Clowns bring smiles money can't buy From front page
By Dennis McCarthy, Columnist
What's 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 convalescent home?
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 egos.
They're Batman's best friends - protecting the frailest living among us in Gotham, not trying to destroy them. 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 school.
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 the clown.
"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 Northridge.
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 them." 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.