kiro-tv via marty corey
The last time the city seemed in this much mourning over a single death was for another media personality, Dave Niehaus. And he’d only been part of the Seattle zeitgeist since 1977.
Wedes had been western Washington’s surrogate dad since 1958, when he starred in KIRO-TV’s first local show on the station’s first day on the air.
He’d already played several kidvid roles on Minneapolis TV. He took over the “J.P. Patches” character name and makeup design (originally a creepy unibrow look) from another Twin Cities actor, then took that with him to Seattle.
Even after most of the other local kids’ hosts around the country hung up their respective hats, KIRO kept the Patches show going. Even the legendary network show Captain Kangaroo had only its second half-hour seen here, because J.P. commanded the 7:30-8:30 a.m. hour.
At his peak, Wedes had a morning show, an afternoon show, and a Saturday morning show to boot (Patches’ Magic Carpet). Along with loyal sidekick Bob Newman (as Gertrude, Ketchikan the Animal Man, and assorted other characters), Wedes masterminded a mostly ad-libbed realm of clever wordplay and character-based gags. He didn’t really do normal “clown” bits, such as juggling or pantomime comedy. J.P. was a character all his own, who just happened to wear greasepaint.
Ensconced in his “magic house” at the City Dump (which, in real life, was where the University Village mall is now), he presided over a supporting cast of humans, quasi-humans, and puppets (almost all played by Newman), going through happy little comedy skits and slapstick storylines in between cartoons and commercials (the latter of which Wedes performed live until the Feds said he couldn’t anymore).
And he kept doing it until 1981, well after national advertisers and cartoon syndicators stopped servicing his kind of local shows. At its end, it had been the longest-running local kids’ show in the country.
KIRO kept him on the payroll as a floor director until 1990.
And he maintained a personal-appearance schedule, donning the costume and the makeup for everything from county fairs to Soundgarden concerts.
A statue of J.P. and Gertrude was erected in Fremont in 2008. A version of the show’s set was rebuilt at the nearby History House. Archie McPhee’s made a bobblehead figure. Wedes and Bryan Johnston co-authored a coffee-table book of Patches show memories. Wedes and Newman appeared on several KCTS pledge-drive specials, built around home-video compilations of the show’s existing episodes (of which, alas, there aren’t many).
Finally, Wedes felt the need to stop these appearances last autumn, when his blood cancer got too bad.
But the love remained.
His show’s purpose had been to sell sneakers and junk food to impressionable tots. But he had a sincerity that shone through both the jokes and the merchandising.
And people got it. Even people who’d not seen the original show, but had only known Wedes from the later live appearances.
To close, here’s what KIRO’s retrospective newscast quoted Wedes as having been his show’s only message: “Have fun, take care of your parents and your brothers and sisters, and be a good friend to everyone.”