In the 1950s and 60s, Detroit TV offered a wonderful
assortment of ”Video Babysitters”. From Captain Jolly and
to Wixie and Soupy
Sales, I watched them all. They were all pretty terrific
to my 8-year-old eyes, but my favorite, by far, was Ricky the
There were other clowns on TV, but I always saw them as men
dressed in funny clothes who introduced cartoons. To me, Ricky was the real
deal. I just loved his energy, the circus gags, the animals and the music. I was
probably the only kid in my neighborhood who knew the lyrics to Ricky’s theme
song, “I’m Sittin’ On Top Of The World.”
Fast-forward about 40 years. When I created my website
dedicated to local Detroit kids TV, Irv
“Ricky the Clown” Romig was the first person I interviewed. Irv and his
lovely wife Rosie welcomed me into their home and treated me like an old friend.
At this stage in his life, Irv was well into his 80s. His body
was pretty beat up from the years of rough and tumble acrobatics that he
performed in professional circuses for most of his career. Irv walked with a
very pronounced limp. His doctor wanted him to have a knee replacement, but at
his age he was reluctant to have the operation.
Irv wasn’t doing a lot of personal appearances as Ricky
anymore, but he came up with an ingenious gimmick that he used for school
assemblies. He would walk on stage in his street clothes, and introduce himself
as Irv Romig. He then sat on stage
in front of a small mirror, with his clown makeup and props gathered around him.
As he put on his makeup in front of the audience, he would explain the history
of clowning and the circus.
Now, what happened next always amazed me. I like to call it
Ricky’s Clown Magic. While Irv put on his Ricky makeup, his voice would get
progressively higher. It was so subtle, that it would take you a while to notice
it. As he put on his clown face, his posture would straighten, and, I swear, 40
years would melt off of his body. When he put on his wig and derby to complete
the transformation, he would step away from the table as Ricky the Clown, then
do his act for the next half hour.
Remember the bad knee that I told you about? Not only did
Ricky have no trace of a limp, he would do a comedy cowboy bit where he twirled
a lasso around his body and jumped repeatedly thru it. Ricky would then play the
bugle, do a few funny bits, perform a couple of magic tricks, followed by
questions from the audience.
When the show was over, Ricky would quickly make the
transformation back to Irv, complete with hunched back and bad knee.
Irv would always tell me that he was a has-been, but it’s better to be a has-been than a never was. I would remind him that Ricky was, and will always be, my hero.