“GRAND PRIZE GAME”

Long Run today, I was thinking about Mom.

Many years before most of my brothers and sisters were even born, when the family still lived in Park Ridge, a letter was sent to WGN TV c/o Bozo Circus requesting tickets for The Bozo Circus Show. These tickets were requested for the oldest children in 1961 and did not arrive until late 1968. We had moved to Mt. Prospect by this time and were all enrolled in St Raymond’s School. The oldest children would not be allowed back into their 6th and 7th grade classrooms if they appeared on something as innocuous as Bozo’s Circus. My brother and I, being in 1st and 2nd grades, were in the sweet spot for Bozo’s Circus. Johnny S. and Tommy S. from Park Ridge were our age too and would join in on the fun. All of us boys were the lucky recipients of the precious tickets that took seven years to reach our mailbox. The memory of the actual show is foggy. I remember being in line to get into the television studio, shuffling to our seats, having the studio doors shut tightly and being packed in like matchsticks. “All the world is a stage and the people are merely players”, this was going to be a great show.

My mother had unfortunately contracted a flu bug. When the studio doors closed, the queasiness started. My brother and I were so excited to be on The Bozo Show, we did not notice my mother with her head halfway into her purse as the show started. “THE GRAND PRIZE GAME” was due to start and they would randomly select a boy and a girl from the audience. They achieved this by scanning the audience with the WGN-TV camera and superimposing two magic arrows that only the television audience at home could see. The two arrows appeared alternately while pointing to the same spot. Frenzied music was played until the camera stopped. Wherever the camera stopped, the arrows would be pointing to a lucky boy or girl. That boy or girl would get to play “THE GRAND PRIZE GAME”. The game was simply played by throwing a ping-pong ball into a series of six buckets. Important to point out here that these shows were LIVE shows, no tape replays back then.

There was relative calm before the camera began to move in an erratic pattern. The maniacal music started and the studio shuddered under screams of 1800 five to seven year old chidren. The camera was scanning the audience and I was trying to make myself as big as possible by elbowing my brother and my mother to increase my chances of occupying more real estate and therefore getting picked by the magic arrows for the “GAME”. Johnny S. and Tommy S. were on the other side of my mother and I am sure they were engaged in the same strategy on her other flank. Every child that was crammed into the sardine can of a studio was now screaming at the top of his or her lungs. This feverish action probably increased my mother’s nausea. Now there has never been a tape of this show produced but the camera was said to have stopped on my mother during a particularly bad case of nausea. The magic arrows were alternating in their frenzied pattern pointing directly into my mother’s purse. This was probably borne out of curiosity by the cameraman himself, “What is that woman doing there in row five, seat twenty-seven?” When the cameraman realized that the Chicagoland metropolitan area audience was actually witnessing my mother’s sickness live, the camera moved very quickly as far from my mother and, therefore, from the four eager little boys who had accompanied her.

I was positive that I would be picked for the “GAME”. I had no idea what had gone wrong. The boy who was picked threw a ping-pong ball in five of the six buckets and won twenty-three dollars in fabulous prizes. What could have been? I would have hit all six buckets! Would my life be different than it is today, the next Conrad Hilton perhaps? I think I would still be feasting on the giant Tootsie Roll (remember that?). One can only speculate. My mother, on the other hand, while her trajectory was excellent, may not have had the distance for the sixth bucket.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I hope you like your Bozo story.

The lake is as foggy as my memory but this really happened. Favorite song today, the maniacal song that goes with the magic arrows. Most of you know the tune.

Lac Harper

Lac Harper

4 thoughts on ““GRAND PRIZE GAME”

  1. I’m still bitter about “aging out” of the tickets. I wanted to go on Bozo, win the grand prize game, and ride off in the shiny new bike that kids lucky enough to hit bucket number six were awarded. Instead, I was watching the fun on the TV in the living room on lunch from school, panicking because I wanted to see the Grand March at the end and see Mom and my lucky brothers parading out of the studio. Panicking because I was supposed to be back at school as it was nearly 1:00 and I was supposed to be back by 12:30. Alas, I never saw any of them…poor mom, throwing up in the purse. That was dedication.

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