Bonner was a regular in both versions of the show.
Wilson based several of the show’s character on actual people. Dr. Johnny Fever, played by Howard Hessemen, was based in part on WQXI jock “Skinny” Bobby Harper, who died in 2003. “Big Guy” Arthur Carlson, the bumbling general manager played by Gordon Jump (who died in 2003), was based on Jerry Blum, the long-time WQXI general manager, who died in 2019.
According to Blum’s son Gary, the Tarlek character was based more on Brown’s colorful visual style than his personality.
“Clarke Brown was a very, very snazzy dresser,” Blum said in an interview Thursday. “Guys usually wore gray or tweed suits. Brown would wear plaid suits with wide lapels and wide ties. It was cutting-edge fashion. Brown always wore fancy outfits. Hugh made him even gaudier.”
Brown himself had a less flattering image of his choice of dress wear at the time in an interview with me a few years back. “I dressed like a total schmuck,” Brown said. “But that was the fashion back then.”
In a follow-up text Thursday, Brown said he had met Bonner several times with Wilson. “Hugh actually stayed at my house when he was writing the pilot for the show,” Brown recalled. “I thought the obviously exaggerated portrayal of me was a lot of fun. When the show was in production, Hugh had me spend time with Frank and we got along great.”
While Tarlek was not deemed a great salesman, Brown was. “He was part of the sales dream team of the time,” Blum said, noting how WQXI minted cash during its heyday. “They were doing monthly million-dollar billings, unheard of on local radio at the time. They were a machine.”