” Boys and girls, moms and dads, it’s time to play the GRAND….PRIZE……GAME!!!!!!!”
Ringmaster Ned would then direct the bandleader, Mr. Bob, to find a boy and a girl in the audience to play. The boy was always first. Mr. Bob’s Bozo Show Orchestra would play music as the TV camera moved back and forth with two opposing arrows pointing to the middle of the screen. –> <— When the music stopped, so would the camera, and if it wasn’t on a grown up or a girl, the boy between the arrows would be selected.
There were awkward moments, of course, when a boy looked a little bit too old. I think 12 was about as old as they wanted to go.
“How old are you?” Mr. Ned would ask.
In a voice cracking between high and low, the kid would answer, “Um…12.”
“OK, you can play.” The lanky kid would walk down, feeling stupid before the game even started.
Even more awkward would be when the gender of the child was not obvious. “We have a boy! …. No, wait a minute, that’s a girl? Sorry, we need a boy.” And to think, the girl was excited about going to Bozo’s Circus that day.
They would then pick a girl, often with similar humiliation.
The introductions would go one of two ways. Almost all the time the kids would be so shy and nervous that they could barely speak, and their mother’s often had to call out their names so Ringmaster Ned would know. But once in a while a kid would be very hyper, talkative, and loud…totally loving the camera. Even as a little kid, I had feelings of wanting to jump in the TV and smack such kids.
“LET’S GO OVER TO THE BOZO DRUM!!!” Mr. Ned shouted like it was the highlight of the day. The boy and the girl would take their turns picking a postcard out of a giant wheel of a drum. These cards were sent in by us viewers, and if you were picked, you would win whatever the contestant won. I must have sent in over a dozen cards, and wasn’t picked once. In fact, I don’t remember anyone from Chicago Heights ever being picked. Maybe they threw ours away.
The game was simple. You stood with both toes on a line, and had six buckets, nailed to a board, extending out in front of you. They were numbered. Bozo had another bucket filled with ping pong balls and held it in front of you. Your job was to toss the ball into bucket number one (the easiest one) and keep progressing as far as you could go. As soon as you missed, you were done, and Mr. Bob’s band played a sorrowful ♫Wha.. Wha… Wha… Wha… Whaaaaaaa…♫ on their horns. Here were the typical prizes:
Bucket #1 – A Duncan Yo-Yo and a gift certificate to Father and Son Pizza.
Bucket #2 – A 3 pack of Matchbox cars.
Bucket #3 – Twister! The game the whole family can enjoy! (they didn’t know MY family very well)
Bucket #4 – A giant Tootsie Roll Bank! And a gift certificate for new Shake N Bake “Mom will sure like that!” said Cookie the Clown (Roy Brown).
Bucket #5 – Marshall Brodine’s Magic Kit! “Now you can amaze your family and friends!” (Marshall Brodien played Wizzo the Wizard on the show)
If a kid made it to bucket number 6, you’d almost be throwing up with nerves sitting at home watching. I can’t tell you in words what a big deal this was.
“Are you ready?” Mr. Ned would ask. “Pick out a good ball.”
If you made bucket number six, you won a brand new Schwinn Bike and a giant handful of silver dollars, as one was added each day that nobody won. Sometimes it would build up to 30 bucks!!!!
You could tell, if the kid took too long, lining up the toss and swinging their arm in preparation, they were going to miss. It was the ones who grabbed a ball quickly and tossed it like it was no big deal, they were the ones who had a shot.
“OK,” said Mr. Ned, “Drum roll please.”
Mr. Bob complied.
“Alright, here you go! BUCKET. NUMBER. SIX!!!!”
The whole Chicago area held its breath. The kid would bend a little, swing back their arm, and give it a toss…………….
♫ Wha…. Wha…. Wha…. Wha…. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa…. ♫