SEATTLE – Chris Wedes, known and loved throughout the greater Seattle area as TV clown “J.P. Patches,” died Sunday morning. He was 84.
Wedes, who had battled cancer for several years, made his final public appearance at the Fishermen’s Fall Festival in September (WATCH VIDEO). Hundreds of “Patches Pals” - many wearing red clown noses - turned out to wish him well.
"He will go down in history as being a Seattle great," said Bob Newman, who played nearly a dozen characters on the J.P. Patches Show. "He was a brilliant individual."
Among the well-known "Patches Pals" are Bill Gates, former Gov. Gary Locke, current Gov. Chris Gregoire and former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.
King County Executive Dow Constantine issued a statement, saying "Several generations of Seattle kids owe a bit of their personality and sense of humor to J.P. Patches. Chris Wedes, sidekick Bob Newman, and director Joe Towey created a remarkable world of improvised comedy that enthralled children and, with an occasional wink or double-entendre, let parents in on the backstage hilarity."
"I knew this day would come, but cannot believe that it has. Goodnight, sweet clown."
The Emmy-winning J.P. Patches Show (WATCH VIDEO) was a fixture on local television for 23 years, from 1958 to 1981. It was the longest-running local children's show in the country.
"J.P. gave us our daily dose of common sense and encouragement, helped support our parents' messages about cleaning our plates, washing behind our ears, being nice to your siblings and friends... a spoonful of sugar helped us consume those life lessons," said Jerri Zimmerman Wood of Renton.
The J.P. Patches Show, set in a ramshackle house at the “city dump,” was all ad-libbed, and featured fun characters and slapstick humor for kids, as well as more sophisticated humor that only mom and dad would understand.
At the height of its popularity, the show was on twice each weekday – kids had breakfast with J.P. in the morning, and he was there again when they got home from school.
“I watched J.P. every morning, and I remember he would let us know when the old clock on the wall said it was time to go to school, and what the weather would be like that day,” said Libby Monuteaux of Renton. “He was always there in the afternoon too, and got me through many days when my mom was at work."
J.P. was joined by sidekick Gertrude and more than a dozen other characters, from Ketchikan the Animal Man to Boris S. Wort, the “second meanest man in the world,” all played by Bob Newman.
Kids growing up near Puget Sound in the '60s and '70s were thrilled when J.P. switched on the I.C.U.2 TV and wished them a happy birthday.
“On my 4th birthday (in 1965) he said on air, ‘Happy birthday to Jeffrey, who is turning four today. Don't forget to look in the clothes dryer.’ I didn't believe that he meant me until I looked in the dryer and found a new G.I. Joe toy. I'm still on that cloud,” said Jeff Berland of Lacey.
When the show ended in 1981, Wedes continued on with the J.P. character, appearing at fairs, festivals and private parties.
On Nov. 5, 2007, the Seattle City Council proclaimed it “J.P. Patches Day“ (WATCH VIDEO).
A statue of J.P. and Gertrude was erected in the Fremont neighborhood in 2008. The bronze statue named "Late for the Interurban," by Kevin Pettelle, depicts J.P. and Gertrude rushing in opposite directions, arms locked.
Watch J.P. Patches videos:
Wedes, the son of Greek immigrants, grew up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He appeared in school plays in high school and college, and his involvement with the campus radio station helped him land a job in radio. After serving in Korea, he went back to work at the station before accepting a position as director for a St. Paul TV station.
He worked behind the scenes but eventually ended up in front of the camera. He soon became "Captain 11," hosting science fiction serials. Then every Saturday morning, he was "Chuckwagon Chuck" to host Wild West movies. He played various characters on childrens’ shows, but it was the popularity of “Joe the Cook” that got him his own show, "Joe’s Popcorn Party.”
The station’s most popular show was "Carnival Clown" hosted by a clown by the name of J.P. Patches. When the actor that played J.P. left the station, Wedes took over.
In 1958, WCTN director Fred Kauffman accepted a position with a new Seattle television station, KIRO-TV. He needed someone to do the children's programs and he asked Wedes, who accepted.
The show debuted in Seattle on February 8, 1958 and was a hit, dominating local children’s programming for 23 years.