Barney Bean R.I.P.

Here’s proof that the Internet is magic. I found Barney Bean on there.

Barney just died this past June. I’m a little upset. Now that all living people can be tracked down and made to be your Facebook friends and get on your Christmas card list, I would have tried to get in touch with him.

Barney Bean was a kids’ show in Youngstown in the ‘60s. According to Wikipedia, the show was on Channel 33 and Barney’s real name was David William "Bill" Harris, an announcer and station manager for the television station. All I remember are the important things: That Barney Bean was awesome.

If it was your birthday, you could send your name into the show. He would sit on a little stool with a giant tablet of paper on an easel and with a fat black marker would write your initials really big. Then he would continue to draw stuff around the initials, talking away the whole time. La de da, he just drew away as casually as you please. You’d watch as he drew what appeared to be just a bunch of squiggles and lines that didn’t make any sense. And then he’d turn the tablet on its side and OH MY GOODNESS! It was a cartoon drawing of a face or a funny car with a face or something cool.

Barney had a sidekick, a ventriloquist’s puppet named Sherwood, who dressed like a cross between a used car salesman and a Catholic school boy, spun his head around, and creeped me out.

I watched Barney Bean religiously (along with Romper Room. I wonder what ever happened to Miss Ann, that Romper-Stomper-Domper-Doer? . . . ) and then continued to watch the Ronald McDonald Show, which Barney also hosted. My favorite childhood memory about TV was when a group of school kids were standing on the risers being interviewed - [They did this every week. They brought in a class or a Bluebird troop or some Sunday School class and put them on risers as if they were going to sing a song, but Barney or Ronald would walk around with a microphone and ask each child, ‘What’s your name?’ and follow-up questions like, ‘What sports do you like to play?’ and ‘Do you like dolls?’] - and Ronald was doing the interviewing and one kid in the back row said into the mic, “Eat it, clown!

Apparently it was live TV because we all saw it, heard it and witnessed Ronald’s shocked expression, even through the over-the-top makeup, and sat speechless on our living room floors while they cut to commercial.

I was young enough that my mom had to explain to me what had just happened. A bad, bad boy made a joke and you’re not allowed to do that on live Youngstown TV. He got into big trouble.

Then something happened, and like most of my memories of scandals in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I’ve gotten them mixed up with Law & Order SVU episodes and I’m not really sure what happened or what was even accused of having happened. But in my memory, there’s a cloud of sadness and pity surrounding Barney Bean and his reputation.

I don’t think it had anything to do with the Eat it Clown remark, but that may have been a prophetic turn in children’s TV, the beginning of the end. It would not surprise me to read in a future Wikipedia entry on Children’s Television that the death of live kiddie TV was traced back to Eat it Clown on Channel 33 in Youngstown, followed soon by Screw You Captain Penny and I’ll Give You a Romp Miss Ann.

In the late ‘70s, when I was a waitress at Howard Johnson’s just off Interstate 80 in Liberty Township (a beehive of car trip vacationers, truckers and sad locals) I had the counter one morning and who should walk in but Barney Bean. There was no mistake about it, it was him. He sat down and I poured his coffee and I said, “Aren’t you Barney Bean?”

He smiled and said yes, he was Barney Bean! I suppose there’s a chance that it was a poser, a Barney Bean look-alike who told people he was Barney Bean for the attention. (My cousin Jean worked with a guy who was the spitting image of Sonny Bono and he used to sign autographs and claim to be him. If you are from Youngstown and you think you got Sony Bono’s autograph from a wedding reception banquet hall on Belmont Avenue, sorry.)

My Howard Johnson’s Barney Bean took out a job application and sat at the counter filling it out and drinking coffee. I could have wept. Filling out a job application? Barney . . . Barney . . . Barney. Why couldn’t your artistic talent and sparkly smile be appreciated and rewarded? I felt so sorry for him, I wanted to slip him a free Fudge Brownie Sundae, but he seemed happy enough.

“It’s funny to hear these grown up people say they used to watch me as kids,” he said to me before he left.

“Oh, I’m not really grown-up. I’m only 20 and I’m real immature,” I said. “I’d watch you today if you were still on.”

I’m 50 now (still a little bit immature, but that just means I act like a 35-year-old so it goes largely unnoticed) and I would still watch Barney Bean if it were on.

Sherwood can go to the sawdust factory, though.

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