Kismet Shrine - History of the Clown Unit

OUR CREED

As members of the Kismet Clown Unit, we put on our baggy pants and funny faces, blow up balloons, and do tricks and skits so that "children of all ages" will smile and laugh…for the happiest sound in the whole world is the sound of children laughing. We bring our laughter and smiles to children in hospitals to make their day a little lighter. When a fraternal or philanthropic group sponsors a party for special children, Kismet Clowns are happy to be there - fetching a laugh and adding a smile to the face of each and everyone there. That's our way of giving thanks for our blessings. It is our way of supporting the Shrine Orthopedic Hospitals and Burns Institutes that provide free expert medical care to young people – so that they too may SMILE.

OUR MISSION

The Kismet Clown Unit is dedicated to the help, aid, and assistance of children of all ages who require or desire our skills and talents, bringing a little laughter and joy into their lives.

Chet Yost's HISTORY OF KISMET CLOWN UNIT ( by Arthur G. Vosatka)
In 1962, there were fewer than 200 clowns in all of North America. The Ringling Brothers' Clown College would not open for another six years. There were fewer than two dozen clowns in the biggest circus of all…Ringling Brothers'. Other large circuses such as Clyde Beatty or Cole Brothers had two to three clowns each. This was the year, 1962, and a group of Nobles from Kismet Temple, A.A.O.N.M.S., decided to work together to establish the Kismet Clown Unit.

At the time, Kismet Temple was located at Herkimer Street in Brooklyn, NY, and Illustrious Harold J. May was the Potentate. Of the more than 2,000 members, there were six Nobles that were intent on establishing a clown unit in Kismet Temple. They were: John Carlin, Charles Mason, William Ring, Pat Devitt, Pierce Harper, and Gus Niles. They enthusiastically promoted the idea and recruited support from the ranks of Nobles who were not committed to other units. In all, they managed to convince 11 others to join with them. One of these was Harold Wightman, a professional clown who had performed with Ringling Brothers. He worked with this new group to develop skits, props, and clown routines that he had mastered over the years. He introduced them to the art of clowning and trained them in makeup skills, costumes, prat fails, and the hundred-and-one other skills that blend to turn an individual into a clown. He trained them well.

The members of this original group and the charter members of the Kismet Temple Clown Unit are:
Andy Andresen Charles Mason William Ring
John Carlins Pierce Harper Pat Devitt
Harry Wightman Jack Delaney Herb Hartel
William Jacobs Charles Kirsner Herb Bunten
William Mayer Gus Niles Dave Peterson
William Seibert Dan Stroface

During 1962, these 17 Nobles held six informal meetings, developed a charter, elected John Carlin as president, and established themselves as charter members of the Kismet Clown Unit. At their first formal meeting, they invited Chet Yost and Eric Fisher to join this new unit. Now, with the formalities behind them, and being officially recognized as a bona fide Shrine Unit, they went on to this new business of clowning – and they did it well!

The Unit visited hospitals throughout Long Island, entertained at large corporate functions, distributed toys and small gifts to underprivileged children, and participated in parades. They had their own police force, five Keystone Cops, and they patrolled the parades on a bicycle built for two. This police force was comprised of Andy Andresen, William Seibert, Gus Niles, Dan Stroface, and David Peterson. During parades, Pierce Harper cleaned the clothing of the spectators with his feather duster, Chet handed out flowers, and Eric ("Whitey") Fisher startled people with his "live" mouse.

The most visible clown in the parade was Bill Ring. Bill dressed as a hobo and drove the parade route in a stretch limousine, handing out fake $100 bills. As an undertaker, he had access to limousines of all types, and had one rigged with loose parts strung under the car. At the reviewing stand, smoke bombs and fireworks would be set off from under the car. Several clowns would come flying out of the car is if in panic, animatedly argue with each other about who should look under the car, and finally, reach under and start throwing spare automobile parts all over the street.

During these early years, there were few restrictions on Shriner Clowns so they were able to wear black-face or dress as women. I [Arthur Vosatka] had the pleasure of being at a Kismet Temple costume party and seeing Charlie Kirsner enter dressed as a woman. His makeup was perfect and, with his exaggerated actions, it was hard to realize that he was Charlie. He looked and acted the part of a stately, very well proportioned woman, and was the hit of the ball.

As our Clown Unit grew, so did the clown units in other temples. In 1968, Dwight Worthy was elected 3rd vice president of the Mid-Atlantic Shrine Clown Association (MASCA), and went on to become the president of this group in 1971.

Over the years, we've had a lot of Nobles join our unit and go on to become excellent clowns. Bob Barth won first prize for white-face costume and makeup in the International Shrine Clown Competition in 1978. Art Vosatka, as "Binky", won second prize for auguste makeup and costume during the 1984 MASCA competition in Pittsburgh, PA. While some have won formal recognition and prizes, we have many other clowns who win the hearts of the children – and, that's what it is really all about. Active in fundraising, the Kismet Clown Unit has donated thousands of dollars to the Shrine Hospitals in Philadelphia and Boston, as well as providing major gifts to the hospitals and toys to the children. Walter ("Rosie") O'Grady, as the 1985-1988 New York State representative for the International Shrine Sneaker Fund, has raised several thousand dollars for the children.

And so, in 1988, as we continue to grow and to improve our skills and talents as clowns, we still live and act by that one basic principle – "No man has ever stood so tall as when he has kneeled to help a child."