Larry ‘Cannonball’ John, star of Salt Lake City children’s show ‘Hotel Balderdash,’ dies at 69

(Courtesy of ABC 4) Larry John, known as "Cannonball" on the children’s TV show "Hotel Balderdash." John, who died Feb. 19, 2018, in Mesa, Arizona, resurrected the ’70s TV show for the internet in recent years.

For a generation of children in Utah in the 1970s, the morning routine included checking into a place called Hotel Balderdash.

“It was such a fun show, and I was often late for school because of ‘Hotel Balderdash,’” said Kerry Jackson, co-host of X96’s “Radio From Hell” show.

The show, airing on KTVX from 1972 to 1982, starred Larry John and Randy Lovoi as Cannonball and Harvey, respectively, a dutiful hotel desk manager and a hapless bellhop.

“He was probably the most loving person I’ve ever seen,” Lovoi said Friday from his home in Bountiful. “He just loved everybody.”

John and Lovoi met as students at Brigham Young University, and it was John who suggested they do a kids’ show on local TV. John had experience on TV, going back to appearing as a regular on a show in Mesa, azri at the age of 5.

Locally produced kids’ shows were a staple of morning television across the country from the 1940s to 1970s, mixing sketches, kids’ participation and classic cartoons ranging from Bugs Bunny to Huckleberry Hound. The genre is long gone, supplanted by cable outlets like Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, but the shows inspired “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” and “The Simpsons’” Krusty the Clown.

John, reminiscing on a 2014 podcast with Lovoi, said he and “Hotel Balderdash” co-creator Charlie LeSueur “needed a tall, skinny guy to be one of the parts. … You [Lovoi] were el perfecto … and you were semi funny. You were funny when talking about semis.”

“Hotel Balderdash,” a two-hour show that ran from 6:45 to 8:45 a.m., debuted in September 1972 on what was then KCPX. The sketches were ad-libbed, Lovoi said, with the bumbling Harvey running afoul of LeSueur’s character, a prankish rich kid named Raymond. It was John, as the straight man Cannonball, who kept everything moving.

When ad-libbing, Lovoi said, “you could get off track, and [Larry] can bring you right back with a question.”

Jackson recalled such “Balderdash” sketches as “The Winnemucca Chicken” and “Marty the Martian,” who sneaked in U.S. geography facts with the comedy. “They were tricking you into learning,” Jackson said.

“Balderdash” was later cut to an hour, sandwiched between the two hours of ABC’s new morning news show, “Good Morning America,” which debuted in 1975. Later, Lovoi said, the show, which was pre-recorded, was reduced to a half-hour in the morning and another segment after school. The show was canceled in 1982.

After the show’s demise, John moved back to Arizona with his wife, Michal, and their seven children. “Larry said, ‘The best thing I ever did in my life was marry Michal,’” Lovoi said.

In Arizona, John started an advertising firm, which he merged with John Wright in 1984 to form Larry John Wright Advertising. He also wrote two books, “Think Rich to Get Rich” and “Larryisms,” and maintained a Facebook page called “The Pragmatic Thinker.”

When John retired to Maui, Hawaii, he and Lovoi revived “Hotel Balderdash” as a web series, without the cartoons and with more slapstick humor.

(photo courtesy Randy Lovoi) Larry John (right) as Cannonball and Randy Lovoi as Harvey, the stars of KTVX’s long-running children’s show "Hotel Balderdash." John died Feb. 19. 2018, in Mesa, Ariz., at the age of 69.

John is survived by his wife, Michal, their seven children and 19 grandchildren. Services have not been announced. John also leaves many former children in Utah and across the Intermountain West who remember ”Hotel Balderdash” fondly.

Jackson recounted the time when he was 8 or 9 years old, cajoling his mom into driving from their home in Salem to a Sears store in Provo, where Cannonball and Harvey were going to sign autographs. (Jackson found the autographed photo about a year ago, among the stuff left behind when his father died.)

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