Back in 1958 my parents first discovered just how useful TV could be. I would spend hours watchng cartoons and old sci-fi movies. Local childrens shows were popular back then, and the very best of them all was the J.P. Patches Show.
It’s hard to describe to “outsiders” how a kiddy show out of Seattle about a retired clown from the Dingaling Brothers Circus, who lived in a shack down by the city dump could have had so much influence on a generation. Maybe it was because there was so many baby boomers out there, or maybe it was because there were only five channels on. I think maybe we were just lucky.
We didn’t know it was just a local show – he was on TV! Millions of kids tuned in to watch this world-class performer in clown makeup (in glorious black and white) goofing around on his no-budget set, weaving his magic and telling his stories using the same kind of stuff we had to play with – felt pens, paint, cardboard, slapstick and imagination.
Sometimes his skits and gags (played between cartoons) would run on for weeks at a time, keeping us all glued to the set every day to see what was going to happen next. Only later did I realize that the whole thing was made up on the spot – nearly 10,000 shows of pure improvisation.
Every morning J.P. would be there to send us off to school, and every afternoon he was back. Most of the best stuff I was introduced to – “The Adventures of Superman”, “Looney Tunes”, “The Lone Ranger” came right out of his cartoon hat.
As the years passed his early ‘over the top’ clown antics began to fade away and the show started getting more and more interesting. Just as Snoopy wasn’t really a dog, J.P. Patches wasn’t exactly a clown, and this wasn’t exactly a kids show. There was a interesting subtext going on, an irreverent quality, and we all felt like insiders, like we were all in on the joke.
His stories were really always the same story – no matter how poorly you lived or how low you were you could always rise up and do the right thing.
He was my hero.
He was our constant steady companion through all those crazy Space Age years. In his own way, J.P. helped us to make sense of it all, and to always remember to have a little fun along the way.
One day I noticed that his show had vanished. TV had taken a new direction and there was no place any more for this strange wonderful anachronistic show.
Afterwards you would see him showing up here and there – making appearances at businesses, fairs and festivals. He even made himself available occasionally for private events.
In 2004, on my 50th birthday, my wife threw a big surprise party for me and invited my hero, J.P. Patches to come.
To call this a “peak moment” is an understatement.
I got to share my childhood icon for a while with my friends and watch him spin his magic once again just for us.
A couple of years later he was back in town for a public appearance at a local hardware store. His last TV show was broadcast back in 1981, and yet cars were backed up for miles. You couldn’t get anywhere near the place.
When the City of Seattle decided to erect a statue in his (and Bob Newmans) honor back in in 2008 I was there at the dedication to cheer along with the rest of the Patches Pals.
Just four years later he was gone.
J.P. left something behind though. It feels like he’s still out there somewhere, in that little shack down by the city dump, fending off Gertrudes advances and foiling Boris S. Wort, teaching us how to be a good person and live a good life.
He’s somewhere in the huge world of imagination and humor and fun he built inside all of us.
Thank you, Chris Wedes. Thank you J.P.
For more on J.P.Patches vist:
© 2015 by Leo Bidne