Former cable TV host continues his clowning

? Every kid at one time or another has tried to imagine what a clown’s home looks like. Day-Glo red, green, purple, yellow and orange confetti running from every faucet. House plants squirting water in your eye. Fluorescent balloons floating and bobbling through every room.

But Al and Jo Smith’s bright, airy apartment doesn’t have any of that stuff.

Sure, clown figurines sit on the window sill in the den. And a Hagar the Horrible doll overlooks a smattering of penciled cartoons spread out across an artist’s desk.

Then there’s this brilliant orange wig.

“This is my hair, man, my working hair,” said a comically familiar and excited voice.

Barney the Clown

It’s a voice from weekday afternoons past. It’s Barney the Clown’s voice, but it’s coming from Al Smith.

From the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, Smith played Barney the Clown on local television. Every weekday after school, St. Joseph kids ran home and turned on Channel 3 to watch a funny, black-haired hobo clown.

Barney cracked jokes with the kids both in the studio audience and out in TV land. He twirled his multicolored umbrella in front of the camera and “Krazy Kat” would appear on the screen.

At one time, Smith’s wife, Jo, joined him on the show. She became Clyde, and for about five years the show became known as “The Barney and Clyde Show.”

“I just wandered around and made a fool of myself,” Jo Smith said. “I’d sit in the back and irritate the kids. They loved it.”

Different era of TV

In those days, kids’ TV moved at a much slower pace.

Kids sat still in faraway studio galleries and laughed at clown jokes. They watched Popeye, the Little Rascals and other cartoons.

The host wore everything from captain suits to sweaters to buckskin and talked to stuffed animals and puppets.

Today, Clyde wears sensible clothing. Now 68 years old, Jo Smith put the daffy clothes and crazy makeup away long ago.

The memories she keeps close enough to retrieve occasionally.

“I had fun doing it when I did it,” she said. “We really got good at it.”

There is no longer a Barney, either. But Al Smith, 76, still rubs white grease paint on his face, puts on huge red and yellow shoes and wears orange wigs from time to time. Now it’s all birthday parties and company picnics.

Still, a laugh stands always ready at Smith’s lips. A childlike twinkle still gleams from his eyes. The lines in his face are sharply defined from years of laughter.

“I’ve been a very lucky man, my health’s been good and I do thank God for that,” he said.

Getting his start

As a young boy, he loved cartooning. He studied the art of cartooning for a year at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. To this day, his desk is always covered with penciled one-gag jokes.

Smith became bored and restless at 32. He still had his day job as a bookkeeper, but he wanted something more exciting and challenging.

That’s when his wife made a fateful suggestion that he remembers vividly to this day.

“Jo said, ‘Why don’t you get into that clown thing you’ve always been interested in?'” Smith said.

Smith went to the local cable television station and was soon hired to do its afternoon show. Soon after, Barney and Clyde were born.

A new generation of kids may soon get to see Barney the clown. Chris Fleck, producer and director for St. Joseph Cablevision advertising, said the station is planning a Barney retrospective.

“It will be a reunion of people who were on the show back in the day. And we’ll possibly put together an actual program,” Fleck said.