The Mighty Nobody and Comic Bozo
His Creator, 'Foxo' Reardon, Presents Quaint Strip
to Audience of 2,300,000 Newspaper Readers
By Charles Walker
Bozo is merely a "nobody" in the eyes of his creator, Francis Xavier Reardon, 40-year-old father of eight children. But Bozo is a most important "nobody" for the Reardon family, and particularly for Foxo Reardon.
Foxo is a contraction of F. X. and came to Francis Xavier Reardon because he used to sign his initials to cartoons and use little o's in place of periods. This, undoubtedly, had something to do with the naming of Bozo, but the connection is not too important.
Early in January, the Times Dispatch will begin carrying Bozo as one of its daily comic strips, and with this Foxo will achieve one of the dreams of his life--to present Bozo daily to Virginians.
Off and on for more than 20 years Bozo has appeared with more or less regularity in the Times-Dispatch as a Sunday comic strip. Now he is to bring his smile daily.
Bozo is a quaint character, quaintly arrived at, and Foxo, his creator, is perhaps only a little, if any, less quaint than his favorite character.
It probably would be impossible to tie together all the things which entered into the creation and continuation of Bozo, and it will take time to piece it all together in proper relationship.
The fact is, however, that Bozo has occupied nearly all the serious thinking time of Foxo Reardon for a period of 20 years, or thereabouts, and Foxo believes that it has not been time ill spent.
Bozo came to Foxo a long time ago in a most curious manner--in a prayer Foxo was saying after he had been fired from a $15-a-week job as a sports cartoonist.
Foxo was 16 then and his job meant a lot to him. Having been devoutly brought up Foxo prayed. Now it appears that Bozo may have been an answer to a prayer in the larger, unreligious sense of that phrase.
Foxo and Bozo hit the jackpot scarcely six weeks ago when the Chicago Sun Syndicate signed a contract. Today Bozo is playing to a daily audience of 2,300,000 or more on two continents through the medium of 20 daily newspapers. Two of these papers are in South America.
All for Smiles
Silly little Bozo, the mighty nobody, elbowed his way into that prayer most irreligiously.
"As I was praying," Foxo explains, "there appeared a beautiful blonde who dropped her handkerchief with malice aforethought in the path of this Bozo. Had he been the proper gallant, he would have picked it up, returned it to the blonde, and they would have struck up a beautiful friendship.
"But, no; Bozo did nothing of the kind. He picked up the handkerchief, and as the blonde stood there demurely awaiting what should have happened in normal course, Bozo stuck his scnozolla into the handkerchief and went his way. . ."
Bozo, the incongruous, thus began his incongruous career. He has been doing things just as silly every since, and his silliness is just beginning to pay off in a moderately handsome fashion.
This is about all there was to the beginning of Bozo. Ever since he came upon the stage, he has played his part in a way to make people smile.
For the most part he has been merely a by-product of the pen of Foxo. He was a plaything for Foxo at first, but as time went on more money was needed for the creature comforts of the rapidly growing Reardon family, Foxo tried to peddle him to the syndicates.
There were many nibbles, but no takers, during the days of the great depression, and the recession and then the paper shortage. For one reason or another the syndicates didn't take the strip. But Foxo perservered.
Be it said for Foxo that he (missing) in the success of Bozo (missing) in his own, and that his still devout prayers are that Bozo will bring comfort and plenty to the Reardon family which hasn't always lived in any bed of roses.
Francis Xavier Reardon never took a drawing lesson but has learned a lot by talking to other artists, and has a deft touch all his own when it comese to drawing anything. This instinct for (missing) seems to have been (missing). He did a presentable picture of a Richmond Blues parade as far back as 1908, when he was only 3--or so, he says, he has been told.
Foxo likes to think that maybe he is a great artist, although comic strip drawers aren't usually considered seriously as artists.
The great artists,' says Foxo, are those who draw things for enjoyment of only a few, but maintain that the greatest artist is the artist who can draw for the enjoyment of many. That may be all wrong, but it's the way I feel about it.
The war is over and the people want to laugh. If I can contribute a smile-a-day for many, then I will be happy."
Comic strips, so-called, have for the most part departed almost entirely from comedy, and are in reality continued melodramas in pictures. Very little effort is made at comedy in most of them.
Here is where Bozo differs. He is designed to present some ludicrous situation daily, something to provide at least a smile, if not a belly-laugh.
Foxo lays claim to originality along another line. He maintains, and so far as we know it is not disputed, that Bozo is the original pantomime strip.
Bozo strives to please without speaking. Droll situations and slapstick comedy are depended upon to turn the trick of drawing a smile.
Only once has Bozo ever spoken and then he spoke only one word. It was back in 1934 when the state opened liquor stores during the Mason-jar era of prohibition.
No little saint, although he first appeared in a prayer, Bozo got into one of the long lines at the liquor store. Successive pictures showed him drawing nearer the clerk at the cash register.
When he finally made it, Bozo winked at the clerk, raised one finger, and said: "Jar."
This, of course, made a hit with the prohibition-era tipplers who had almost forgot that liquor could be dispensed in containers other than fruit jars.
But since that day Bozo has depended upon action without words and Foxo maintains, like the Chinese, that one picture is worth a thousand words.
Father of Eight
Mr. Reardon lives with his ample and industrious family in a house at 3008 third Ave., Barton Heights. Product of a morning paper that he is, he insists on working at night--perhaps until 5 A. M.
Mrs. Reardon and the children are tolerant of this situation, which makes it necessary to keep noise at a minimum during the day while he sleeps. Mrs. Reardon has grown used to this situation, and the children have never known anything else, because Foxo has worked at night practically their entire lives.
Foxo believes he thinks better at night, but hopes to get used to thinking in the daylight hours before long.
If Bozo and I make a success of it," says Foxo, "we're going to have to give credit for that success to this wonderful family of mine."
In 1927, Foxo married Carolyn Thurston, and to them have born the following children in this order:
(1) Francis Xavier Reardon, Jr., May 14, 1928.
(2) John Eugene (Jack) Reardon, June 28, 1930.
(3) Patrick Augustine Reardon, Dec. 27, 1931.
(4) Joseph Jerome Reardon, April 12, 1933.
(5) Margaret Ann Reardon, Jan. 8, 1935.
(6) Michael Reardon, Feb. 16, 1937.
(7) Rose Mary Reardon, Aug. 10, 1938.
(8) Gordon Timothy Reardon, Feb. 12, 1943.
The older boys have paid their way for a long time by selling papers and doing odd jobs, and all down the line there is industry in the family.
"It's a fine family," says Foxo, "and whatever of good that may come to them will be greatly deserved."
Foxo is a native of Richmond, the son of William Reardon, a glassblower, and Rose Meyer Reardon. He was born Jan. 5, 1905. He attended Cathedral school here and Bridgeton (N. J.) High School.
At 16, in 1921, he became a sports cartoonist for the Times-Dispatch, but was let go for payroll reducing purposes before too long. He thinks inexperience might have had something to do with this because his going only reduced the payroll by $15 a week.
This incident, however, brought him to the Bozo-inspiring prayer and Foxo, rather philosophically, thinks that really might have been the key point of his whole career.
For a year he free-lanced in art of various kinds in New York and in New Jersey, but finally came back in 1923 to the Times Dispatch where he did all sorts of art work until he resigned recently to devote all his energies to find a situation through which to parade Bozo.
During the years which have intervened, Foxo has drawn thousands of prosaic layouts of all kinds, has contributed a weekly Bozo strip, produced a weekly page of comics, and drawn a weekly page or half-page called "About Town."
In 1935 he began production of a weekly cartoon called "Old Dominion Oddities," which in its field, compared most favorably with Robert Ripley's famous "Believe It or Not."
Through everything, however, Bozo has been Foxo's love. Through troubles and disappointments Foxo has stuck with Bozo as Bozo has stuck with Foxo. He is most pleased now that editors all over the country are seeing in Bozo what Foxo has seen in him for years--and antidote for troubles.
Never has Foxo believed other than that success eventually would crown his efforts with Bozo. He has taken hope in time of trouble in his infinite faith that for him life would begin at 40.
The real success story, however, Foxo feels, must wait until time has tested his ability to make Bozo romp with devastating drollness every day in the week and every week in the year.
It is quite a job that Foxo has cut out for Bozo and himself.