Pigeon droppings: Billy Baker, the clown prince (part I)

tsj column writers pigeon droppingsBy Bob Hamill

Billy Baker, one of the best known and loved entertainers in town, will have you believe that he was born as a baby and just enlarged from there. When he was 12, his parents divorced and he and his mother moved to Beebe, Arkansas. While Billy was in college, he got interested in theater and music. Along with eleven college students in 1968, he was hired to be a part of the very first entertainment troupe at Silver Dollar City. For the grand sum of $1.25, he wandered the park creating atmosphere, being the folk singer in the restaurant, robbing trains and even being in the Melodrama.

The entertainment director asked him to come up with some atmosphere characters for walking around the park. He was going through the costume shop and found an old train conductor hat. He put it on sideways, put a hole in the top and pulled his hair through (he had hair back then) and that was it. He walked outside and a tourist family asked if they could take a photo with him. He made a funny face and Elwood Smooch was born.

Baker spent three seasons at Silver Dollar City and Elwood was one of the popular characters. The man who was the leather smith called Billy over one day and told him he should be a circus clown. He had the mugging, timing and flexibility a circus clown needs. Baker liked the idea of traveling all over meeting people and making them laugh. He applied to the newly opened Ringling Brothers Clown College. He was naturally accepted. Ten weeks later he graduated valedictorian of the class.

He was immediately offered a contract to be with the red unit (there is also a blue unit). Baker made his mind up in high school: he wanted to see the country and meet his heroes. Thanks to his training at Silver Dollar City doing street shows, Billy was ready for an arena setting and hit the ground running.

In talking to Billy I could tell he had a lot of stories to share and a friend of mine told me to ask about the drive-in one.

“We were in Waco, Texas,” Billy said. “There was a drive-in movie theater right next to the arena. After the show one night it was car load night: pack as many people in a car you could and it was only $3.00 for the entire car load. Well, we couldn’t let an opportunity like this go by. So we packed 22 people in a Gremlin and went to the drive-in. The look on the face of the guy who took the money was priceless.”

Next week catch Billy Baker Part 2 and find out how he came to tend bar for Captain Kirk and The Terminator.

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