The Little-known Jewish History of the Late 'Bozo the Clown'

Frank Avruch, who died at 89 on Tuesday, was born to Russian-Jewish parents in Boston in 1928. He became the first syndicated Bozo on U.S. television in the 1960s

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Flame-haired clowns attending the 17th International Clown Convention in Mexico City, 2013.
Flame-haired clowns attending the 17th International Clown Convention in Mexico City, 2013. Frank Avruch played the first syndicated Bozo the Clown in the 1960s.Credit: AP

Frank Avruch, star of the popular children's TV show "Bozo the Clown" in the 1960s, died Tuesday at 89.

The Boston-born entertainer was born in 1928 to Russian-Jewish parents, and played the flame-haired clown from the late 1950s until 1970. 

Although other entertainers also played Bozo – most notably Larry Harmon – Avruch's was the first to be syndicated on TV across the United States.

A website dedicated to children's television, TV Party, once asked Avruch about his name. "It is actually a Hebrew name," he explained. "When I first started out, I didn’t use that name. You had to go on television, you had to change your name. Frank Stevens was my name. And when I came out of the army, I decided to use my real name. I just softened it to Avruch [pronounced "Avrush" rather than "Avruch”]. It’s a Hebrew name that means “young prince.” You’re talking to royalty," he joked.
Avruch died “after a long battle with heart disease,” the website of Boston channel WCVB said, citing his family.

“He had a heart of gold,” manager Stuart Hersh told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “He brought the Bozo the Clown character to life better than anyone else’s portrayal of Bozo the Clown.”

AP reported that Avruch graduated from Boston University in 1949 and began a career in radio before moving into television. 

He performed around the world as Bozo for UNICEF, receiving a United Nations Award for his work with children. 

AP added that he also earned two Emmy Awards and a “Man of the Year” award for his “tireless work for charities of all kinds.”

“While it’s hard to say goodbye, we celebrate the legacy of joy and laughter he brought to millions of children around the world as Bozo the Clown on TV and as a UNICEF Ambassador and later as host of Channel 5s 'Great Entertainment' and Boston’s 'Man About Town,'” Avruch’s family said in a statement to WCVB-TV. 

“Our dad loved the children of all ages who remembered being on his show and was always grateful for their kind words. We will miss him greatly,” they added.

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