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Detroit TV Celebrities/Icons: Growing up With Detroit Legends

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Bill Kennedy:

A landmark on Michigan air waves throughout the 1960s and 70s, many Detroiters grew up watching Bill Kennedy host the only alternative to soap operas in the long afternoons of summer: Bill Kennedy at the Movies.

Although never an A-list celebrity, Kennedy made a living at his craft, acting over the years in 12 TV series and 64 movies -- often uncredited. His distinctive voice made him a natural for voice overs, such as the announcer in the Adventures of Superman TV series, and as a television host.

Probably his most noteworthy achievement, however, is his ability to keep his myspace site going 10 years after his death.

Rita Bell:

Back in the day, Rita Bell was a daily fixture on TV as the host of Prize Movie, an intermission segment aired during the morning moving on Detroit’s WXYZ-TV. The segment consisted of Rita playing a song and the TV audience calling in to guess the title for a cash prize. Rita Bell made it into a caeer, hosting the segment throughout the 1960s and 70s. She was uniquely qualified for the position, having both broadcasting experience as Detroit’s very first woman weathercaster and music experience as a singer in a band. In fact, she was singing in a band when she was discovered by the general manager of WXYZ-TV.

Bell's sole acting credit outside of local TV, at least according to IMDB.com, is one 1968 episode of Big Valley. Lucky for Detroiters, her guest starring appearance didn't turn into a re-occurring role. Rita Bell died in 2003.

Bozo the Clown -- Art Cervi:

Bozo the Clown is a well-known character to kids across the country, but Detroit had its own unique relationship with the man beneath the makeup, Art Cervi.

Bozo the Clown was a franchised character, originally created by Jay Livingston for Capital Records in the 1940s. The character explored several media formats before being portrayed by a live actor on TV in Los Angeles. Bozo’s success on TV resulted in Bozos spreading across the country as local TV stations licensed the character and simply hired their own actor to play him.

Detroit was no exception, having two different actors play Bozo in the years leading up to 1967. In that year, Bozo, for reasons unknown, disappeared off of Detroit TV stations, forcing Detroiters to rely on their neighbors across the river for their fix. Windsor, Canada’s CKLW-TV, Channel 9 on the VHF dial, was easily received in Detroit – a perk to be sure at Olympics time – and so, too, was Art Cervi's Bozo. With his ring of flaming red hair, floppy white bib, and Treasure Chest of Toys, it was this Bozo that became our treasured childhood memory. In fact, nary a scout troop missed seeing the show filmed live.

Cervi played Bozo on CKLW until 1975, when he emmigrated from Canada to play Bozo on Detroit’s WJBK-TV. To Detroit kids, Cervi was Bozo. Of course, Detroit kids were sometimes exposed to other Bozos on the occasional vacation or trip out of town. After struggling with the inevitable Bozo confusion, they discovered that all the others Bozos not only paled in comparison, but could be downright creepy. Just look at an old picture of Washington D.C.’s Bozo, Willard Scott, or Chicago’s rounder, scarier Bozo, Bob Bell.

Sources:

  • Blogofdeath.com
  • Findagrave.com
  • FM Radio WMOC Detroit, Motor City Moments, Art Cervi Interview
  • Clown-ministry.com

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