Zeebo the Clown and Me
Bowen "Bo" W. McClellan entertained central Texas children in the 1950s and 1960s by transforming himself into "Zeebo the Clown". His wife named him "Zeebo" as a funny French way of saying "Bo" that she thought made a cute clown name.
Bowen "Bo" McClellan was born in El Paso in 1907 but grew up just north of Waco in a town called West. He started drawing at the age of 10 studying with the retired art instructor Emma Humphreys at Baylor University. He went on to college at SMU, the Dallas Art Institute and eventually the Los Angeles Art Institute.
During the 20s, 30s and 40s, he did freelance work painting posters and banners for movie houses and vaudeville shows. He also did hand-lettering on tags and signs for department stores and designed a few corporate logos.
By the summer of 1950 he was back in Waco and was hired as a set builder and artist for local TV station KCEN-TV. He retired from KCEN in the 1970s. While there he designed TV advertisements, news programs and weather maps.
What I didn't know about Zeebo the Clown was that he was the star of a local children's show five days a week on KCEN-TV. On this program he had a live audience of children come up and squiggle on a pad of paper set up on an easel and he would then make something out of the squiggle and it became known as a "Zeebo-gram". This was a game he often played with his own sons at home.
Zeebo's "cigar" was actually a duck call painted to resemble a cigar. He used the whistle to express himself rather than talk.
Zeebo died in 1986.
When I Met Zeebo
I personally met Zeebo when I was three, perhaps four years old. With a late November birthday, it's certainly more likely that I was not yet 4 years old when I sat quietly and patiently in a chair as Zeebo drew the sketching of me that you see above. I remember the experience as if it were yesterday. I found him to be a very nice clown and not at all scary as some clowns can be to young children.
For the next 40 or so years, I've often wondered about Zeebo the Clown. I wondered what his story was and how it all came about. There is so little about him on the internet. I did find some pictures of him online (that have since been deleted) and I find it interesting that one of them was of an advertisement for him appearing at the Eastgate Plaza in Bellmead. That plaza is the same place I sat in for the sketching above, but years later.
Zeebo looked exactly like a remember him in the photos and it really took me back to see them for the first time in decades. I wish they hadn't removed them.
It brought a smile to my face. Thanks, Zeebo.
- Waco History Project: Moments in Time
Waco History Project is a joint effort to provide a resource base on Waco history and to generate curricula and other learning resources for teaching local history in the Waco and surrounding communities.
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