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Considering how long he was been around and how popular he's been, it's remarkable how few people knew who the man behind the rubber nose was. Despite countless appearances (in makeup) it was rare that J.P.'s alter ego is seen in public. In part this is from his policy of "Play the Game!" It was important that the illusion of J.P. and the world of the city dump was maintained.
But the anonymity is also because the man, Chris Wedes, was a sweet, humble guy when he was not in the spotlight.
Chris & Bob: Sweet, humble guy...
Before he became Seattles' number one clown, Chris Wedes was an actor, a D.J. and the most popular cook in Minnesota (amongst juvenile television viewers, anyway).
The son of Greek immigrants, Chris grew up in the twin cities area of Minnesota. His given name is actually "Christ", but to avoid confusion he humbly dropped the "T". His father, John, owned a downtown St. Paul diner where Chris worked for a short time while completing college. His mother, Kleto, to whom he attributes much of his sense of humor, used to call him "Tikey."
Chris and Bob discuss how to pronounce Wedes ("WeeDus"):
While attending Humboldt High School and Macalester College,Chris appeared frequently in school plays and community theater. His involvement with the campus radio station helped him land a job as a D.J. (where he once interviewed a rising talent named Elvis Presley).
One of his earliest, professional (i.e. paid) acting roles was as "The Fake Waiter". He was paid to show up at a banquets and parties and pretend to be a crass, annoying and unsanitary waiter. He tested the guests' drinks with his fingers, dropped stacks of dishes and generally made a spectacle of himself. Valuable skills for his later career.
After serving a tour of duty in Korea, along with his brother Deno, Chris returned to work full-time at the radio station.
But in 1955, television was taking off and attracting talented people away from radio including Chris who accepted a position as director for station WMIN-TV in St. Paul.
WMIN was only on the air for two hours a day because they had to share a broadcast frequency with a competing station in Minneapolis.
This confusing situation was solved when the stations merged to become WTCN - TV (channel 11)
Chris was responsible for directing religious programs, movie inserts and farm reports.
A director's job is to make sure everything behind and in front of the camera happens on cue. In the days of live T.V. this was a challenging job.
It's a shame to cover up your smile, but now you can wear the famous smile of J.P. or Gertrude! Sure to bring a spark of joy and nostalgia to all who recognize it! A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Seattle Children's.
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