question has been asked many times and in many forms: “Who is Bozo Texino?” |
have to assume that people have been asking that question since the late 1920s,
when Bozo Texino burst upon the art scene, provided we’re willing to make room
boxcar graffiti in our art scene.
|And why shouldn’t
we do just that? Media critic Marshall McLuhan once said, “Art is anything you
can get away with.” This Bozo Texino character got away with his art for the better
part of at least two decades and left countless imitators in his wake. Patrons
of urban art scenes may wrinkle their nose at Bozo but his art has enjoyed an
audience most artists can only dream about. |
Before there was the famous
smiley face of the 1970s, which urged all of us to “Have a Nice Day,” and even
before Kilroy, the hero of World
War II graffiti made famous by a distinctive drawing and the words “Kilroy
Was Here,” there was Bozo Texino.
Bozo Texino was the signature assigned
to several thousand doodles drawn on railroad boxcars with a waterproof crayon.
The signature featured a character with a big, wide-brimmed cowboy hat, a pipe,
a scowl, and the words “Bozo Texino.” Bozo Texino’s art was always on tour, carrying
trainloads of art everywhere the rails ran. People in Maine were as likely to
see one of Bozo’s drawings as people in California or Michigan.
was Bozo Texino?
too surprisingly, Bozo Texino was not the artist’s real name. The drawings and
the distinctive signature were the work of one J.H. McKinley of San
Antonio, a fireman for the Missouri-Pacific Railroad. (It’s said that McKinley
did not ply his trade on Missouri-Pacific rail cars because company policy forbade
it, but the company apparently didn’t mind McKinley doodling on competitors’ boxcars.)
Bozo’s identity wasn’t exactly a secret. McKinley even wrote a humor column
called “Bozo Texino Sez” for Missouri-Pacific magazine. Gene Fowler, in his book
“Mavericks,” quotes a 1939 interview with the San Antonio Light where McKinley
told a reporter that a nephew nicknamed him Bo when the two worked together in
just took the ‘Bo’ and added a ‘zo,’ so it would rhyme with Laredo,”
McKinley said. “I used to sign it ‘Bozo Laredo’ until I came to San
Antonio, then kind of shortened Texas and Mexico to get ‘Texino.’”
most notable attention paid to our very own Bozo comes from filmmaker Bill Daniel,
who spent 16 years hopping freights and riding the rails to make the documentary
film “Who Is Bozo Texino?” Daniel answers the title’s question but not to everybody’s
satisfaction because to some people the mystery of Bozo Texino might be more important
than his true identity.|
For Daniel, the mystery began when he saw his first
Bozo Texino image in a Dallas rail yard.
Then he saw another one, and another. He saw Bozo Texino in Fort
Worth and Houston. Bozos were everywhere.
|“I figured I discovered
some kind of secret hobo art movement,” he told the Fort Worth Star Telegram in
2006, just after the movie was released. “It was stuff that looked to be a full-on
underground art scene, a boxcar
graffiti cult with hundreds of characters…At first I thought it was hobo art,
but it turned out they were done by both railroad workers and hobos.” |
bonus to delving into the murky sub-culture of hobos and railroad
graffiti is the great nicknames. Some examples: Frisco Jack, Big Red, Pal
Tree Herbie, Mojave Don, Coal Train, Road Hog, Itchyfoot Stetson and Water Bed
Others have signed their boxcar
graffiti “Bozo Texino” in subsequent decades. Bozo has even spawned what could
be classified as a sub-genre of artists who go by the names Bozo Mexino, Bozo
Bambino and Bozo Texina.
If nothing else, the names could inspire any
number of musicians who might otherwise believe that all the good stage names
have been taken. A concert by a band or performer named Bozo Texino with opening
act Itchyfoot Stetson would probably draw a certain number of fans based on the
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
May 2, 2009 Column
Related Topics: People
More stories: Texas | Online
Magazine | Texas Towns | Features
| Columns |