Whizzo the clown, that’s who

Michael Bushnell
Publisher


Who’s always smiling, never sad? It’s Whizzo! Who makes the boys and girls so glad, Whizzo. He’s a merry fellow with a big red shiny nose, dressed in crazy mixed up clothes from his head down to his toes.


He has a great big trunk of tricks, has Whizzo. He’ll sing a song or do a dance for you. And when you’re sad he’ll make you glad, the very best friend you ever had, Whizzo the clown, that’s who.


— Frank Wiziarde


If you grew up in Kansas City or Topeka, Kan., anytime between 1954 and 1987, there’s a good chance you know Whizzo the Clown. In reality, Whizzo was Westmoreland, Kan., native Frank Oliver Wiziarde, born July 25, 1916 to a circus family. His parents, Jack and Lou Wiziarde, had a circus, and as soon as Frank and his brother, Jack Jr., were old enough, they were introduced into the act.


In 1930, the family created the Wiziarde Novelty Circus, a traveling act that made appearances at stores, shopping areas, basically any place where a crowd could be gathered during the depths of the Great Depression. Given the financial ups and downs as well as the nomadic nature of circus life, Frank went to work as a radio announcer in St. Joseph in 1947.


In 1953, Frank moved to Kansas City where he went to work for KMBC-TV in Kansas City as a floor director. The station was looking for ideas for a children’s program, and out of his past experience as a circus clown came the idea for Whizzo. He went on the air in 1954, and though he would switch stations a couple of times (first to KCMO-TV in Kansas City and later WIBW-TV in Topeka), Whizzo remained a children’s favorite throughout the 1950s, 60s, 70s and the first half of the 1980s.


Among the animals on the show was Hissy the Goose who would drop down on Whizzo, give him a bump, and fly back up. Whizzo pretended not to know what hit him, only to be bumped repeatedly by Hissy. It was up to the kids in the studio audience to explain to Whizzo what had happened. Whizzo’s set was always filled with props, most of which he made himself.


In 1966, Whizzo filmed “Santa’s Christmas Circus,” co-starring then Channel 9 weatherman John Bilyeu as Santa Claus and young Cindy Dallen. Released on September 24, 1966 and directed by Wiziarde himself, the show revolves around Whizzo taking a bunch of kids on a magic carpet ride to the North Pole to see Santa. First, however, the kids – in real life members of the Johnny Miller Dance Studio in Kansas City – performed as circus animals in Whizzo-land.


It’s a pretty safe bet that every kid in Kansas City tuned in to this one, despite being filmed in its entirety in the old, cramped Channel 9 studios located in the basement of the Lyric Theater at 1049 Central, in downtown Kansas City.


Later in life, Whizzo was invited by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 to entertain children at the annual Easter Egg Hunt at the White House. The Whizzo program remained on the air in Kansas City and in Topeka until three months before his death in September 1987.

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