01 Feb Never Trust A Magician
I grew up a good portion of my life outside the great city of Chicago, and in that great city, anyone growing up between the 1960s to the early 2000s will recall the institution that was the Bozo Show.
Every morning I would sit in front of the TV and watch the effervescent crimson-haired entertainer in the blue and red costume and his equally lovable sidekick Cooky, with his blue pants, red checkered shirt and trademark long yellow tie. So popular was the show that there was a 2 year waiting list for tickets to attend a live taping of the show at the WGN studios.
When I was in first grade, my mom somehow finagled some tickets and my brother Toney, my best friend Trevor and I got to get the day off school to the show for the taping. I remember the sense of awe upon entering the studio and realizing that it was much smaller than it looked on TV. We happened to have been lucky enough to be attending the taping for that year’s St. Patrick edition of the show, it was amazing and my brother, my friend and I were lucky enough to end the show leading the Grand March. I was honored.
Now, I know some people will think, “Oh Great, another Clown Story.” This is where you’d be wrong. Bozo was the least frightening clown you’ll ever meet, and Cooky was hilarious, it’s the magician you have to watch out for.
When they brought in some local girls to demonstrate an Irish Sword Dance, my bladder decided it was the perfect time for me to find a bathroom. I was given directions to the boy’s room by one of the production crew toward the rear of the audience area.
I made my way down the labyrinthine corridors of the WGN complex until I saw the small sign beside an otherwise unmarked door that read “Men” and did my business. On the way back to the studio, I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in a hallway with doors marked with just first names.
The names were Bob, who I would later learn was Bob Bell, who played Bozo at the time. Roy, being Roy Brown who played Cooky. There was a door marked “Band” where the trio that played the show’s music, a remnant of Bob Trendler’s Big Top Band stored their gear, and finally, Marshall.
Marshall Brodien started making guest appearances on The Bozo Show in 1968 as a magician and later returned under the name Wizzo the Wizard, dressed like something out of Arabian Nights and claiming to be from the far-flung “Arobia”, he claimed his powers came from the Stone of Zanzabar which he wore around his neck. I never found him particularly entertaining myself but other kids loved him. He gave me the creeps with his manic expressions and “Doody, Doody, Doo!” catchphrase. I always thought there was something wrong with the guy.
I know, at this point, I’m not where I should be and I should try to find an adult to usher me back to the studio to watch the rest of the taping of the show, that’s what I was here for after all, not to snoop around the hallways. I turned myself around and was about to head off in the search of either a map, an adult, or both, when I head a creak behind me, followed by a voice, “Hello young man, lost, are we?”
I turned around expecting to see a frowning security guard, instead I was staring into the smiling, wide-eyed visage of the Wizard himself. “Y-y-yes…. Sir.” I muttered. He seemed bigger in real life filling almost the entire doorway he was causally leaning in. “Well, come in lad, I’ll get someone to show you the way momentarily.” He stood aside and bowed deeply, as if he were an Ottoman royal welcoming a foreign dignitary. I reluctantly entered his dressing room, which, instead of looking like a dressing room you’ve seen on TV, looked like the inside of a gypsy tent.
Rich fabrics hung from the dark walls as did a smell I didn’t recognize, cloying and sweet, like burning maple syrup and potpourri, “You know my name boy, what is yours?” he asked as he walked across the deep rugs covering the floor. “Nick” was all I could manage.
There was thick smoke in the air that I attributed to the smell, my parents smoked cigarettes at the time and this most certainly did not smell like that. He turned and dropped himself into a chair of sorts that reminded me of my cousin’s beanbag, “I, uh….” He snapped up a tube and sucked from one end of it, blowing the smoke in my direction. I coughed, feeling light-headed. “C-c-could you call someone, like you said?” He blew more smoke in my direction, this time it wasn’t sweet, it was sulfurous.
“Do you like magic, Nick?” He blinked then, slow and deliberate, his irises had taken on a yellowish hue, and then something even more unexpected happened, his amulet blinked, like a large cat’s eye, it blinked and flashed, like there were flames within. He had leaned closer to me without my noticing and had reached a hand, no, not a hand, a….tentacle? toward me. It wrapped around my wrist and he stared at me with those intense eyes. “No, I don’t like magic.” It came out way steadier than I thought it would.
Wizzo’s smile faltered a bit and he dropped my wrist, “That’s a shame, non-believers are so… unappealing.” Something seemed to snap then and he just looked like his old self again, he stood and brushed himself off, walking toward the door, it swung open and he pointed down the way I’d come, “Take a left there, and the next two rights, then just keep walking, you’ll run into Studio 1. Enjoy the show, kid.” I turned around at the end of the hall but he was gone. I quickly made my way back to the studio and found my seat between Toney and Trevor.
“Jeez Nick, did you take a dump or something? You missed most of the show.” I told him I had to avoid uncomfortable questions. The rest of the day went without incident and I’ve never told my family about it. I’d never thought about it until a few years later, my uncle had the good fortune to become the new musical director/personality for the show. He always spoke well of the other cast members and we were invited to a show taping when I was in high school. It seemed silly to be there again as a teenager, but it was fun.
After the show, when the rest of the audience had left, my uncle invited us to meet the other actors. By this time Bob Bell had retired to be replaced by Joey D’Auria who played the role until the show stopped recording in 2001, they were all very nice, jovial people and then he introduced me to Marshall Brodien, out of make-up he’s just a normal guy. I told him I’d met him once before and mentioned the approximate date, he kind of frowned and said “I’m not sure that’s right, I hadn’t been on very many shows that season and I believe my wife and I were traveling.”
I’m not sure what to believe, I just stick with what I decided on that day I met what claimed to be Wizzo the Wizard, never trust a magician.