There's no doubt that several generations of Seattle-area residents owe a portion of their upbringing to an oddly dressed man named Chris Wedes, better known as J.P. Patches.
The J.P. Patches Show ran on KIRO-TV 1958 to 1984 and featured Patches in his classic clown attire, along with sidekicks like Gertrude, Ketchikan the Animal Man, and Boris S. Wort, "the second meanest man in the world."
And while Wedes--now 83 and battling cancer--has continued to make public and television appearances, often in character, he's finally hanging up the rubber nose.Seattle Weekly caught up with the television legend and asked him about the past, present, and future of the man behind the makeup.
Seattle Weekly: Tell me how your career began.
Wedes: I was in a theater group in St. Paul. In college I did a lot of plays--did Shakespeare, you know? A few of us went to Macalester College in St. Paul and my friend had a kids' show similar to Brakeman Bill, where he was a train--they called it Casey Jones.
I started working at the station (still in St. Paul) as a director, and they asked me to come on as "Joe the Cook." Joe the Cook became very popular.
I later went on a program where I was called "Chuck Wagon Chuck." We were on Channel 11, and Jim Lange was Captain 11. So when he quit, I became Captain 11. So at one point, I was doing three shows!
When did you become J.P. Patches?
There was another guy doing J.P. Patches at the time. But he got mad and quit, and he wanted to take the name to a new station. But the station wouldn't let him. So the boss told me to take over for J.P. Patches. I told him I didn't want to wear all that makeup. But my boss convinced me by saying "How do you like working here, Chris?"
When did the show move to Seattle?
I started at WMIN TV as Channel 11, and WTCN also had Channel 11. The station engineer would pull the level halfway through the day and the other station would come on.
Anyway, my boss, Fred Kaufman, came to Seattle to put channel 7 on the air. Fred called me and said "How'd you like to come to Seattle and do J.P. Patches?" So I said OK and came to Seattle. The first show that Channel 7 aired was my show on Feb. 10, 1958. I did that for almost 24 years--until Sept. 21, 1984.
J.P. Patches and Gertrude.
Tell me about how the show was made.
Our show was never scripted. We'd just kind of get up there and figure things out as we went along.
I picked Bob Newman, who came on as Gertrude. There was a knock at the door, I said "Come in," and he came in with a dress and a mop hat and two of the biggest balloons I'd ever seen underneath it. One would started migrating south and he'd say, "Hold on, big fella" and pull it back up.
After that we said no more balloons.
What kids' programs are worth watching today?
I feel bad that that's all in the past. We went out and we met the kids. I used to get mail--so much mail. The kids were so great. I used to have them on the program, they'd have to wait a year just to get on! You don't get shows like that anymore.
A lot of shows are funny. But the element of closeness and warmth isn't there.
I used to watch Rugrats. I thought that was a good show. Still, I don't think the kids feel buddy-buddy with the actual characters like they did with our show.
What about Pee Wee Herman? I always wondered if you thought he ripped your show off.
I thought Pee Wee was funnier than hell. But, you know, when I looked at the show, I said "Look at the credits." They had writers and musicians and just a huge cast--all the things I wish I had.
A bronze statue homage to J.P. and Gertrude was unveiled in 2008 in Fremont.
I think he's gonna make a comeback. Mark my words.
How's your health?
Well, you know, I have to do dialysis every day. But my mouth hasn't changed. My feet haven't slowed down. I don't sit back and say "Woe is me."
And besides, I have the most wonderful wife [of 55 years]--she is so super-duper, I can't tell you how much love I have for her.
So what will you do now?
I still have a few appearances left. Next week is a big one. I'll be a the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe on the 27th, then I'll do the Fisherman's Festival on Saturday, Sept. 17, and one more secret event.
After that, you know, my wife and I might do some cruises. We took a dialysis cruise to Mexico where they have these nurses right on the ship. So we might do some more of that. I'll keep busy.
That sounds great, Chris. Any special message to your fans?
Ever since I announced the retirement, I've been getting all these e-mails saying "I love you, J.P." Well, I love you too. I had no idea the show could last so long and have so much love.