J.P. Patches, the TV clown played by Chris Wedes of Edmonds since the 1950s, is scheduled to make a final public appearance Saturday at Fishermen's Terminal
Cancer — and four years of treatment for it — have taken a toll on his strength, stamina and mobility. But that’s not what Chris Wedes wants to talk about.
Instead, this 83-year-old Edmonds man wants to say how grateful he is for the support he’s received from people whose lives have been touched by the character Wedes has brought to life for more than half a century: J.P. Patches.
“I get emails every day,” he said. “People write, ‘I hope you feel better, J.P. We’re praying for you.’ “
Some of the recent messages have been sparked by word that this weekend, Wedes will make what he expects to be his final public appearance as the tattered clown he played on KIRO-TV from 1958 to 1981, and at countless community events since.
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At noon Saturday, he’ll take the main stage at the Fishermen’s Fall Festival at Seattle’s Fishermen’s Terminal.
The event, in its 23rd year, benefits the Seattle Fishermen’s Memorial, a nonprofit organization that promotes fishing-industry safety and helps families who’ve lost loved ones at sea.
“He’s been with us just about every year since we started,” said Steve Funk, president of the Fishermen’s Terminal Tenants Association, which sponsors the festival with the Port of Seattle. “We’re more than honored to think that he is waiting until after this event to retire. It says a lot about where his heart is.”
After this weekend, J.P. has a private event he’s had on the books for a while and expects to be on the air for a KCTS fundraiser in December. But his health, he said, is telling him it’s time to exit the stage.
Funk knows what to expect from J.P. on Saturday. “He does gags, has the kids do ‘Simon says,’ or hula hoops on stage … . It’s the same thing every year but it never gets old, never goes out of style. The kids love it and so do the parents.”
The affection for J.P. is keenest among baby boomers, the generation plunked in front of their black-and-white sets in the 1950s, when J.P. Patches was featured on the first live show the day KIRO-TV hit the airwaves.
Irreverent, silly and creative, Patches and his burly girlfriend, Gertrude, played by Bob Newman, basically ad-libbed their show, which aired before and after school and at its peak played to an audience of 100,000.
Even famous guests were not immune from the Patches goofiness. He traded double-entendres with comedian Steve Allen, and challenged a member of the Harlem Globetrotters to a one-on-one basketball game, in which J.P. pulled a secret lever that moved the basket every time his opponent shot.
Young viewers were captivated by JP’s ICU2-TV, a contraption which allowed him to magically look into their homes and offer birthday greetings to kids whose parents had the foresight to send a postcard to the station.
J.P.and Gertrude’s madcap style is captured in a bronze statue, “Late for the Interurban,” by Kevin Pettelle.
The piece, dedicated in 2008 on North 34th Street in Fremont, is about a half-block east of Richard Beyer’s “Waiting for the Interurban.”
In the sculpture, J.P. and Gertrude are seen rushing in opposite directions, arms locked, hair and jackets flying.
Nearby is a representation of the ICU2-TV and a slot accepting donations for Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation, one of J.P.’s favorite charities over the years.
Engraved pavers alongside the sculpture are also being sold to benefit the hospital foundation.
Wedes began cutting back his appearances four years ago when his blood-borne cancer was diagnosed.
Since then, three mornings a week at 5 a.m., he’s been going to a clinic near home to spend four hours hooked up to a dialysis machine. He’s also had chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“My walking is bad. My back gets awfully tired,” he said.
Each appearance takes about five hours, he figures, starting with the half-hour to apply the clown makeup at home, and at least that long to get it off with mineral oil and paper towels afterward.
Illness hasn’t taken the spark out of the impish gleam in his eye, especially when he talks about J.P.’s pranks — some intended, some inadvertent — such as bumping up against the display by longtime late KIRO weatherman Harry Wappler, sending all of the magnetic numbers and letters for Wappler’s forecast cascading to the floor.
As he heads into retirement, Wedes wants to leave his “Patches Pals” with a simple thought: “Be good to yourselves.” he said. “And it will just naturally follow that you’ll be good to others.”
He’s also reminded of what his mother told him as he was growing up in Minnesota.
“She would say, ‘Tikey, leave a mark.’ And at first I didn’t know what she meant.”
But over the years, the words became more meaningful, and he was pleased to bring his mother, late in life, to Seattle, where she could get a sense of what J.P. Patches meant to his faithful viewers.
“I think she saw that in some way, I left a mark.”
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org