Thousands of grown-up kids gathered Saturday at Seattle Center to give thanks for a television clown who left them weak with laughter, urged them to scrub their necks, and was always there no matter what.
In a tribute to Chris Wedes, star of "The J.P. Patches Show," the stage at McCaw Hall was transformed into the shack at the city dump where Julius Pierpont Patches reigned as mayor for more than 20 years. The audience hooted in delight at video clips from the show and hissed at any mention of its mustachioed villain, Boris S. Wort.
Wedes died July 22 at age 84, and the sound of stifled sobs and nose-blowing punctuated the two-hour trip down memory lane.
"Chris considered himself a lucky man for getting to touch so many people," said comedian Pat Cashman, who emceed the event. "But I think we are the lucky ones for having him."
KIRO Radio host Dori Monson was among several local celebrities who described what the show and the clown meant to them, and to generations of Northwesterners.
"My dad wasn't around when I was a kid," Monson said. "J.P. was every day."
The show aired between 1958 and 1981, and for much of that time, it was on twice a day. Youngsters watched it before leaving for school and as soon as they got home. Many learned to tell time from the face on the talking clock Grandpa Tick Tock which signaled the end of the show.
"J.P. twice a day took us to a place where our imaginations could run wild," said comedian John Keister. "We went to the North Pole. We went to outer space. And we believed it."
But even though he was the local equivalent of a rock star, Wedes was not a distant figure. As J.P., he rode his tricycle in parades, passed out candy at festivals and clowned around at birthday parties. He even made several guest appearances on Keister's television comedy show, "Almost Live."
As himself, Wedes was just like any other neighbor in what was still essentially a small town. "Everybody I knew growing up in Seattle actually met the man," Keister said, asking how many in the audience shared that experience. A sea of arms shot up.
One of them belonged to Eirik Nalder. The Seattle man was wearing a red clown nose and videotaping the event. "It's my mother's fault," he said, explaining that his first exposure to the show came in the womb. As a boy, Nalder was beset by bullies. With his gentle humor and welcoming presence, J.P. Patches provided a daily respite. "He put a smile on my face," Nalder recalled.
After hearing of Wedes' death in July, Nalder made his way to the Fremont statue that commemorates J.P., and shared stories with scores of other fans gathered there. Like Nalder, many had childhoods fraught with conflict and took comfort in the clown who never scolded and whose smile never faded. "I just want to hug him," Nalder said.
Nancy Parks came from Puyallup to pay her respects and reminisce. When "The J.P. Patches Show" was on, she said, it seemed like the clown was right in her living room, talking just to her and her sister. "We didn't really know he was an adult."
What better compliment could a clown hope for?
Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or email@example.com