 39, time to move on hopefully to greener pastures in California. Little did I know at the time that the Bozo program would continue for another thirty-two years repeating my thousands of pages of scripts. Unfortunately, since there was no Writer's Guild in Chicago, I received no residuals for the ongoing reuse of my material.fter my departure, a WGN staff director, Bud Ellingwood replaced me as the show's producer. My alter-ego Sandy was replaced with three clowns, all of whom I had introduced to the Circus: Marshall Brodien as Whizzo, a sideshow barker called Monte Melvin (named after my best childhood friend), and Cooky, played by Roy Brown, my best friend in Chicago. As far as someone to write new material there was no replacement. Still there were many sweet memories to treasure during my occasional visits back to WGN for a visit with old friends and colleagues.
VV: Was it ever a consideration to return to WGN and Bozo?
DS: No. That was enough. That was in my past and I just didn't want to go back. You see people couldn't understand why I was leaving. I was really doing quite well between my appearances as an actor and my status as a producer. In fact I think I had health plans under both of them. A union health plan and one from WGN!
VV: When you appeared as Sandy on the 25th anniversary special- was that the first time you played him on TV since your departure in 1969?
DS: Yes that's correct.
VV: Was it like going home again?
DS: Well I don't know if I gave it much thought. Of course Bob was no longer on it and neither was Ray. Ray left not long after I did.
VV: Well Ray stayed in Chicago a while longer doing his morning show.
DS: Yea but he wanted off Bozo's Circus then. There was a little bit of a personality conflict there. With Ray and Bob. Bob was an irascible guy. There were times when I wanted to absolutely kill him! He would stop in the middle of rehearsal and he would just freak out. He's trying to make the show better and suggest an elaborate prop a half an hour before the show's supposed to go on. He was very impractical. But he had a good mind. He had good ideas. He just came up with them too late. But anyway he would just sit there and everybody would stop. Minutes were costly when it came to rehearsals. It would just drive Ray nuts. It was a difference between two personalities. Ray was a legitimate actor. You give him a part like Oliver O. Oliver and he's going to play it like a legitimate actor. Bob was not an actor. I don't think he could ever remember his lines long enough to get through them. He had a terrible memory. But he was a performer. A performer like I've never known. The two greatest performers that I've ever worked with was Bob Bell and a guy named Ted Ziegler who goes way back to Lunchtime Little Theater. He and I became best friends in Hollywood. He came out there and was second banana on The Sonny And Cher Show and The Andy Williams Show.
Ray is a nice man. He and I joked around. We'd make-up together just prior to rehearsal everyday. Shared a dressing room. Got to know each other quite well just chatting and telling stories about each other. He's so prolific. He did so many different things. As I said he was a legitimate actor and a good one. His schedule was absolutely chaotic! He'd do his 7:00am show and then Bozo. That required quite a bit of rehearsal, 9:30 and then 11:00. Then in the afternoon he was doing Dick Tracy. And if that wasn't enough he was spending time learning the lines for legitimate theater that night. He's a pro. No other word for it.
VV: One of the highlights of the 25th, I thought, was the duet performed by Bob Bell as himself and Joey D'Auria as Bozo. Something that could never have been done before.
DS: That was a clever idea, although I wrote all the clown sketches, I didn't come up with that.
VV: I think Joey played his Bozo much differently than Bob did.
DS: I think Joey does a very good job. It's unfortunate that he's got to be compared to Bob. You can't do that.
VV: I agree. But at the risk of a very bad pun, he stepped into some really big shoes! I always felt that Joey's Bozo was aimed toward the little kids where Bob's Bozo had more of an adult edge to it.
DS: Well I thought Bob did both. Of course Bob ad-libbed a lot. And he got some pretty salty things in there from time to time. Like the old bit that everybody knows- Oliver O. Oliver is supposed to come running in saying The elephants are loose! The elephants are loose! Bob couldn't remember his line so he says Give them some Kaeopectate! But that was Bob! So you had to forgive him. More than once I told him to get out of the studio I'll do the show without him. But a half an hour later we're back together friends again. But despite all that he was irreplaceable.