Long-running TV clown marks 50 years since debut

Friday, February 15, 2008

J. P. Patches, reading viewer mail.

Star of one of the longest-running shows in television history, 79-year-old Chris Wedes is celebrating half a century since he became "Julius Pierpont Patches".

From 1958 to 1981, CBS affiliate KIRO-TV produced The J.P. Patches Show. The show featured J.P., the Mayor of the City Dump, who lived in a shack with multiple characters visiting. Virtually the entire supporting cast, male and female, human or non-human, was played by the versatile Bob Newman.

The character itself is more than 50 years old.

J. P. Patches was created at NBC-affiliate WTCN by Daryl Laub. When he left for KSTP-TV, also in Minnesota, the character was taken over by Wedes. (Wedes was then an actor, DJ, and kids TV cook.) In 1958, Wedes moved to Seattle, to become the first floor director at KIRO-TV, bringing The J.P. Patches Show with him. (Laub, meanwhile, created T. N. Tatters at another station.) The show aired twice a day for 13 years, and once on Saturdays, for 8 more years just in the morning, and for the final two years only on Saturday morning. In total, an estimated 12,000 shows made the air, all of them live, with next to no budget.

Wedes told the Everett Herald that: "I'm still amazed at the longevity of the character. When I go on appearances, I get hugs, I get tears, I get laughter. The people are so in love with J.P. Patches. I can't believe it that it has hung on that long."

Businesses paid Wedes and the station to appear in character at grand openings, appeared at a Boeing Christmas party with an audience of 55,000, and appeared on Darigold milk containers, Sunbeam bread bags, and Dankens ice cream lids. Even still, the image has been licensed for bobble heads and an action figure. The book "J.P. Patches: Northwest Icon" was published in 2002.

While the cartoons were airing, Wedes' Patches would greet guest children; the waiting list was for a while six months long. Children who stopped by include now-billionaire Bill Gates, and former Washington Governor Gary Locke.

Celebrities appearing on the show included politicians, Olympic medalists, comedian Steve Allen, Burt "Robin" Ward of Batman, folk singer Tiny Tim, actress Debbie Reynolds, oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, and Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Some parents objected to KIRO-TV dropping the national series Captain Kangaroo, three years into its run, to put in Patches.

A minor controversy erupted when a local newspaper photographed Wedes, being taken in an ambulance when involved in a car crash, not of his own fault. The official site reads that "The picture distressed many local children and would remain an embarrassment to the local media if they actually had any shame."

There are still enough "Patches Pals", fans of the show, that a statue is planned for Seattle's Fremont neighborhood. To be completed this summer, the fundraiser is just $55,000 away from the $165,000 needed for the sculpture of Patches with Gertrude, the character's girlfriend.

They've so far donated $110,000 of $165,000 to cast a bronze statue of J.P. Patches and his sidekick Gertrude to be placed in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. More money is still needed for the statue, being made by a Sultan sculptor and completed this summer. Any money raised that isn't needed for the statue, coordinated by the local chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, goes to the Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle; the statue itself will have a slot to collect money for the hospital. Billboards around the region track the fundraising progress.

Wedes was diagnosed in October with a controllable but incurable blood cancer, "acute myeloma". He had to avoid public appearance until recently, due to the told of dialysis. He made seven county fair appearances in 2007, and 30 other gigs. Newman often joins him to perform, despite have multiple sclerosis for the past 20 years.

The two will appear in "An Evening With JP Patches & Gertrude: The Men Behind The Makeup", April 5 at The 7th Street Theatre in Hoquiam.


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