KCEN TV station created childhood memories across Central Texas with a Bozo-style program
By DAVID STONE | OUR TOWN TEMPLE
Long before Tik-Tok, Hulu and super-cool games like State of Survival, Call of Duty and Angry Birds many Temple-area kids turned to local TV for indoor entertainment.
While early television stations such as KCEN mostly ran programs that were based in Hollywood, they also mixed in original programming.
KCEN first went on the air in 1953, and station owner Frank Mayborn, a Temple businessman, immediately looked for ways to increase the number of young viewers. Bozo the Clown was a hit nationally, and KCEN executives apparently decided to produce a similar local show to capitalize on Bozo’s popularity.
Back then, clowns were fun and represented happy times. Years later, movies, books and television would convince the world that clowns have a creepy side.
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Bowan McClellan, known by friends and family as Bo, was born in El Paso in 1907 but grew up north of Waco in West. Bo loved to draw, and he was very good at it. By age 10, he was studying under the direction of retired Baylor art instructor Emma Humpheys. Bo went on to study art at SMU, the Dallas Art Institute and eventually, the Los Angeles Art Institute.
During the 1920s, 30s and 40s, Bo was a freelance artist making movie posters and banners for theaters and vaudeville shows. He also hand-lettered signs and tags for department stores and dabbled in corporate logo design.
By the summer of 1953, Bo had returned to Central Texas and was hired as a set builder and artist for a new television station that served Temple, Waco and the surrounding area. He primarily created advertisements and weather maps for KCEN, but he soon was approached to design a set for a new children’s show.
Intrigued by the idea, he volunteered to also serve as the host of the show. He even dressed up as a clown to convince KCEN officials he was right for the job.
Zebo the Clown was an immediate hit. Bo’s art skills became a big draw (pardon the pun) for the show.
Like Bozo, the Zebo program used a live audience — though much smaller that that of his Hollywood counterpart. Zebo would have children come from the audience and squiggle on a pad of paper set up on an easel, then he would create a picture — often an animal — out of the squiggle. The game became known as a Zebo-gram and it quickly became a major part of the show.
Zebo carried a “cigar,” that was actually a duck call painted to resemble a cigar. He used the whistle to express himself rather than talk. Other than duck whistles, Zebo was usually silent.
The name Zebo was fashioned by his wife, Sara, who thought it would be funny to put a French twist on The Bo. Ze Bo, or Zebo, stuck and it was an easy sell to station managers.
Zebo the Clown became one of the station’s most popular television shows, and the decision was made to take the show on the road.
Five days a week, the simple set was moved to theaters, gyms, churches and civic centers across Central Texas. This hyperlocal move helped ensure a full audience for every show.
After about a 20-year run, audiences dwindled and KCEN management eventually pulled the plug. Bo continued to work at the station until he retired in 1970. He died in 1986 at age 89, but although it has been nearly 37 years since his passing, memories of Zebo live on.
“I definitely remember watching Zebo on television, and I attended once,” said Lucy Ludwick Greenway of Moffat. “I think it was for another child’s birthday. I was soooo disappointed when I wasn’t the one called up for the big picture.”
“I played Rudoph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on the piano and my brother played along on his accordian,” said Rosemary Sims of Temple. “That was probably around 1955.”
James Shelton of Temple and Douglas Hoppock, a former Temple resident who now lives in Wimberley, attended the show with their respective Cub Scout troops.
“It was a very small group in the peanut gallery,” Shelton remembered. It was lots of fun.” Hoppock heartily agreed.
Nancy B. Sammons visited the show with her Troy Elementary class.
“It was probably first grade,” she said. “I remember Zebo asked my name and I said: Nancy B. Sammons. He asked what the B stood for. I told him I didn’t know.”
While a lucky few made it to the show, thousands of other Central Texans watched from their living rooms. Lynda Elliott Weatherby and Teresa Nicholson Hays, for example, have fond memories of watching the show after school.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” said Robbie Loftin of Temple. “I was on the show for my birthday — probably in 1964 or so.”