Mr. Bob Bell
news of Bob Bell's passing became known, a wave of profound sadness
spread across Chicagoland. Gone was an old friend. A buddy.
To thousands of Chicago kids, watching channel 9 at 12 noon weekdays,
Bob was the guy that made even the worst days at school seem not as bad
when you returned for afternoon classes. But at age 75 and a year
after suffering his last debilitating stroke, 1997 would be the last
year to hear him yell "Hey That's me!"
Bob's way with the kids and his ability to ad lib little tidbits here and there made him popular among children and adults alike. He started out as a second banana to radio legend Wally Phillips back at WLW in Cincinnati. It was there, with Wally and Don Sandburg, that Bob honed his comedic skills. In 1956 Bob, Don, and Wally came to WGN-TV. After an unsuccessful attempt of recreating the popularity of the Phillips show here in Chicago, Wally would move on to WGN radio to become a legend in his own right, and Bob and Don would join the circus.
He first appeared as Bozo in 1959 on a half hour cartoon show week days at 12 noon. Bob would do little sketches and introduce the cartoons. That show would be followed at 12:30 by future ringmaster Ned Locke on Paddleboat. The show went on hiatus after a year on the air and returned in the fall of 1961 at WGN-TV's spanking new full color studios and facilities at 2501 Bradley Place, an address familiar to any Chicago kid who watched channel 9.
But Bob wasn't on the first "Bozo's Circus" show. Because someone goofed up in accounting, Bob watched from the control room. The show couldn't have been more disastrous. The next day he was on and as they say...the rest is history. He played Bozo until 1984. In between he took on the additional role of kindly old custodian Andy Starr of The Odean Theater.
Bob replaced WGN-TV newsman Carl Greyson, who along with a chimp named Chatter got involved in situations a la Kramden and Norton. Chatter was the smarter of the two. The series was written by Don Sandburg. But Carl and the chimp didn't work out too well and Sandburg created the Andy Starr character and The Odean Theater. Bob as Andy invited us in each weekday afternoon to watch The Three Stooges. Bob, as Andy, would sometimes sit in for Frazier Thomas on "Garfield Goose & Friends." Puppeteer Roy Brown (who would later on work with Bob at the circus as "Cooky") would always say that those days with Bob on Garfield were the funniest ever. Bob was also the man behind the deep baritone heard early mornings on channel 9 off camera.
When Bob appeared as himself (the first time ever) next to then current Bozo Joey D'Auria at Medinah Temple during "The Bozo 25th Anniversary Show" he was greeted by a thunderous standing ovation by the thousands who had gathered to see their old friends once again. When Bob and Joey sang a duet, it was history being made. Easily the brightest spot of the entire show.
He spent his retirement years in sunny warm and breezy San Diego with his wife Carol. He would joke that he would get up each day and compose a list of things he would not do!. But Bob didn't just sit idly around. In reality, in between golf games, he managed to be preside over the local Kiwanis Club; and be on the board of directors of a community educational association that raised money for the local school system.
Roughly a year before his death, he would suffer another stroke which would begin his health on a downward spiral. He finally succumbed to a heart attack and was cremated. In a touching ceremony, attended by family and friends aboard a glass bottom boat, Bob's ashes were spread across the Pacific.
It was the end of an era.
copyright 2001 Steve Jajkowski All rights reserved