Eva's Retro 60s Flashbacks
A Baby Boomer, my academic journey through the halls of junior and
senior high meandered through the Sixties. The uncomfortable rite of passage sitting on a hard plastic seat at
a tablet arm desk while trying to absorb the significance of algebraic polynomials proved a little too
abstract. Throwing those equations off balance with precise timing and absurd mimes to preserve our sanity
were the “class acts” perpetrated by class clowns. Since most clowns had been strategically assigned to the
front of the classroom, the world behind the teacher’s back was their stage. While teach scribbled Babylonian
algorithms on the board, the clown took his cue to turn around and entertain us with facial grimaces or body
“Cathy’s Clown” (The Everly Brothers, 1960):
I die each time I hear this sound/”Here he c-o-o-o-omes, that’s Cathy’s clown.”
“Everybody Loves a Clown” (Gary Lewis and
the Playboys, 1965): Yes, I’m a clown but I don’t wanna be/Why can’tcha see the
other side of me?
”Clown” (The Hollies,
1966): I see a clown painting his face once more/Before
the show has started/He paints a smile on his face with his makeup now/Although he's broken
“Death of a Clown” (The Kinks,
1967): My makeup is dry and it clags on my chin/I'm drowning my sorrows in
whisky and gin…La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la/So let's all drink to the death of a clown.
Whether we perceive clowns as silly, scary,
or sad— Send in the “Class” Clowns of the Sixties:
Red Skelton – A popular CBS variety show,
The Red Skelton Hour (1962– early70s), one of Red’s many characters
was Freddie, the Freeloader. Freddie, a good hearted tramp in clown
makeup, bore a strong resemblance to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus clown Emmett Kelly-- just
not as sad. Freddie spoke or pantomimed. The fact that Red’s 9 year old son succumbed to leukemia was attributed
to his drinking problem which affected performance for a while—a broken hearted clown.
Clarabell – Howdy Doody’s
mute sidekick on The Howdy Doody Show, wore a baggy, striped costume
and communicated solely by honking a horn for “yes” or “no”, while occasionally spraying the gang with
seltzer. A little turbulence under the suit, three male actors portrayed
a female, though Clarabelle never struck me as particularly feminine or graceful when clowning around. Bob Keeshan
was the first clown who became better suited to the later role he apprised of Captain Kangaroo, wearing a new suit
with deep coat pockets.
– “Bozo the Clown” got a lot of chuckles in
the 1960s as a result of franchising, whereby local TV stations could put on their own local productions of
the show with their own Bozo. Doh! There ended up with at least
130 half hour shows from 1965-1967, entitled, Bozo’s Big
Top on channel 5, out of Boston—WHDH back in the
day. Boston Bozo, Frank
Avruch, seemed to cinch the clown more than any other Bozo. I’ll have you know Bozo’s headpiece was made from
yak hair attached to a canvas base with a starched burlap interior. Fire engine red hair was styled, formed,
and sprayed with lacquer to retain its shape.
Let’s send in Wavy
Gravy – Hugh Nanton Romney’s clown persona resulted from political activism, whereby he decided
he’d be less likely arrested if dressed as a clown. Besides
affording him a disguise of sorts, Wavy Gravy does perform jokes, magic tricks, and entertains children. He
is credited with founding and co-founding several organizations: Camp Winnarainbow, Seva Foundation,
and the Hog Farm, an activist commune. He is the official clown for The Grateful Dead.
“Class” clowns of the Sixties
under the cover of outlandish costuming, large footwear, bulbous nose, surreal makeup, and colored wig
performed their sketches to a captive audience. Perhaps more
intriguing is the clown’s state of mind under the garb of pretention and the upside down
smile. Why can’tcha see the other side of
me? That’s no gag.
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