[Update, July 22nd, 2012; Chris Wedes died today at the age of 84. There are nice obituaries in both local papers; the Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer. He meant a lot to a generation of folks around here and he will be missed a great deal.]
[Update, July 23rd; I just posted a video of JP's last public appearance, and a video of one of Chris Wedes' last interviews.]
JP Patches – 1963
Julius Pierpont Patches, the Mayor of the City Dump, made his last public appearance at Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal September 17th capping a run of more than 50 years as an important part of Seattle culture.
If you don’t know who JP is then you aren’t from here and can’t call yourself a real “Seattleite” no matter how many Lattes you’ve drank at Starbucks. (at best you’re a ‘tourist’, at worst, a ‘transplant’)
In 1958, KIRO TV began airing the JP Patches show, which ran until 1981, marking it as the longest running locally produced children’s show in the country. Joined by Gertrude and a cast of thousands, JP showed cartoons, announced birthdays, joked with folks from the community, dinged extraordinary numbers of pigtails and braids, and basically improvised his way through tens of thousands of hours of live television to the delight of local kids. If you were the member of a local Cub Scout pack or Brownie troop at the time, then you probably visited JP on his show.
JP Patches and Gertrude
And not to worry, parents weren’t ignored. JP could throw a double entendre so fast that it whizzed well over little Johnny’s head faster than you could say “Geoduck“. There are a few shows available on video and watching them years later I was amazed and delighted at the amount of spice JP and Gertrude added to the cheese.
And the shenanigans didn’t end on the set. JP and Gertrude were active in the community:
One cause that Wedes supports is Children’s Hospital. Over the years, J.P. Patches has visited there quite often, cheering up those who need it the most. During J.P.’s 20th anniversary show, the hospital returned the favor by announcing that their new diagnostic play area had been named for J.P. (via HistoryLink)
I think one of the best examples of how loved JP is around this town can be illustrated with an anecdote from 1992, the height of the “Grunge” movement here in Seattle:
[A]n unruly audience was trashing the Paramount Theater while awaiting a Soundgarden Concert. Who should appear out of the wings but J.P. Patches. He quietly calmed down the audience before the band took the stage.
Yeah, a kid’s show clown calmed down a theater packed with teens and twenty-somethings. (take that, bozo!)
Bob Newman, Chris Wedes, and Joe Towey (photo from JP’s site)
Chris Wedes is the man behind the red nose, and Bob Newman was his trusty sidekick. In addition to Gertrude, Bob played almost every other character on the show. From Boris S Wort (the second meanest man in the world) and Miss Smith (of miss smith’s delivery service) to The Swami of Pastrami and Ggoorrsstt, the Friendly Frpl (who ate farm fresh frpl fodder from farmer frank from fife or farmer fred from ferndale). The man who directed the show for those years was Joe Towey, who stepped onto the show a few times and also played “The Count” who introduced horror movies late Friday nights on “Nightmare Theater”.
Since 1981, he and Gertrude continued to make appearances at parties and fairs and countless community events including a couple evenings at our local PBS stations for their pledge drives.
Late for the Interurban in Fremont
In 2008 a statue in honor of the 50th anniversary of JP’s show was erected in the Fremont area (the center of the universe and the home neighborhood of the statue of lenin and the troll under the bridge) called “Late For the Interurban” (situated a few hundred feet from the statue of folks waiting for a bus called “waiting for the interurban“, of course)
In 2002, Bob Newman retired Gertrude from public appearances due to health issues. The Seattle Times’ Sherry Stripling (i assume that’s her real name) interviewed Mr Newman just afterwards and wrote a great piece on one of the best and most beloved second bananas in the business.
J P Patches (picture from the Seattle Times)
And just a few weeks ago, the clown himself retired. Not suddenly; Mr Wedes has been fighting with blood cancer for years already. But he just can’t keep up the schedule anymore. JP Patches is a very popular guy even after being off the air for 30 years!
Myself, I spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours watching the show and was a Patches Pal like most of my friends and even some famous people! (I was definately NOT a Boris Buddy!) When the kids were young I dragged them around Seattle when JP (and often Gertrude) made appearances. They weren’t quite sure who The Clown was, and thought Gertrude was kinda scary (he is a big guy), but sure enjoyed the videos.
For all that these silly guys mean to me, and thousands of other Patches Pals to boot, I could write hundreds of pages and devote an entire blog to these gentlemen. Fortunately folks have done that for me and probably the best resource is JP Patches’ own website. It’s full of show info, pictures (of which i’ve gleefully lifted a few for this post), and several video clips. The page hierarchy is kind of funky and there’s alot there that’s not obvious from the side menus. Besides the drop-down chapter selection, make use of the pointy hand navigators for each chapter’s sub-pages. Just be careful; I have spent hours poking around what is probably over 100 pages and nearly that many video clips and I’m not done!
Let me close with a clip of a classic moment in local live tv. (and there’s plenty more clips there!)