Iconic TV clown J.P. Patches dies at 84

  • By Amy Daybert Herald writer
  • Monday, July 23, 2012 1:04pm

Chris Wedes, who entertained and delighted generations of kids in the Northwest as the iconic clown J.P. Patches, died July 22.

He was 84.

Wedes, who had lived in Edmonds, had suffered from multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer.

Bob Newman, who partnered with Wedes first on a popular children’s television show and then in countless appearances around the Northwest, said J.P. Patches would have wanted people to laugh even at this time.

“Everyone is really concerned and tears are coming of course, but he would not stand five seconds for people crying about that,” Newman said. “He wanted people to laugh and have a good time.”

Dozens of fans of the show, known as Patches Pals, shared condolences and memories they had of Wedes on the J.P. Patches Facebook page the night of July 22.

“Thank you for decades of making us feel good!!” wrote one person on the Facebook page.

Someone else wrote, “Make sure to pie someone at the gates when the door opens. Rest well.”

Another fan posted, “Such a sad day, you made us better people.”

The J.P. Patches show was broadcast on KIRO-TV from Feb. 10, 1958, to Sept. 21, 1981. The Emmy award-winning show was one of the longest running local children’s shows in TV history.

An estimated 12,000 J.P. shows were televised. Wedes last made a public appearance in September 2011, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported. He is survived by his wife, daughter and a granddaughter.

Reached at his Seattle home, Newman, spoke about his longtime friend. Newman said he met Wedes in 1960 when he went to work at KIRO-TV as a part-time weekend floor director.

In his show, Wedes used a telephone attached to the wall to call up his girlfriend, Gertrude, to ask for a sandwich. One day, the phone fell off the wall and Newman yelled down in a high-pitched voice that he’d send the meal right down. The character stuck.

“We had a lot of fun laughing,” said Newman, 80. “I had to be loud and crazy and dumbish.”

Newman made appearances as Gertrude along with Wedes as J.P. Patches long after the show’s final episode. He has many wonderful memories of his friend but loved it most when he could trick Wedes into laughing. Newman said.

Lifesize bronze statues of the famous TV clown and his sidekick, Gertrude, were created in 2008 by Sultan sculptor Kevin Pettelle. The sculpture, “Late for the Interurban,” was installed near the “Waiting for the Interurban” statues in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. The sculpture includes a slot for people to donate money to Seattle Children’s Hospital, where Wedes spent years visiting seriously ill kids.

“We donate whenever we can,” Wedes in 2008 told The Herald. “Over the years, I became attached to the personnel. It became part of me for many years. I don’t go there now, but it’s still there, embedded in my psyche. I can still see the kids I saw, and I want to do everything I can for the kids. And I think this is a wonderful way to do it.”

The sculptures were paid for using more than $150,000 in donations from fans of the show. The push for a statue was started by Carl Lovgren, a carpenter from Edmonds and Patches Pal who watched the show for about a decade. The local chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences coordinated the statue effort.

Bryan Johnston was chairman of the statue committee and a Patches Pal who co-wrote a biography of the clown that was published in 2002. He was 4 when he first met J.P. Patches on his show. He said July 22 he remembers asking Wedes if he could write a book about his life. Wedes asked if he thought anyone would want to read a book about him.

“He was probably one of the most talented entertainers that I ever met in my life,” said Johnston, 50. “He was such a remarkable actor he could do just about anything he chose to do on camera. He had a great voice.”

Pettelle, 56, said July 22 that he remembers meeting Wedes and Newman in Fremont before the statue was installed. That moment was a chance to meet one of his heroes, he said.

“I’d like to express my condolences to his wife and his family and to all his fans,” Pettelle said. “I definitely feel the loss very deeply from my experience with the project and getting to know Chris and Bob.”

Wedes was humble, Pettelle added.

“He was always surprised by the influence he had on people on by the impact he had on so many young lives,” he said.

Multiple people told Wedes that he saved their lives after meeting him at book signings, Johnston said. Adults who had lived troubled childhoods confided in him and told him that his show was one of the only sources of joy in their young lives.

“It always choked him up and he usually would give them a hug,” Johnston said. “He lived the type of life that all of the rest of us wish we could live. He touched so many people and had such a profound influence, such a profound impact on hundreds of thousands of people.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.