Bozo goes to Hollywood
Last week, we left Pinto Colvig, the self-described “Village Clown” of Jacksonville, telling us about playing E-flat clarinet in Corvallis with the Oregon Agricultural College band. At best it was a tongue-in-cheek education.
“I learned how to paddle a canoe and roll Bull Durham cigarettes with one hand, before I broke loose as a chalk talker.”
Pinto’s cartoons in student publications had made him popular on campus and led to his chalk talks — standing on stage, delivering a rapid-fire, funny monologue, while quickly drawing cartoon characters on a large blackboard.
In early 1913, he left college, joined a vaudeville circuit, and took his chalk talks on the road. In September, he even appeared on Medford’s Page Theater stage. But the circus was always on his mind.
“Come early springtime, the green grass, elephants, and the call of the Calliope would lure me back to the circus, where I clowned, played clarinet on the bandwagon, and often pinch hit as barker for the big show. ... The life I love.”
In the fall of 1914, he briefly took a job as a cartoonist for two Nevada newspapers, but it couldn’t last.
“Then came another spring. ’Twas circus time and I was off. I finished the season atop the bandwagon and then sailed from Los Angeles to Portland. There I met a wonderful girl, Miss Margaret Slavin, who was willing to marry. I kissed all the elephants goodbye forever.”
One of Pinto’s prized possessions from those circus days was a “good luck” hair from an elephant’s tail that he kept in his wallet for the rest of his life.
The couple moved to San Francisco, where Pinto went to work as a cartoonist and feature writer for the Call Bulletin newspaper.
“I was known as the ‘boob reporter’ and, after a year, I quit to make the first color animated cartoons.”
Pinto formed the Animated Cartoon and Film Corporation and is indeed credited with creating the very first color animated cartoon. Soon, however, most of his staff were drafted into the Army to fight in World War I and his company closed down.
“Then I made a strip for the Chronicle, which was syndicated throughout the country. My newspaper interviews put me in touch with the movie people who encouraged me until I kicked over the traces and went to Los Angeles.”
Pinto was in demand, working as an animator, gag writer, occasional film actor, and vocal sound effects man for some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Max Sennett of “Keystone Cops” fame and Walter Lanz, future creator and voice of Woody Woodpecker.
Perhaps because they were close in age, one of his favorite Hollywood “bosses” was the legendary silent film producer/director Jack White.
“Jack White, only 24 years old with 12 different minds where only one ought to be. He’s a great fellow to work for. Yet, I seem to work — with — not for him.”
In 1930, Pinto signed a contract with Walt Disney.
Next week, the conclusion: when the Jacksonville “Goof” becomes the world’s biggest Bozo. See you then.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at email@example.com or WilliamMMiller.com.