Thursday, February 5, 2009

Send in the Clowns

Mr. Peacock’s favorite childhood toy was a clown doll named Patootie. I don’t remember who gave him to me—probably my mom or grandmother. Patootie was my constant companion in the years before kindergarten and I carried him with me everywhere—much to the chagrin of my father, who did not like me playing with dolls. Each night before I went to bed, I would carefully place Patootie on a little homemade “bed” just feet from my own twin bed. One morning I woke up and he was mysteriously gone! My mom told me that maybe he was lost, but I knew something wasn’t right. I think I even knew at that young age that my dad probably threw Patootie in the trash. I cried and mourned for days over losing my favorite friend, Patootie. I think my dad began to feel guilty, so my parents surprised me with a small model train set. I liked the train set too (I still have it in it’s original box), but I really couldn’t hug or hold a little caboose car like I did Patootie.

Mr. Peacock holding Patootie and posing with his teenage sister, Carmella, before she left on a trip.

Over the years, I’ve asked friends and colleagues if they had a Patootie doll when they were young? They always look at me and answer, “What are you talking about...what's a Patootie?” I’ve never met anyone who’s even heard of this clown doll. Patootie was made by Mattel and I think he may have been part of their of non-gender specific toys launched in the 1960’s, after the huge success of the The Slinky. (I had a Weenie Dog Slinky toy that I loved too!)

I found this photo of Patootie on the internet (see photos above and below) in his original box and outfit. I don’t remember what happened to Patootie's cute little harlequin outfit and hat, or the sad mask; I must have misplaced them right away. When you pulled the side drawstring, he talked and made a clown laugh—ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! I think the drawstring broke shortly after I got him. I don’t know why I was so enamored with this little clown doll, but he was my favorite toy for the longest time. That same year I dressed as Patootie for Halloween. I wore a clown suit that my mom and older sisters made out of some old sheets. They used magic markers to draw the harlequin diamonds on the entire outfit and sewed red bric-a-brac on the neck ruffle. I was in clown heaven.

Years later, I saw a flier at our local library that said in large circus style type, “Do you want to be professional clown?” It was advertising a “professional” clown instruction class taught by an ex Ringling Brothers clown. I don’t remember how much it cost to enroll, but the class was for adults only. I begged my mom to let me take the class. She finally called the instructor and explained that I was very mature for my age and asked his permission to let me enroll in the class, even though I was only 10 years old. He obliged and mailed my mom the class itinerary and the lengthy supply list.

Above: Amazing books on clowns—The Circus: 1870-1950, Scary Clowns ( with a pop-up centerfold), Dover Circus Display Fonts that comes with a disc of all of the cool circus fonts. and 1000 Clowns.

We had to drive downtown to a special shop that carried theatrical lighting, props and make-up to get my class supplies. My mom sort of freaked out when she saw the prices of the professional grade theatrical make-up. She sat me down at the store and asked me if I was serious about the class, and I said, “Yes!” She compromised with me and made me select the smallest containers available of each required make-up.

Above: Crazy clown records, including Sing Along with Emmett Kelly.

The class was held over 4 consecutive Saturdays from 10am to 5pm at a church and my mom would make me a sack lunch. She would escort me to each class and stay for the first half hour or so, and then return to sit in on the last half hour of the class. She gave me very stern instructions not to talk or look at anyone else in the class. She also made it very clear with the teacher that I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone, nor anyone speak to me. There were maybe 5 other students in the class—kinda creepy men of all ages (now I can only think of John Wayne Gacy) who wanted to be “professional” clowns. I would always sit by myself at each class and obeyed my mother and never spoke or looked at any other students in the class. The teacher, a retired Ringling Brothers circus clown in his 60’s, began the class with the history of clowns, focusing on Emmett Kelly. My favorite clown at the time was Blinky the Clown, who was the host of the local children’s television show where we lived.

Above: Blinky the Clown (maybe that's why I love plaid!?) and his antique shop.

The teacher stressed the importance of the design of your face and we sketched potential faces for hours. He then taught us how to apply the face, from the base white color, to the features, and finally setting it all with powder. Luckily I wasn’t old enough to have to shave my face, so the make-up really sat well on my smooth skin. I don’t remember what name I choose either, probably because I couldn’t narrow my choice down to just one name. I know my mom took a picture of me on the final day of class in my clown face, but unfortunately I don’t know what happened to the photograph.

Above: I found this amazing clown needlepoint at a Manhattan flea market years ago. I eventually want to turn it into a pillow or seat cushion.

Of course, shortly after the class ended, I lost interest in being a “professional” clown and the expensive make-up sat in a shoebox in my bedroom for years, until my younger sister and I used it for Halloween one year. I thank my mom for the dozens of extracurricular classes she let me take as a child and for allowing me to explore my creativity. What was your favorite childhood toy?

23 comments:

vicki archer said...

i love your story of Patootie and can understand completely that a model train set just wouldn't cut it for the comfort factor. I was a doll lover, one in particular, she even went to dolly hospital for repairs. Thanks for bringing back the memories - I haven't thought of my precious dolly for years. Great to have found your blog, xv.

TheRuralModernist.com said...

The only "doll" I had (besides the standard issue GI Joe) was Hugo Man of a Thousand Faces. He wore a denim lace up pirate shirt and the gimmick was that you got to glue on an array of scars, noses, teeth to "disguise" him. Of course the fun of that wore off almost immediately and then it was about gluing the accessories to yourself and pets. It even came with a little wig.

So Lovely said...

What a great story. I had two favorite dolls - one the size of a small child with eye lids that closed when you lay her down, and long, dark hair. The other was a generic Barbie, that I spent hours making clothes for. I decided one day that they both could use a hair cut....a very short haircut ie. crewcut. And I was inconsolable when it was explained to me that the hair wouldn't be growing back.

Mr. Bluehaunt said...

Poor Patootie!

SkitzoLeezra said...

I don't think your dad tossed Patootie because he was uncomfortable with your playing with "dolls". He was probably freaked out that Patootie would come to life and kill the whole family! That thing gives me the heebee jeebees!
Don't dare look for another, it will probably be possessed by the tears of unhappy children.
Lighting a candle so I won't have nightmares,
I am,
SkitzoLeezra

xstatikgrrl said...

Amazingly, Patootie is sort of cute, and not all that scary. I had a stuffed lion cub named simply "Lion". Lion got so much use that his stomach has been resewed countless times. But he's a resilient little guy! He still lives on my 16-year-old sister's bed.

Mr. Peacock said...

Ahh, so many great toys and memories!

I've never heard of "Hugo Man of a Thousand Faces," but I want one.

Sadly, doll hair doesn't grow back!

Yes, my dad was scared of Patootie!

Anonymous said...

I had one. I barely remember the mask, and lost the costume along the way. I didn't mind the red, I guess. The one thing I can still hear him say was "I can ride a unicycle backwards (crash sound effects)"

Thanks for the pics and story.

Anonymous said...

I had a patootie doll too and like you I took it everywhere with me. one day we were at the ballpark ond I left patootie on the swing (my dad was playing ball and us kids were at the playground). Needless to say someone stole my patootie doll and my mom wrote mattel to see about getting me another one cuz I was devastated. but they had quit making them. I totally understand how you feel about your patootie doll the best dang doll in the world.

Bill said...

I know exactly how you feel...I was given a Patootie clown for christmas when I was 3 or 4 years old. Right off the bat, he was a favorite toy of mine. The sad face mask didn't last long because the dog we had at the time chewed it up, boy, did that make me mad. Patootie must have made a real impression on me for some reason because believe it or not here I am at 45 years old and I still have him...he is the only surviving toy from my childhood. He sits on a shelf in my bedroom minus the sad face mask and his hat but he still has his harliquin costume. Great story, Great memories.
Thanks

Anonymous said...

My brother or sister had a Patootie clown doll when they were young. It was a always a favorite in our home growing up. It's probably still at our parent's house. Last I saw it, we had lost the mask and parts of the outfit. But Still the same old Patootie. Just a little older and moldier.

Robb said...

Patootie was my boon companion growing up, and I took him everywhere. I actually remember the sad face mask, and I remember cutting the string to the voice box- stupid me. I gave him his own pet dog, which I named butch. I remember the night before I went to kindergarden that I was feeling a little guilty about leaving him home all day, so I promised him that I would keep him and bring him to college with me. I lost the harliquin costume, so when I got excepted at Harvard, I bought a little stuffed bear at the COOP that had a Harvard sweater. Patootie now sits with Butch at my parents house on the top bunk of an old Roy Rogers bunkbed. Interestingly, I thought that I had named him Patootie, now I know where the name came from.

Anonymous said...

I too, had a Patootie. He was my most favorite doll next to my baby John. Oddly enough, all four of my daughters are so afraid of clowns. I don't know why? Maybe it is because I wouldn't let them play with my Patootie. I know it's in a box tucked away with loving care. Just not sure which box at the moment.

sex shop blog said...

This will not really work, I think like this.

Anonymous said...

I happen to have a patootie doll with the outfit, collar and hat right now. Unfortunately, the mask was lost a long time ago. I've wondered how many people actually still had this doll or even remembered it.....makes me smile! Mine still talks too! :)

Eric Farr said...

I loved my Brothers Patootie Doll SO
MUCH! We would fight over it. One day, in a tug of war over Patootie, his head came off in my hands. I've been the villain of the family ever since! I wish I could find a Patootie Doll to surprise my brother with. It would end 40 years of hard feelings- if anyone reads this and can help out... My # is 862-812-0143, Thank you-

Anonymous said...

I had a Patootie doll too. I got it as a birthday gift. I never really liked it because I liked baby dolls. I thought it was odd to have a clown doll.

Jim G said...

I had one too and never knew where it came from. My older brother denied it was his and it hung around the house for years even after we were older. I found it kinda creepy as a child, the recording was broken and it just hissed in a guttural evil clown voice.
But I am glad others also had the clown and it was just not a figment of my childhood imagination.

Tom St. James said...

Hi Mr. Peacock,
I not only had Patootie... I still have him! What can I say; when I was a little boy, I thought he was my son! To this day, he sits in the headboard of my bed (yes, I am single but that isn't Patootie's fault). He still has his harlequin outfit but not the sad face or hat. I got him for my first Christmas so I don't remember those items. His pull string voice box is missing. I did that as it had stopped functioning when I was 5. I had to perform "surgery" on him and remove it for repair; unfortunately, at 5 years old, I hadn't collected the right tools required to separate the plastic and repair the spring mechanism. I did manage to give him a "hair transplant" with a magic marker! It is ultimately satisfying to hear others blogging about enjoying him as much as I did!

Anonymous said...

I love Patootie!
I'm a 2nd generation circus clown!
Omar Gosh the Clown!

Michwelle said...

I had and still have my Patootie. He was also my favorite!!! "What's red all over? My underwear.". "My sad face is a real mask" and the ever popular "I can ride a unicycle backwards.". Every kid should have had a Patootie!!!😊❤❤❤

Danette J50 said...

I had a patootie. I still have pictures with him. I loved him the best of all my toys. I still had him up until I was 18yrs old. My family split and a neighbor was helping my mother clean house. She went into my room and started throwing my things away. I found out too late that patootie was one of the things she threw away. I miss him and look for him in every thrift and antique store I go into. I am now 51yrs old, but will forever love my patootie.

William Lasley said...

I was born in 1964 and Patootie is one of my earliest toy memories. I actually remember going to a store with my parents and there was a Patootie loose, out of the box, sitting on display atop a very high shelf. Before I knew it, that clown was mine. Whatever happened to Patootie happened fast because I have no further memories of him except that for many years afterward his multicolored diamond outfit was always among my sister's doll clothes. Perhaps she still has that fabric relic. I'd love to have a Patootie again. Thanks for the story and pics.