The purpose of this blog is to share stories from the road of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown Alley. With this resource we can relive those days and have a better understanding of the transitions within Clown Alley over the years. I feel historically it's important to share these stories for future generations. 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Day Mike Left Town

Mike Padilla was one of the six little people we had on the show one year.  He had been a clown for 30+ years and worked with Lou as the cigar smoking baby in the Baby Carriage gag.  There was also a time that he worked in the Car Gag with Lou. 
Mike was from South America and spoke very little English.  He always took the first bus home and when everyone else got home Mike would already be in the kitchen.  He would be on a stool at the stove frying a huge T-bone steak.  If asked why he ate such huge steaks, he'd reply in his heavy accent, "It keeps me young and virile!"  When he finished cooking he would put it on a plate and head straight for his room.  He'd shut his door tight and while no one saw him for the rest of the night, you'd always hear his TV, and hear Mike laughing hysterically from inside his room.  This ritual occurred nearly every every night.  One night Mike forgot to close his door, as I walked by I peeked in to see what was so funny.  I looked at his TV and wouldn't you know, there was no picture and only sound.  Instead of a picture he had taken a Sharpie pen and drawn stick figures on the screen.  Mike was simply listening to his TV, and laughing hysterically at it!

On one Miami stop, some of us walked into the Alley and Mike was there, quite upset.  He was ranting and raving in Spanish and none of us could make any sense of it.  It sure seemed serious, so we asked Serf (who  spoke fluent Spanish) if he could tell what Mike was saying.  All he could tell us was that Mike was mad and that even he couldn't make sense of it. 
While Mike was carrying on, we noticed two working men come in with a dolly.  The men put Mike's trunk on the dolly and wheeled it out the back door with Mike following still carrying on.. and on...  The men set the trunk on the sidewalk, and Mike sat on his trunk with a scowl on his face and his arms folded tight, still carrying on.  After a little while, he just stopped talking and just sat silent.  He sat silent for quite a while.  Then a taxi cab pulled up, and we watched as the driver and Mike loaded the trunk into the cab.  Mike got in himself, and the cab drove off.
Later on we found out why Mike was so upset.  That year, all of the veteran clowns, Lou, Uncle Soapy, and Bobby Kaye had Spec costumes that were made to match their normal, personal ones.  
Mike had felt he deserved the same treatment because of his seniority. 
Instead he was cast as Little Bo Peep, and Mike had enough.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dougie Ashton

Dougie Ashton was a true to life clown.  He was "on" all the time.  He would come in on Saturday mornings and go up and down the dressing rooms blasting his trumpet and yelling,"GOOD MORNING YOU LUCKY PEOPLE!!"   Of course this would drive everyone mad, but inside, they knew it was just Dougie.  What you see is what you get!
One evening we had off from show, a bunch of us decided to hit a bar and have a few.  We were barely in the door and Dougie started being Dougie.  He accidently (was it?) bumped some guy next to him sitting at the bar. So the guy turned to Dougie asked him if he had a problem.  Of course the answer was no.  With Dougie, it was always no, Dougie never had a 'problem".  A few minutes later, Dougie bumped the guy again.  Once again the guy asked if there was a problem . Again, Dougie's answer was no. This continued off and on for the next half hour or so...
The guy sitting at the bar was getting more and more irritated and confrontational, and it finally reached the point where Dougie asked the guy if he wanted to take it outside.  The guy was more than ready and said "YES!"  so the guy got up and started towards the door.  When Dougie got up he started for the door all knock-kneed and what looked like a huge limp, basically looking as if both of legs were broken.   We all busted out laughing, and I'll be darned if the guy started laughing along with us!  Dougie bought the man a drink and we all spent the rest of the night having a great time.
Another Story:  One Saturday morning we didn't hear the normal trumpet blast. so we knew Dougie was running late.  Great time for an alternate plan!!  I decided to get a plain donut from the pie car and a cup coffee and have it waiting for Dougie.  Only this would not be your ordinary donut.  I took some baby powder and covered it so it looked like powder sugar and set it on his trunk along with the coffee.  Doubie finally showed up, came in saw the donut and coffee on his trunk.  He looked up smiled, and thanked everyone for being  so thoughtful.  We all watched in silence as he drank the coffee and ate the donut one bite at a time.
One by one of us, gave into laughter and soon the whole alley was in stitches.  Dougie looked around totally clueless, and wondering why everyone was laughing asked simply,"What's so funny?"
"That's baby powder on that donut..."
Dougie said nothing more than, "I thought it was awful dry!"
He then finished getting ready and went to work, never missing a beat.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tito Montoya

Tito Montoya is the nephew of Jesus Segrera, catcher for the Flying Segreras.  The first time he flew he was quite shy, but soon he got over the shyness and was flying like a real pro.  I believe at the time he started, he was six years old, and the youngest flyer in the world.  I never knew him as Tito Montoya , only as Tito Segrera. 
In the show, the Segreras flew on the one end, and the Farfans flew on the other end with young Tato (Armando Jr.) who was about the same age as Tito.  These two loved the clowns and would spend hours in clown alley listening to stories and playing with all of the props. Although they competed as children they remained good friends over the years. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Montoya and Segrera family.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The "Bug Man"

John McHugh was a clown way ahead of his time. He had scientific approach to his clowning and used modern technology as much as possible.  Even his costumes were advanced!  They were made of a very high tech vinyl material he could only get in New York, so every two years when the show was in NYC, he would get enough material to make his costumes for the next two years.  That’s a lot of planning!  One of the them that stands out in my mind is one he made where he sewed flashing lights (similar to Christmas lights) into the front of his costume!   


When he was in Clown College, he adapted a character similar to Sherlock Holmes.  He would wear a cape and carry around a huge magnifying glass.  He even had a pipe!  As with many clowns, he evolved over the years, and that character slipped away completely.   He quit wearing the cape, ditched the lights and the pipe… He added big ears and changed his wig… The birth of a new character!


One year we came to winter quarters and John had a bunch of battery operated cars.  Of course, we all wondered what he was going to do with them.  They were the type that when they run into something, or off the edge of something, they would turn.  Maybe some of you old timers remember these?  Way before remote control…


John was always very secretive about what he was building.  During the day you’d see him working on something but never knew what it was, then at night he would assemble all of the pieces.  You’d walk in the next day and lo and behold, he had a prop!


So we would watch him with this pile of fake fur and foam rubber; he’d be cutting away at the fur, and carving the foam… he’d be gluing the pieces of fur to the foam and we just couldn’t figure out what it was!  John would never tell you what he was building.  You could ask a hundred times, and he would just say, “Oh, it’s a prop...” 


So we kept watching.  When all was finished, this talented man had made some giant BUGS that fit over the cars!  He took two pieces of plywood and cut out some discs about three feet in diameter.  When the bugs were placed on the wood they would turn, move all around and bump into each other.  If they got to the edge of the plywood, they would also turn, never leaving the plywood.  He would get out his huge magnifying glass from his “Sherlock Holmes” days, and go searching for them.   He’d then shoot at them with a pop gun that shot ping pong balls.  I believe he also had one of those sprayers that he would spray at them as if he were an exterminator.  This was his Track Gag, and it was brilliant!  From then on, we called John the "Bug Man." 


Another year John showed up with a big piece of graph paper and a bunch of electrical conduit.  On the paper was drawn a bunch curved lines.  We’d watch him take the conduit and hold it to the paper, and bend it just so.  He would never have the whole drawing with him, so we could never figure out what he was making.  Of course asking him never did any good, so we just had to watch, and guess.  After a week or so of bending the conduit this way and that, it was driving us nuts!  Then he would stay late after everyone left, and begin his assembly… Finally the day arrived when we walked in, and there was John, with a set of wings that fit on his shoulders.  They could even flap! It also had a tail like an airplane and really looked like a flying machine! 

That year for Track Gags, he would be looking for the bugs with his wings on.  He had a hoist lift him into the air, and he would flap around and shoot the bugs from the air. 


His flying machine became so popular that we made a spot for him in the come in.  He would go into the cage at the top of  Gunther’s tiger props.  We would stop everything to make an announcement and have the audience count to three.  He would flap his wings and simply jump down the props level by level finally landing in the ring.  This always got a huge applause!


Leave it to John McHugh to leave us all laughing!