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?