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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Chucko the Birthday Clown

Back in the 50's when we arrived in California, we lived in Pacoima in the SF Valley.  That area is now called Arleta and is near the neighborhood where a plane crashed into a school playground in the early 50's.  If you remember the movie, La Bamba, Ritchie Valens used to have nightmares about that crash.  It was a great place to be a kid in the 50's...a neighborhood full of families with lots of children of all ages and my parents made friends with people that they remained friends for years, even though we only lived there about 2 years.  Every other house in this neighborhood had a pool and I had to learn to swim very quickly.  We were outside playing and swimming all summer long and my sister and I were the tannest we've ever been.  Our next door neighbors, the Zatkins, had a daughter a little younger than me, named Bonnie.  One year she had a birthday party and invited most of the kids in the neighborhood.  This wasn't just any party...we went to the taping of a Chucko birthday show in Hollywood, and I was picked to participate in some of the contests on the air.  I wish we had a photo of that day, but I do remember that I won a huge box of crayons and some other toys.  Chucko (Charles Runyon) was a nice, kind clown...not scary like Bozo.  After the TV shows were over, he continued to make appearances at hospitals and convalescent homes.  The original Chucko died in 2008 and his son, Randy, who became the second Chucko, just died in February.   I have only met one person who was also on the Chucko show, my friend Paul.  That visit to Chucko made a lasting impression on me and I was never afraid of clowns like some people I know. We even hired a clown for my son's birthday party when he was four or five years old.  I later found out from "someone in the know" that he was a bad clown and had to change his clown name to keep working.   "I'm Chucko, I'm Chucko, I'm Chucko the birthday clown, I'm Chucko, I'm Chucko, I'm the happiest guy in town, Happy Birthday from Chuck the birthday clown."  RIP Charles and Randy, you made a whole generation of LA kids happy and fearless.

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