can't buy From front page
By Dennis McCarthy, Columnist
a smile worth on the face of a sick kid in
a children's hospital? Or how about a laugh
coming from the lonely rooms inside a
More than anything money could ever buy, the
clowns say. That's what it's worth.
I want you to meet the bright side of the Joker's
family he doesn't talk about. His sunny alter
They're Batman's best friends - protecting the
frailest living among us in Gotham, not trying to
They call themselves the Carrousel of Clowns -
a local group of retired preschool teachers and
young mothers who transform themselves into
superheroes a few times a month.
When the call comes in that someone needs a
smile and a laugh, the superheroes slip into loud
sack dresses with polka dots and stripes, paint
their faces white and put on big red noses, colorful wigs and bright
red lipstick, then head to
the nearest children's hospital, convalescent
home, Special Olympics event or specialeducation
They never fail to deliver the smiles because,
well, you already know why.
The whole world loves a clown. Except for the
Joker, of course.
"We walk into a sick child's hospital room, and
their eyes may be barely open, but you see the
smile start to form on their lips," says Strawberry
"They know we're here. They've been surrounded
by so much sadness and pain, and now we're
here to bring them some joy and a smile."
You could be the richest person in the world,
Strawberry says, and you still couldn't afford the
feeling that gives you.
Strawberry's real name is Phyllis Lipman, and she
lives over in Reseda. A few times a month, she
and half a dozen others in the Carrousel of
Clowns step out of their homes dressed as
clowns to spread a little joy to a world that could
sure use some.
They're not paid actors or entertainers. They
don't make a dime. It's all free. Some of them are
even downright shy, they admit. If you met them
on the street, they'd probably look the other way
rather than try to strike up a conversation.
But put that clown mask and funny suit on them,
and they become Auntie Mame, the life of the
"The group started about 30 years ago in
Northridge Park," Gerry Robinson told me by
phone from Yosemite, where he and his wife,
Martha, moved a few years ago after selling the
Northridge home they'd lived in for 35 years.
The Robinsons were teaching a parks-and-rec
class on how to become a clown. Martha had learned by taking puppetry
classes at Cal State
They hooked up with another couple, Jackie and
Sidney Kern, and formed the Carrousel of
Clowns. Pretty soon it had grown to more than 25
local women and a few men taking on a second
job after they got home from work - spreading
smiles in places where few had existed.
But the Robinsons and Kerns weren't getting any
younger, so they started looking for the next
generation of clowns to replace them - young
recruits like Lisa Melcomb, a high school student
in Granada Hills 25 years ago. "I brought in my mother to become a clown with
me, and now my two young daughters have
joined me as clowns also," said 41-year-old Lisa,
aka Lamkin the clown.
"I was always shy, afraid of making a fool of myself. But when
I put on that (clown) mask, I'm
not afraid of going up to anybody.
"I don't care if I make a fool of myself. I see the
smiles we bring these kids in the hospital and
the lonely seniors in convalescent homes.
"It's a moving, beautiful thing to know, for a few
minutes, you can make them feel healthy and
young again - giggling like little kids when you
smile and hand them a balloon you've made for
Yeah, the world loves a clown.
Except for the Joker, of course.
The Carrousel of Clowns is looking for new
members to train as clowns, and for new places
to visit around the Valley where people might
need a smile and a laugh.
If you're interested, give Phyllis Lipman a call at
Dennis McCarthy's column appears Tuesday,
Thursday, Friday and Sunday. dennis.