In Memory of J.P. Patches[email protected]

Painting by David Hoirup

Painting by David Hoirup

 
 

A Celebration of J.P. Patches

Free Public Event Honors Beloved Figure
Saturday, September 8, 2012 – 11:00 am
McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center

(SEATTLE) A public celebration of the life and legacy of J.P. Patches (played for more than 50 years by Chris Wedes) took place on Saturday, September 8, 2012 at 11:00 am at McCaw Hall (the Opera House) at the Seattle Center. Wedes passed away on July 22 after a long illness.

Emcee for A Celebration of J.P. Patches was Chris’s good friend Pat Cashman, who was joined onstage by family members and other notable Patches Pals for a fond look at what Chris Wedes and J.P. Patches will always mean to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.

A Celebration of J.P. Patches was presented by the Northwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS), with support from the Seattle Center, History House and many, many Patches Pals too numerous to mention.

A Celebration of J.P. Patches was streamed LIVE and rebroadcast on KIRO channel 7 at 8 pm September 8th, 2012. Below is the entire program courtesy KIRO TV.


A message from former webmeister, Bob Alexander…

Hi Patches Pals,

For the past seven years it has been an honor and a privilege that I’ve been able to tell people that I work for a clown. And mean it in a positive way. If someone would have told me in 1958 that someday I’d be working for J.P. Patches … Wow … I don’t know of any seven year old Seattle kid who could have handled that!

I remember the first time we met for lunch to discuss the website. Outwardly I was pretending to act like a mature grown-up type person but inside … Holy Cow! I’m having lunch with J.P. Patches!! I got the job of J.P.’s webmeister because my sister gave me the book J.P. Patches: Northwest Icon for my birthday in May 2005. We were both Patches Pals of course. On one of the last pages of the book I saw the website listed, jppatches.com. So I clicked on over. Here’s what I saw:

http://web.archive.org/web/20050401233422/http://www.jppatches.com/

At the bottom of the page was written:

“Too much free time?

Our current webmaster, Sid Carbunkle, has just turned 94 years old and is considering retiring or perhaps just dropping dead.

Are you a younger, literate, witty, web-savvy Patches Pal who has too much free time and is allergic to money? Send Sid an email begging to get the job and maybe you will.”

So I wrote an email. Then another one. And finally wrote to J.P/Chris directly. And didn’t hear anything back. Oh well.

Then on Father’s Day 2005 I was talking to a friend of mine on the phone and my call waiting clicked. I switched over and heard, “Hi Bob. This is Chris Wedes.”

I switched back to my friend and said,”I’ll have to call you back. You’re not going to believe this but J.P. Patches is on the other line!!!”

I’ve never thought of myself as a “Web Designer.” Everything I know came from books that had the word “Dummies” in the tile. So on top of everything else, I have self-esteem issues.

But I digress …

Playing around with jppatches.com has been a solid gas.

When Chris passed away on July 22nd … being JP’s Webmeister turned into an emotionally charged obligation. I last saw Chris in late June. I knew it would probably be the last time I would see him. As we were leaving he thanked me for all I had done for him. I couldn’t find the words then, and I’m having trouble coming up with them now …

Thanks for being Chris Wedes, thanks for giving us J.P. Patches, and thanks for giving us all a wonderful part of our lives.

Bob Alexander
Webmeister (2005-2015)

List copy


Bryan Johnston, author of J.P. Patches, Northwest Icon, generously sent the following article he’d written about hanging out with Chris/JP at their book signings.

The Power of the Clown

By Bryan Johnston

They stand in line, some of them for over three hours to spend a few, fleeting moments with the man. As they inch closer to the front of the line they crane their necks for an early peek. They find themselves bouncing on the balls of their feet, their head swimming with nostalgia, their cheeks aching from a smile etched so deeply a foreclosure notice couldn’t wipe it off. Their eyes hold the type of effervescent glow usually reserved for winning lottery tickets and their palms start feeling like a pair of Matt Hasselbeck’s socks in the fourth quarter.

It’s kind of funny the effect a clown can have on middle-aged people.

But this isn’t just any clown, this is THE clown. The clown that helped raise a generation of Northwest kids. The clown that instills more smiles per mention than any name in Seattle’s long history. The name of J.P. Patches.

It’s been a few years since the book I wrote about JP hit the streets and I’m still amazed at the reaction I witness every time the clown makes a public appearance. At every book signing the line of people wanting to meet JP snakes around corners, bookshelves and coffee stands. This, twenty-some years after his show went off the air. Being around JP at these events has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. I get to bask in the reflected glow of his accomplishments and witness an outpouring of love and admiration I can only begin to understand. Being seated next to him at our book signings gives me a taste of what it’s like being in a rock star’s posse. But I doubt the hangers-ons who hover around someone like Eminem have overheard a fan’s sincere thanks for saving their life when they were a child.

While researching the book about JP I had the pleasure of interviewing countless people who worked with the clown. You could practically hear the smiles over the telephone lines. I also discovered many of them had the impression that only recently has JP fully appreciated the impact he had on so many people. That was hard for me to understand. From 1958-1981 the JP Patches show was that generation’s Must See TV. When you’re on the air twice a day, five days a week, plus once on Saturdays for the better part of twenty-three years how could you not have an impact on a kid’s life? The average eight-year old is as impressionable as Silly-Putty. Discovering that drinking a Slurpee too fast made your head hurt rates as an epiphany. JP’s influence? If our family had been destitute and forced to burn every stick of furniture to stay warm I would have thrown myself on the fire before I let them touch the television. In my eyes it was center of my kid-universe. All three channels of it. And since JP was a fixture on that television every morning before school, and every afternoon when I got off the bus, yea, you could say he had an impact on my upbringing.

The six months I spent writing JP Patches: Northwest Icon could hardly be construed as work. It was six months of reliving terrific memories, wrapping myself in the warmth of other people’s happiness. Not a single person had bad thing one to say about the clown. But what amazed me the most was after all these years a book about J.P. hadn’t already been written. As it turns out, the reason he never wanted one written about him was, and I swear as God as my witness, he didn’t think anyone would care. “Who’d buy it?” he asked me. Like he was asking me who’d be interested in a book about flatworms. How I got the job is still a mystery to me. I feel like the millionth customer. The powerball winner.

At the book signings I find myself feeling overly self-conscious, seated between JP and Ketchikan the Animal Man. I’m not thick enough to presume anyone is there to see me. The hundreds of fans waiting in line could care less if the author autographs their book; all they want is a moment with JP and Ketch. While I sit there I marvel at the people’s devotion. But it only takes an instance to understand this city’s love for these men sitting on either side of me. At one point a woman, confined to a scooter, creeps to the front of the line, her palsied leg shaking uncontrollably. She apologizes for being unable to stop the shaking and confides that she has MS. To my right, Bob Newman, the man who plays Ketchikan springs to his feet, grabs his cane and ambles over to her as quickly as his own uncertain legs will allow. “You’ve got MS? Me too!” He then wrapped his arms around her with a hug that transcends words. Throughout the afternoon I overhear stories and confessions from graying Patches Pals that lay bare why they gladly stand in line for a snapshot and a few words with JP One from a woman who admits to JP that as a child she was a notorious thumb sucker. But one sly phone call from her uncle took care of that. Imagine her surprise when, while watching JP at the ICU2TV, she hears the clown telling her to quick sucking her thumb. She kicked the thumb habit on the spot, cold turkey. Another story from a woman who tells JP he saved her life. She grew up in a home of child abuse, often forcing her to hide under the sofa. She tells him his show was the only thing that got her through it, the only thing she looked forward to every day. At hearing this JP fixes her a soft smile that seems strangely appropriate for the moment. He reaches out and takes her hand, and offers what could be construed as a pat response if not for the utter sincerity behind the words. “Thank you for being here today. I’m very glad you came.” He then asks her about her work, her family, and right before she leaves he calls after her one last time, making sure he has her attention, “I’m very glad you came here today.”

I feel a little guilty about how long some of the people wait in line to meet JP. I wonder if I should say something to him about speeding things up, spending a little less time with each person. But then I realize that’s precisely why people are willing to wait two hours to meet him. Because he doesn’t offer token hellos through gritted teeth, doesn’t act like he’s late for a date with a supermodel, doesn’t make you feel like making eye contact will give him a case of the hives. He dishes out hugs like they’re loose change, poses for enough pictures to fry his corneas, asks about the family, hands out suckers, jokes with the kids and embarrasses the parents.

Those who didn’t grow up around these parts have a hard time understanding what all the fuss is about. My friend, Rick, an east coaster by birth, took his kids to see JP and Ketch do their schtick at a packed Third Place Books. After a half-hour of cheers and laughter, coaxed from a routine that hasn’t aged a whit in 45 years, now he gets it. The hula-hoop contest still leaves them cheering and the adults still fail miserably at Simon Says. JP takes a coat from a little girl on stage and tells her that he’ll be very careful with it and hang it up just like she does at home. Then he tosses it on the floor. He asks a forty-year old his name. “Bob,” says the man. With the kind of timing you only get with over a half century of practice JP asks, “Do you spell that with one O?” And you wondered why half the material on the show made your parents laugh more than you.

Fifty years from now the term “Patches Pal” won’t have much meaning. And we’ll be the worse for it. For the time being it still carries its own unique cache’. If you’re a Patches Pal, or even God forbid, a Boris Buddy, it means you’re from these parts. It’s the Puget Sound litmus test for Northwest natives. It’s a label for those who remember Seattle before grunge, Starbucks and the dot.com crash. Patches Pals can tell you what it was like to drive from Lynnwood to downtown Seattle in twenty minutes. At rush hour. Patches Pals remember the box the Space Needle came in, and how it ruined the skyline. They remember Dags, Whitefront, and Hansen’s Sunbeam Bread. They remember when the Miss Budweiser wasn’t forced to race with one propeller tied behind its back, and the contests between her and the Miss Pay ‘n Pak were so close a boat owner on the log-boom might not even notice if he ran out of beer. Being a Patches Pal means you grew up with a role model who never once held out for a contract extension or threatened to move to another city. Being a Patches Pal is a badge of honor that no one gave to you but yourself.

Not to make anyone feel older than they already do but 2010 will be the 52nd anniversary of JP’s first show on KIRO-TV. February 10th, 1958. 10am to be exact. The show will have been off the air longer than it was on, but the clown’s still got a full dance card. He continues to make the rounds, appearing at local fairs, surprising 40 year olds on their birthdays and attending book signings. And the lines don’t seem to be getting any shorter. Most of us will never experience what it feels like to bring a smile to every person we meet. I can’t even imagine how nice that must feel. But for one Seattle resident it’s business as usual. It’s nice to know in today’s economy, for Julius Pierpont Patches, business is still booming.


This wonderful video was made by Margaret Kumma: