If you are new to the Northwest, you might want to stop reading right now as you probably have no idea who J.P. Patches was.
But for kids growing up in the greater Seattle area, Julius Pierpont Patches was a clown - for kids scared by clowns. He was the epitome of everything that was right about the city. His nose was huge, but his heart was huger. Every day for 23 years, Northwest kids would sit transfixed for two hours of shenanigans at J.P.’s magic house at the City Dump. Here is why he was so popular then and why his legacy goes on today.
Before he was J.P. Patches
Chris Wedes grew up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota and attended Humbolt High School and Macalester College where he was involved in school theater and the campus radio station. In 1955, he began working for WMIN (later WTCN-TV) in Minneapolis where he developed a number of characters for a variety of TV series including "Captain 11" (host of a daily science fiction serials show), "Chuckwagon Chuck" (a Saturday morning western movies host), "The Bearded Lady", "Captain Squint and Joe the Cook" (for various children’s shows).
He wasn’t the first J.P. Patches
WTCN’s biggest kids shows were "Casey Jones and Carnival Clown" which was led by Daryl Laub as J.P. Patches, but he left that station for another and the big shoes of Mr. Patches needed to be filled. At first, Wedes wasn’t interested as he enjoyed playing so many different characters and didn’t want to have to wear all of the clown makeup - but we know how that ended up. In 1958, Fred Kauffman, the director of WTCN took a new job as a program director for KIRO-TV in Seattle, and asked Wedes to join him on the journey.
"J.P. Patches" wasn’t his only show
When Wedes began working at KIRO, he actually worked on three shows - "J.P. Patches" in the morning, "Mystic Mountain" in the afternoon, and "Andy and Sport" on Sunday mornings. For "Mystic Mountain", Wedes played Professor Friedel Furter (or Hotdog for short). His guests on the show were BeBop Buzzard and the evil Boris Blastoff. Although Wedes preferred playing the professor, KIRO decided that "J.P. Patches" should air both in the morning and in the afternoon, so after six months, "Mystic Mountain" became a memory.
For "Andy and Sport", Craig Shreve played the owner of Andy’s Diner and Wedes played the cook, Sport, who was VERY similar to his former role as Joe the Cook.
Wacky Facts about the "J.P. Patches Show"
The very first KIRO version of the "J.P. Patches Show" aired on February 10, 1958. When color became available, the show was Seattle’s first local program to be broadcast in full color. It aired twice a day, six days a week for 13 years - and then went to mornings only for eight years, and finally to just Saturday mornings for two years. The final show aired on September 25, 1981 after about 12,000 episodes.
J.P. & Gertrude made the Guinness Book of World Records for most 'Pies-In-The-Face' in 1972
On January 9, 1992, J.P. Patches was featured on an episode of "The Simpsons". The show’s creator, Matt Groening said that he drew a lot of inspiration for his Krusty the Clown’s character from J.P. - including one scene where Krusty is looking inside his own ICU2-TV and says that J.P. Patches was having a birthday.
Props and characters featured on the J.P. Patches Show
- Tikey Turkey: A rubber chicken named after a nickname Chris’ mother called him when he was a boy.
- Sturdley the Bookworm (voiced by Bob Newman)
- Esmerelda: A Raggedy Ann doll that had a variety of soundtrack-taped laughs and cries.
- Griswold: A stuffed dog.
- Snarly: Boris S. Wort’s dog who looks exactly like Griswold.
- Grandpa Tick Tock: A grandfather clock with an old man’s face.
- Morgan the Frog: A puppet voiced by Bob Newman
- Carmen the Dragon: (Basically a dryer vent hose) owned by Boris S. Wort.
- Guardian Elephant: (Also a dryer vent hose) He would come to J.P.’s door when he heard Esmerelda cry.
- Chief Moon Ray: Unseen American Indian character which was a spoof of Seattle’s Police Chief Raymond
- The Tepokity Bird: A stuffed bird that would bother J.P. during the weather report.
- Fred and Ethel: Unseen pet pigs of Gertrude.
- ICU2TV: A cardboard TV prop that J.P. Patches could “see” his audience at home and it also served as a special way for J.P. to visit the North Pole during the month of December.
- The Peek-A-Vue: A video monitor the aired cartoons, commercials or special communication with the likes of Santa Claus and others.
- Radar Ears: J.P. wore these giant ears when speaking to Mr. Announcer Man.
- The Pal-A-Vac: A device where Patches Pals could be determined if they had been good or bad.
- The Hole: Unseen to audiences, a mysterious “hole” was just outside of the Magic House and when guests would leave, he would always worn them to watch out for the hole, but they never seemed to listen and a sound of a man falling was aired every time.
Human characters on the show
A variety of human characters appeared on the show - mostly played by Bob Newman who joined the show, almost accidentally, in 1960. As a weekend film editor and floor director, Newman would hang out watching the taping of the show and one time spoke to J.P. offstage using the falsetto voice we now know as Gertrude, the City Dump phone operator. Newman’s other list of characters included Boris S. Wort (the second meanest man in the world), Ketchikan the Animal Man, Ggoorrsstt the Friendly Frpl, Miss Smith (the delivery service driver), Dingbatman, The Swami of Pastrami, Leroy Frump, Officer Paddy Wagon, Santa Claus, Charlie Can-Do, Zenobi the Witch, Mr. X. R. Cise, Howard Huge and on and on.
Other characters appearing on the show
Mr. Announcer Man was heard but not seen and read the weather report. He was played by Hal Willard. Before Ketchikan the Animal Man, there was Uncle Jack the Animal Man, played by KIRO stagehand, Jack Armstrong. Other characters to appear on the show included Mr. Slick (the guy who sold J.P. the City Dump) played by Dick Hawkins; Sheriff Shot Badly played by Don Einarsen; Professor Wienner Von Brrrrrown played by Bill Gerald; Grandpa and Grandma Patches played by Craig Shreeve; Sam Gefeltafish, the director played by real show director Joe Towey; Mal Content, a dumb handyman and I.M. Rags, J.P.’s evil brother played by Joe Towey; and Superclown, aka J.P. Patches' super alter ego.
Becoming a Patches Pal
Becoming an official Patches Pal was easy as long as you committed the following acts:
- Mind mommy and daddy
- Wash hands, face, neck and ears
- Comb hair
- Brush teeth
- Drink milk
- Eat all your food
- Say your prayers
- Share your toys
- Put toys away
- Hang up clothes
- Leaving a Legacy
After the "J.P. Patches Show" went off the air, Wedes and Newman continued to make public appearances for another 30 years. In the latter years, Wedes began to suffer from an incurable blood cancer but continued to spending countless hours visiting sick children at Seattle Children’s Hospital never taking a dime from them for his time.
On August 17, 2008, on the 50th anniversary of the "J.P. Patches Show", sculptor Kevin Pettelle created a bronze statue of J.P. and Gertrude called “Late for the Interurban" and placed about 250 feet east of another iconic statue, “Waiting for the Interurban.” The event was attended by numerous Patches Pals and the key-note speaker was Wedes’ 16-year-old granddaughter, Christina Frost. Near the sculpture sits a bronze replica of the ICU2-TV with Esmerelda with a spot to place donations to be given to Seattle Children’s in Wedes’ honor. Today, surrounding the statue, you’ll find dozens of engraved pavers with tributes from Patches Pals and you can purchase your own too! A one or two-line inscription is $100 and a 3-line inscription is $125. All proceeds go toward Seattle Children’s.
Due to poor health, Wedes announced that September 17, 2011 would be his last appearance as J.P. On December 14, 2011, KCTS-TV aired the tribute TV special, "J.P. Patches: Last Night at the City Dump" and on July 22, 2012, Wedes finally succumbed to the cancer at the age of 84. On June 1, 2013 a section of 34th Street in Fremont (right in front of the statue) was re-named J.P. Patches Place and the sign was unveiled by Christina Frost.
Your car could become the next Patches Pal
The love for J.P. Gertrude never seems to die. This year, the House Bill 1255 for creating a Patches Pal License Plate was introduced in the House of Representatives and referred to the Transportation Committee. It successfully passed the vote in the House and made its way to the Senate consent calendar, but unfortunately, the bill ran out of time for the 2019 legislative session. However, it is likely driving Patches Pals will be able to purchase their own J.P. and Gertrude license plate next year.
Where to Buy J.P. Patches Stuff
1300 N 45th St, Seattle, WA 98103
J.P.’s Tikey Turkey is immortalized at Archie McPhees rubber chicken museum. While checking that out, fancy yourself purchasing a pair of Patches Pal socks, at J.P. Patches lunchbox, a J.P. Patches action figure, a Gertrude air freshener and more.
The City Dump
The City Dump online store offers t-shirts, stickers and mugs featuring the likes of J.P., Gertrude, Boris S. Wort and Ketchikan the Animal Man
Of course the store that offers everything from A to Z has a nice supply of J.P. items as well including videos of the J.P. Patches Show, A J.P. Patches Nodder, the books “J.P. Patches: Northwest Icon by Julius Pierpont Patches and Bryan Johnston and Johnston’s more recent work, “The Second Meanest Man in the World: And his nefarious plot to meanify Seattle.
Betty Boo Boo’s Etsy Shop
This shop features a J.P. Patches painting print and an original J.P. and Gertrude painting for sale.
A variety of J.P treats can be found on Ebay as well including vintage t-shirts, framed pictures and more.
Believe it or not, this classy drug store chain also offers a few J.P. Patches products from time to time.
Where to learn more and celebrate J.P. Patches
As if this wasn’t enough, you can interact with other Patches Pals at The JP Patches Memorial Facebook page, read more about the history of the clown and the show check out video at the J.P. Patches YouTube Channel.