Everyone is a Clown
Few have the courage to put on the makeup!
It takes know-how to create a professional looking clown face.
Contrary to popular belief a proper clown face is not worn as a mask. It should be designed to compliment the natural features in the face in order to enhance the clown's expressions. The different types of clown faces and how they can be designed create a unique face. Every Egypt Shrine Clown begins with one of the three basic clown face types: Whiteface, Auguste, and Tramp, as described by Jim Roberts a.k.a. "Strutter the Clown." Following the basics is each clown's special detail for his character, which may include additional powdering, application of rubber or putty noses, eyeglasses, hats and props.
A clown unit originated through a patchwork of ideas – pieced together by incoming Potentate Norman Six, who was assisted by A.S. Leroy, Bob Hailey, Elmer Davis, Abe Johns, and Frank Hebble.
The group was authorized to function as a unit of Egypt Temple during the month of March, 1951. It was formally chartered in December of the following year, and become known as the Fun & Frolic Unit.
The 1923 Model T Ford, which is still an important part of our unit, was the only piece of equipment we had during the early days of the unit. To modify the Model T to meet our requirements, we shortened the drive shaft, moved the rear wheels forward and extended a steel platform backward from the rear end of the vehicle. When two or three clowns added their weight to the extended platform, the center of gravity shifted and the front wheels of the Ford rose off the street.
Our next step was to add individually controlled rear brakes, so that the Model T could be steered with its front wheels in the air. And, even today, “Do a wheelie” is a familiar request from the parade spectators.
In its original form, the Model T had a steering wheel which was removable, the headlights had eyes painted on the glass lenses, a rubber tube was slitted to form eyelashes, and clown names and likenesses adorned the sides of the body. On the driver’s side, a long metal tube concealed a giant (five foot) canvas snake which popped out at spectators whenever the driver released the spring. Under the hood was a water tank with a tub pointed out beside the radiator cap to dampen the spirits of anyone who came too close. A bright, colored umbrella served as a top for the car, and an assortment of horns, bells, buzzers, and sirens added to the excitement. With the motor racing and horns blowing, “Leaping Lena” would go around in circles, to the delight of the spectators.
Later, as the number of clowns increased, Potentate Six loaned us his son’s racing car. Any clown who had a new idea threw it into the hopper in informal and unscheduled meetings, which were held in Leroy’s service station in downtown Tampa. The men’s rest room there served as our make-up and costume room when preparing for local parades. Of course, we overflowed the cramped quarters into the grease rack area for final touches.
The highlight of our first year was a performance in Madison Square Garden on July 9, 1951 when we appeared on the same program with Olsen & Johnson in a comedy of errors. Leaping Lena and the clowns got off the train, with their equipment in New Jersey. From there they had a 20 mile drive to the Garden.
Other Shrine units paraded once around inside the Garden and went out. But our uninhibited group was encouraged to continue our brand of entertainment and it took 25 minutes for them to get worn down to the point where they couldn’t go on any more.
The next piece of equipment which was added to the unit was a 1923 Dodge, which we designated to be our paddy wagon. It was spotted in the showroom of the Dodge dealer in Tampa and somehow the sympathetic dealer was inveigled to donate his attention-getter to us. Then the work on it began, to strengthen it enough for our boisterous clowns. A canon was mounted on the top of the cab, to provide sound effects, and an act was built around it. Later it was decided that the cannon was too dangerous. So it was removed, and a big bell was mounted on the front of the vehicle.
A favorite stunt was for a group of our clowns to “arrest” observers and place them in the Paddy Wagon for a ride of a block or two. Usually, the prisoners were wives of our clowns or other Shriners unless the whim overtook a clown to arrest some comely spectator. Clown policemen figured prominently in the act and, at out-of-town parades, it was always a favorite with spectators to see some of their local officials and big-wigs arrested, carted off to our portable hoosegow and fined before they were released and returned to civilization. At times, a Kangaroo Court added to the festivities. The 1923 Dodge is still in use within our unit.
Our next addition was the calliope. It was originally mounted on a four-wheeled trailer and it required a considerable amount of effort just to get it to follow the towing vehicle and to keep the body from rubbing the tread off its front tires. We found that out the hard way on a trip to Miami. On our return from that trip, we received a Letter of Appreciation and individual appointments for our members as Honorary Assistant Managers of the Mayflower Restaurant at Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami.
Why? Well, we sort of took a liking to the place and its customers and personnel. To show our good will toward the natives, we waited on tables in make-up and costumes as we entertained the customers – and sometimes shared their dessert. Our tips all went to the waitresses, who rested while enjoying our antics. The enjoyment became so widespread that auto traffic was tied up on Biscayne Blvd. and on the sidewalk outside the restaurant by pedestrians who couldn’t crowd inside. Several traffic policemen came to find the cause of the commotion. They lingered over apple pie and coffee, enjoyed the fun, then smiling asked us to please let the traffic flow again on the boulevard. We were tired by then anyway.
Incidentally, the calliope which we took to Miami is still a part of our unit but now it is mounted on a truck chassis. Our next piece of equipment was a 1906 Cadillac – one cylinder with a footman’s seat in the back. It was found in an old barn on a farm owned by Roy Haynes. Rats and chickens had made nests in the upholstery and on the motor. It was brought to Leroy’s service station where various members stopped in on their lunch hour, evenings, and Saturdays to work on it – of course, all work was under Leroy’s supervision. One former Cadillac mechanic showed up to volunteer his time.
After months of labor, and some expenditure of money, the 1906 was in mint condition. Only the best mechanics in our unit were allowed to drive it and then they wore white gloves. It became a favorite with Potentates, both local and Imperial, to lead Shrine parades anywhere within our jurisdiction. A major department store in Tampa even displayed it in its main store window – with appropriate recognition to our unit.
Our individual members have owned many pieces of their own equipment. To name a few – high bike, baby carriage with electric motor, flying saucer with colored lights and stereo electronic music, motorcycle with sidecar, dune buggy, 3-wheeled cycle, railroad engine, motor scooters, and a “whodathunkit.”
We have always been a family oriented unit and on May 20, 1954 a covered dish dinner was held at the home of Donald Ruff for the members and their families. That dinner inaugurated a series of social get-togethers that is still an important part of our unit. The social activities have contributed to a better understanding and cooperation with the unit and new members are often attracted when they learn that their wives can take part in our activities and become better acquainted with each other.