Bill Britten

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Philadelphia,Pa.

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Biography:

The son of an opera actor and singer, Bill Britten began his show business career performing at birthday parties and other local functions as a mimic and pantomimist in his hometown of Philadelphia, PA. From there, he studied clown make-up at Temple University. When he enrolled at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA, he took on nightclub gigs and performed as a clown for a gas station franchise. He also trained with two puppet theaters: one that was funded by the University of Washington, and another that was supported by the Seattle Parks Department.

After completing his studies at UW, Britten moved to NYC where he continued to perform in the nighclubs until he won an audition with Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus as their "Funniest New Clown Of The Year". Dressed up as a tramp clown, he did a pantomime routine where "Prof. Oakey Doakey" (Britten's Tramp Clown character) tries to sit in a collapsible chair. He would perform with Ringling Brothers Circus for the spring of 1954.

When the Circus left NYC, he remained in The Big Apple, where he soon made his tv debut as the second and last puppeteer and cartoonist on WJZ TV Ch.7 NYC's "Jolly Gene & His Fun Machine". Britten not only manipulated and voiced the puppets, he also drew the cartoon images that appeared on the screen of "Jolly Gene's" fun machine. From there, he succeeded Bob Keeshan and Joe Bova as the third host/performer of WJZ/WABC TV Ch.7 NYC's weekday afternoon kids comedy tv show, "Time For Fun!". Working against the backdrop of a neighborhood clubhouse and sporting a striped blazer, floppy bowtie, and beanie, Britten took on the persona of a loveable but bumbling clubhouse leader, "Johnny Jellybean".

The show was a wonderful mixture of comedy and puppet skits, games, craftmaking, hobbies, songs, informational segments and interviews with guest performers and personalities, in between the reruns of old movie cartoons and comedies. Britten's version of "Time For Fun" was the only version of the series to utilize a studio audience of kids. The program became a hit with adults and kids and was the top rated kids tv series in the NYC/NJ/CT viewing area. Britten would host "Time For Fun" from Monday, December 31, 1956 to Friday, August 1, 1958.

He would succeed Sandy Becker and Herb Sheldon as the third host/performer of WABD/WNEW/WNYW TV Ch.5 NYC's long running comedy/variety kids tv show "Wonderama", once again working with a studio audience of kids. Britten would entertain and inform his viewers and studio audiences in between the reruns of old movie cartoons and comedies. Britten's version of "Wonderama" would also be the very first NYC based kids tv show to be pre-taped before a live audience.

He would add to his busy schedule, hosting other kids tv shows at Ch.5: "The Looney Tunes Show", "Bugs Bunny Presents", and "FunnyTunes".

Britten would leave Ch.5 at the end of the 1958 tv season and move one more time, to WPIX TV Ch.11, where he would become the first NYC based entertainer to play "Bozo The Clown". He would mc "Bozo The Clown" and "Bozo's Big Top Circus" weekday evenings and afternoons on Ch.11 from Monday, September 14, 1959 to Friday, June 2, 1963.

Britten's last ventures in kids tv were serving as the host/performer of "The Cartoon Express" as "Engineer Smokey Bill" Saturday mornings on WPIX TV Ch.11 from Saturday, October 13, 1962 to Saturday, November 3, 1962 and "Bozo's Cartoon Circus Lunchtime Show" weekday afternoons on Ch.11 and "Peanut Butter and Jelly Time" from Monday, June 24, 1963 to Friday, August 14, 1964.

Following the cancellation of "Bozo's Cartoon Circus Lunchtime Show", Bill Britten left kids TV for other ventures. He appeared in the original Broadway production of "The Man Of LaMancha" with Richard Kiley and Robert Rounsville and "The Coolest Cat In Town" with Joey Faye and Gena Rowlands. He has also performed voiceovers for numerious radio and tv commercials and he has appeared in the movie version of "Fame" as a put upon school teacher who has to deal with a would-be student's ridiculous audition piece (in real life, Mr.Britten was a drama teacher at NYC's High School Of Performing Arts). His only on-camera venture on tv has been a guest appearance on an episode of PBS TV's "Square One TV" as an evil, vendictive magician who steals his ex-partner's rare ventriloquist figure.