Clown's colorful career
path leads to Minonk
Bill Clough is 58 years old and still clowning around. Clough, now a resident of Minonk, is a former circus clown who traveled with the James Strates and Clyde Beatty shows for many years. He now works as a dishwasher at the Log Cabin restaurant, donning his clown suit only occasionally to perform or do advertising stints.
Clough grew up in west Philadelphia and left there in his early teens to join the circus. He said that he was too young to go without his mother's written approval, but she granted him permission to join the show as an apprentice electrician.
Clough studied his trade in Sarasota, Florida and on the road with the the circus. He was soon promoted to elephant trainer, a job he truly enjoyed. Clough said working with over 52 pachyderms was often a challenge.
"I worked the elephants when we put up the tents," he noted. "I was the first one up and the last one to go to bed at night. It was hard work, but I liked it."
Clough said he got to know the animals well, and he was the only one who could handle one particular rogue cow named Babe.
"She wouldn't let anyone else handle her," he said, "but we got to be friends."
Besides working with the elephants, Clough also became a clown. He learned to put on the make-up and do the routines of the show clown. He said the clowns earned good money but also had big bills. A big wardrobe and make-up are large expenses. He also told about the time he grabbed a bucket of water instead of confetti and threw it on the crowd during a show.
"The crowd wasn't very happy about my mistake," he said, "and the next day I got a cleaning bill for $41."
Clough said his life with the circus was a good one and he has never regretted the years he spent traveling around the country.
"We always had clean sheets and even a porter on the train we traveled on" he said. "And the food was always really good. The hobos along the rails would smell us cooking and always come in for a free meal.."
Clough said circus pay was not always great, but he had everything he needed.
"I started out working for 52 hot dogs and 50 cents a week," he said "but I always had a place to sleep and my circus family."
Clough left the circus about 15 years ago when he was in Springfield. He said he left because the circus was being booked into open air arenas instead of playing under the canvas tents..
"When the canvas came down, I left," he said. "It's just not the same when you don't work under the Big Top. Helping put the tents up was a big part of my life. They went up just like a big umbrella on the ground. Without the tents, kids couldn't sneak under to watch a free sow anymore. Everything got too commercial and I didn't like it."
Clough worked his way up to Central Illinois doing odd jobs, eventually finding his way to Minonk. He says he enjoys his dishwashing job and the people at the Log Cabin have been very good to him. He has also worked at the local grain elevator and sells railroad ties on the side.
"I'm happy with what I do now," he said. "It gives me enough money to live and little extra to play the instant lottery," he noted.
But every once in a while Clough gets the opportunity to relive his beloved circus days when he dons make up and a newly made suit, transforming himself into Bimbo the Clown.
The transformation takes about a ? hours. Clough first "puts on his face." His wrinkled skin disappears as he covers his face with white greasepaint. He adds spots of color to his cheeks and a backwards question mark on his forehead. He surrounds his mouth with bright red paint and adds lines of color near the corners of his eyes. Sometimes he finished his face with a larg round red nose. Other times he simply paints a circle of red on his own prominent proboscis. Like all clowns, Clough's face is unique and registered in Sarasota, Fl.
Clough then dons a bright red and yellow clown suit, made by his friend Betty. The suit was made from a sheet with a children's drawing theme, but also uses typical polka-dot clown material. A multi-colored wig and six-fingered huckster gloves complete the transformation.
Once Clough becomes Bimbo, his personality also changes. His gentle nature becomes more playful as he clowns around with adults and children. But he is careful never to be too agfressive with shy children. Some younger children are afraid of his garish appearance and he approaches them slowly. Adults are usually good natured, however, and enjoy the clowning.
As Bimbo, Clough has modeled for art students, worked in advertising promotions, and performed at the Peoria Civic Center ???
He says he would like to do even more clowning by appearing in schools and at nursing homes talking abut his life as a clown. He can be contacted for appearances by mail at 439 E. 8th Street, Minonk.
Clough says that although his circus days are over, he still hopes to be 'clowning around' for many more years.
"It isn't always easy to be a clown, but I love to see the
children smile,' he said. "My favorite thing to do is visit
hospitals. When I see people who are sick or in wheelchairs, and I
help to make them smile, it really makes me feel good inside. I only
hope that when I die, someone puts me in my clown suit."
"Bimbo" was born Albert Howard Donovan
Jr., January 28, 1931 to Viola as an only child, in Willimgton,
Delaware. As a small child "Bimbo" was adoped by his
grand-parents, Charlie Rutherford and Hattie Clough with a name
change to William Henry Clough.
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