“J.P. Patches wasn’t just a TV clown: He was the King of Seattle. And we loved him. More than words can ever explain.”
So wrote Rob Morgan, frontman of legendary Seattle bands The Squirrels and The Pudz, on his Facebook page on July 22, the day Chris Wedes, aka Julius Piermont Patches, passed away at age 84, after a long struggle with cancer.
The “J.P. Patches Show, which ran from 1958 to 71, was the second program to be broadcast from KIRO-TV, back when it was located beneath the television tower at Queen Anne Avenue and Garfield Street.
For the first 13 years, Wedes did two shows a day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. “He sent us off to school, then greeted us when we came home,” remembered “Patches Pal” Katherine Sibbald.
A touch with fame
I was hooked on the show from the start, as a 7-year-old kid growing up in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood. J.P., Gertrude and all the kooky visitors to their shack at the city dump were a far more interesting lot than competitors Stan Boreson, Brakeman Bill and Captain Puget.
During the 1962 World’s Fair, I became a certified Patches Pal by appearing on the show. J.P. was broadcasting from the Food Circus, right near the Bubbleator in the Seattle Center House, and he asked if there were any visitors from out of town. Having just returned from visiting my father in South Dakota, I raised my hand and jumped onto the stage to take my place with the other lucky kids.
I was living on Queen Anne Hill then, where my mother ran a bed-and-breakfast for visitors to the fair. It seemed that most of the kids on the Hill had devised, at one time or another, a way to get on the show, or at least knew of the secret door where they could sneak in to see it live.
And a lot of us were still watching the show after we had graduated from high school. It was more than just a children’s show. In many ways, it established in our little minds the idea of an alternative society into which we could disappear from the increasingly drab and dangerous world that had overtaken our parents’ generation.
A clown, a friend
Lisa Galvin, a linguist and software tester, was among the many Seattle kids who suffered J.P. withdrawal upon moving to another city.
“In Billings, Mont.,” she complained, “the only kids’ show available was some stupid thing called ‘Balderdash.’ J.P. and his crew never talked down to kids the way the people on that show did.”
Galvin is absolutely correct: The cast and crew of The “J.P. Patches Show” were too busy having fun to be looking down their noses at the audience.
“There was also a level of adult humor that wasn’t apparent to me at first, but as I got older, I caught onto it,” said Ron Edge, who watched the show continuously from childhood into his college years.
Like Edge, many of the fans’ ties to J.P. became stronger after his show went off the air. Tangletown resident Laurie Lyons, a singer/songwriter and massage therapist who also does volunteer hospice work, will never forget the time when, at age 40, she had a close encounter with the clown.
“I was outside Third Place Books, smoking a cigarette, while my husband and another friend were waiting for me to finish. Coming in from the parking lot all by himself was J.P.!” Lyons said. “After ditching my cigarette, I squealed and jumped up. He walked up to me and gave me a hug, just like old friends do. I went to let go, and he kept hugging me and joking, ‘OK, let go now. All right, let go.’ He had me cracking up. Then he told me he was there for a book signing, and I told him I loved him. And I still do.”
Cartoonist Wayne Gibson remembers a day at the Lewis and Clark Theatre when he boasted about his new shoes to J.P., who picked him up, turned him upside down and agreed, “Yes. Those are very nice.”
Upon such occurrences are neighborhood legends founded.
Mike Dumas, drummer for the popular ‘80s band Moving Parts, recalled that, “He shook my hand at Food Giant. I didn’t wash it for a week.”
And Rob Morgan recounts a review of The Squirrels that referred to his onstage persona as a cross between Alice Cooper and J.P. Patches. “It was the hugest compliment I had ever received in my life,” he said.
A last fight
On the afternoon of Wedes’ passing, Bob Newman, who played Gertrude, the clown’s masculine girlfriend on the program, posted this to the J.P. Patches website: “Thanks to all of you who have sent your feelings. He was the best, and that’s not always easy. He went down fighting: the Clown just didn’t know when to give in. He had an undying love for his audience. We are all so fortunate to have known him. Thank you.”
BILL WHITE was a regular contributor to the arts section of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer until its demise in 2009. He most recently was the film critic for Seattle PostGlobe. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.