Bill Kubota, February 22, 2021 –
Word came from Art Cervi’s longtime friend, Bob Harris, that Cervi, remembered by Detroiters as local television’s longest performing Bozo the Clown, died last Monday at age 86.
Media writer Tim Kiska wrote in the Detroit Free Press the size of Cervi’s audiences as Bozo probably made him one of the biggest stars in Detroit television history although most people never knew Cervi’s name.
Before that, Cervi produced a local dance show on CKLW-TV Channel 9 in Windsor during the mid-1960s called “Swingin’ Time” hosted by Robin Seymour.
Detroit Public Television recently aired a documentary about Seymour and “Swingin’ Time.”
Last fall, we spent an afternoon with Cervi, who helped create that landmark program.
He talked about his transition from a behind the scenes teen music show producer to kid’s show host in 1967.
“They had all kinds of auditions,” Cervi told Detroit Public Television, “People came in, they had an audience, a person would put the costume on and they would do like a 15 minute bit with kids.”
He continued working on “Swingin’ Time” until three months later when Cervi was told to report to general manager Ed Metcalf’s office.
Cervi thought he was about to be fired when the boss told him to sit down.
On the desk was a large stack of videotapes.
“’Do you remember when you came in and you did the audition for the Bozo?’” Cervi recalled Metcalf saying. “’Well, we have a quandary. We like all of these, but there’s something in your rapport with these young people that we like, however you are the one with the least TV experience so what we’re going to do, if it’s alright with you, is do a 30 day audition.’”
That audition led to a run on Channel 9 and WJBK-TV2 that lasted until 1980.
Cervi said, “I loved it, it brought something out in me I didn’t know I had.”
Meanwhile, “Swingin’ Time” would end at Channel 9 in 1968, but Cervi said that show left its mark too.
“In Detroit’s history in the media, a lot of people related and can still relate to Swingin’ Time,” Cervi said. “They grew up with it—it was a part of their life, and it opened up a new world for them.”
As the Motown sound and British invasion swept the country, Cervi had plenty of Top 40 performers locally and nationally to book on the show.
“Swingin’ Time” aired six days a week.
Cervi also corralled the dancers. After school, teenagers from Windsor and Metro Detroit would crowd the entrance to the TV studio hoping to get in.
Now retired Detroit judge Leonia Lloyd attended Mumford High School at the time when she and her twin sister, Leona, who would also become a judge, came to the show for the first time.
Judge Lloyd said, “My sister said, ‘We’ll never get in! Look at all these kids everywhere!’” She recalled Cervi coming out of the studio looking fill out the dance floor.
Judge Lloyd recalls, “Art Cervi said, ‘Twins and their dance partners, come on.’ That started it all for us.”
For Cervi, producing the show with just a few cameras became a challenge.
“How do you stage?” Cervi said, “It got to the point where depending on the act how you wanted to present them. In just a little setting, a big theatrical presentation?”
The array of performers included Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, The Temptations, The Marvelettes, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Bob Seger and the Last Heard, The Rationals, Dionne Warwick, Bobby Sherman, Bobby Goldsboro, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Pat Boone, Johnny Rivers, Question Mark and the Mysterians, The McCoys, Frankie Avalon, The Reflections, The Shades of Blue, The Everly Brothers, James Brown and many others.
Robin Seymour, the host of “Swingin’ Time” died early last year, but in an interview featured in DPTV’s “Swingin’ Time” program he said, “It was fun every day, and my partner Art Cervi, without him taking care of the kids, putting the show together every day with me, we wouldn’t have had a show.”