There is an old adage that it takes more muscles to frown than smile. True or not most would agree smiling makes us feel happier. It is not a cure for every situation but smiling or laughing can lift one’s mood. Humor is a great medicine for what’s ailing you.

For children it seems to come naturally. Parents are usually the first to cause their kids to laugh. When parents exhibit some type of behavior which infants recognize as something beyond a parents’ usual behavior like making a funny face or sound kids will laugh.

That is a good thing since many studies have shown laughter is good for your health. According to a Mayo Clinic study laughter improves your immune system. Neurotransmitters called endorphins are released when you smile. These endorphins are triggered by the movements of the muscles in your face, which is interpreted by your brain, which in turn releases these chemicals. Endorphins make us feel happy, and they also help lower stress levels.

Growing up I remember my parents especially my dad doing things to make me laugh. Making funny faces was his specialty.

But for me and many other baby boomers a group of entertainers kept us smiling and laughing during those early years. Clowns were the answer for any child needing a dose of happiness.

Some of my earliest memories are clowns. Be it going to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, local rodeo or watching clowns on TV shows of the 1950s and 60s, clowns supplied me with fun and laughter. Their slapstick and physical comedy was all I needed for a good time.

Clowns or characters acting like clowns have been around for hundreds of years.

Ancient China had clowns performing for the Imperial Court as long ago as the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 B.C.). One was named Yu Sze, who was clown to Ch’in Shih Huang-ti, who built the Great Wall of China.

Clowning was popular on the Greek and Roman stage. In ancient Greece comic performers were bald-headed and padded to appear bigger than average. They performed as secondary figures in farces and mime, parodying the actions of the more serious characters. Roman mime comic actors wore a pointed hat plus colorful clothing and were the target for abuse and tricks while on stage.

During the Middle Ages (500 AD to 1500 AD), kings, nobles or others in charge had their Fools and Court Jesters who were privileged characters as long as what they said and did amused their masters. These comics were gifted musicians, skilled dancers, and acrobats full of wit and charm.

The English word clown was first recorded in 1560 (as clowne, cloyne) meaning “rustic, boor, peasant”.

Modern clowns developed from circus clowns starting in the 19th through the 20th century.

For most baby boomers though we saw our first clowns on television. Here are a few of my favorite TV clowns.

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Clarabell 1950s

The Howdy Doody show ran on TV from 1947 to 1960. Hosted by “Buffalo Bob” Bob Smith it was a fun show entertaining kids with circus and Western frontier themes and skits. The star of the show was the puppet Howdy Doody. Another big part of the show was Clarabell the Clown who was the mute partner of Howdy Doody. Clarabell was first played by Bob Keeshan, who later became Captain Kangaroo. I always enjoyed Clarabell who wore a baggy, striped costume and communicated through mime plus honking a horn for “yes” or “no.”

On September 24, 1960 during this last episode, Clarabell repeatedly pantomimed that he had a big surprise for the viewers; It was only in the episode’s final moments that Bob Smith said even the stage crew were crying during that moment. Last Howdy Doody Show

Another TV favorite of mine was Bozo the Clown. Popular during the 1960s this clown show became a common franchise across the United States, with local television stations producing their own Bozo shows. Willard Scott the former weatherman of The Today Show played the first Bozo (1959-1962). The Bozo the Clown show featured comedy sketches, circus acts, cartoons, games and prizes before a studio audience. One of the first things I watch in the afternoon was Bozo.

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Bozo Show in Chicago 1968

Red Skelton the comic actor had his own TV variety show called The Red Skelton Show running from 1951 to 1971. My favorite character he did on the show was “Freddie the Freeloader” clown. Introduced on the program in 1952, Freddie was a bum or hobo in clown makeup with a heart of gold doing funny and crazy things.

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Freddie the Freeloader Red Skelton 1960s

One other TV clown I liked as a kid was of course Ronald McDonald. First appearing in 1963 Ronald McDonald was and is the McDonald’s fast-food restaurant chain clown. First played by Willard Scott who also was Bozo, Ronald McDonald has helped sell millions of burgers and fries thanks to commercials and personal appearances for years. Ronald McDonald commercials usually depict Ronald McDonald alone in everyday situations with real children, for instance visiting a local restaurant or going to visit sick children at the local Ronald McDonald House.

Ronald McDonald commercial featuring Willard Scott 1963

Since clowns are so popular with children and lift their moods, clowns known as “Clown Doctors” visit hospitals throughout America and the world.

Clown Doctors use techniques such as magic, music and storytelling plus other clowning skills such as making balloon animals to give children doses of fun. These doses help them deal with their health and emotional troubles. The main goal of a “hospital clown” or “clown doctor” is to support children undergoing long-term and aggressive medical treatment; children deprived of parental care; children in crisis situations; and children in need for adapting to the new hospital territory. Anxiety , fear and physical pain can be helped with laughter.

Hunter Doherty Adams is known around the world as Patch Adams. This is the same Patch Adams as portrayed by Robin Williams in the 1998 film of the same name. He is a professional doctor, social innovator and last but not least a clown. In 1971 he founded The Gesundheit Institute (German for “Good health). Operating as a free medical-environmental institution he and his organization has helped thousands of children as they recover from their health problems. The Gesundheit Institute

Patch also with a group of hospital clowns annually visits various countries promoting his ideas on health care. Equipped with colorful clothing, balloons and other props they perform in hospitals, orphanages and homes for the elderly. and boarding schools.

He is convinced that laughter helps the sick physically. “Take, for example cancer. It has been proved that laughter helps increase the number of “soldier-cells,” which destroy cancer cells. Laughter boosts the immune system and releases endorphins. In short, being happy is the best cure of all diseases,” he said in one of his interviews.

Another clown doctor program called the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit was started in 1986 by Michael Christensen in New York City. Today, while the focus is still New York hospitals, programs have been set up in other U.S. hospitals. Laughter therapy and hospital clownery has since spread all over the world.

Clowns still make me laugh and take me back to my childhood. Clowns help point out our flaws by displaying them in their own crazy antics. Becoming the butt of jokes clowns allow us to laugh at them while laughing at ourselves.

Contributed by

Craig Francom

Craig Francom was born in San Diego California and raised in Midvale Utah. Craig had a "Leave it to Beaver" childhood. If not at the local fishing hole, camping out …

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