Bruce Johnson

Charlie The Juggling Clown

Creating Happy Memories that Last a Lifetime

 

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In Memory

Fred "Mombo" Petrick 

(1907 - Nov. 27, 2001)

Fred "Mombo" Petrick (1907-2001) was an extremely popular clown in Eastern Iowa. He appeared on the Dr Max television show for over twenty years. He was also a mentor to the St. Luke's Clown Connection, a caring clown group, and was honored as their local hero.

As a youngster, Fred attended vaudeville shows with his parents. He enjoyed the acts so much that he wanted to do an act himself. After his marriage, he hired an elderly magician to teach him the art. He put together a magic show in 1928 for entertaining scout, school, and church groups. He said, "My magic wasnít very good at the start, so eventually, I decided to add the clown to liven up my act."

He made his living working in the Quaker Oats traffic department. He joined the Fellowship of Christian Magicians, and used magic while teaching Sunday School at Olivet Presbyterian Church. He also got involved in community theater.

One of the people he worked with in the community theater was Max Hahn, star of the Dr Max Show, an afternoon childrenís show on Cedar Rapidsí WMT-TV (now KGAN). The show was based around Dr. Max who lived alone in a house. During a live broadcast in the late 1950ís, a prop hand dropped something making a lot of noise. Max had to explain the noise in some way, so looking to the side he ad-libbed, "be quiet out there, Mombo." The station was flooded with letters from youngsters asking to see Mombo.

Max asked Fred to help develop an appearance for the unseen character. The program director balked at adding a clown character fearing the white facial make up would cause a glare. It was decided to try it as an occasional guest shot, and fortunately, the powder Fred used to set his make up eliminated the glare.

At first Mombo was a silent character, sitting at Maxís feet. Children wrote asking to hear Momboís voice. He was turned into a speaking character, which was so well received that he became a regular on the show from 1961 through 1981.

Momboís make up design was simple by necessity. Fred applied it while driving from Quaker Oats to the television studio after work. He put on a white base, and a large red mouth. He felt something more was needed so he drew black lines down through his eyes. That was it, no eyebrows or nose.

Following the TV broadcast, he often visited the pediatric wards at Mercy Hospital and St. Lukeís Hospital.

In 1965, Fred placed first in the comedy competition at the International Brotherhood of Magicians Convention.

He retired from Quaker Oats four years later, and concentrated on being an entertainer.

When the Clown Connection was organized in 1990, Fred became their mentor passing on his knowledge. He didnít appear much as a clown during the last ten years, but he remained active in the Fellowship of Christian Magicians.

According to Chris Montross, a member of the Clown Connection, "Mombo represents clowning in its most genuine art form. His cleverness, quick wit and sleight of hand magic are a pure delight to all of us. Mombo is a true genius."

In an on-line newsletter, Rick "Soda Pop" Struve wrote, "For my personal experience: I never saw other clowns. I had heard of Bozo, but never saw him on TV. I knew of clowns in the circus, but never had any exposure to any of them. Mombo was it - when it came to clowns, in my mind... there were no others. Like all Eastern Iowan kids, I didn't miss a single day of that show... and always headed for locations where Mombo might be appearing. I was lucky enough to see him at a few birthday parties, and he was always at my grandfather's Shriner Christmas parties handing out gifts along side Santa.

"To say the least, one of my greatest moments was in 1994 when I actually met Fred Petrick for the first time. I had just started my clowning career, and someone told me that he was quite a nice guy and liked the company, so I did as I was told... and gave him a call. Right away, he gladly invited me over to his home where he sat down with me - working some of his favorite magic tricks, and filling my head with stories of the Dr. Max show. He then went to his closet where he pulled out some old magic magazines for me to take home and read. He is probably the most friendly and open person I have ever met... and so willing to take someone like me under his wing.

"I have seen Fred a couple times each year, and visited him in the hospital a few times over the last couple of years. He was starting to spend more time in the hospital than not. He had beat his age for the most part, and was still very alert for a man in his 90's. Even at the hospital, he still had his pocket magic to show and a fun joke to share with visitors. He was such a great man - I don't think I could ever express that enough in mere words here.

"I prefer the calm and gentle clown style when dealing with children as opposed to the wild and crazy clowning style... Fred is who I picked that up from. One other thing I learned from Fred, much to my surprise... Mombo was not a goofy clown personality... Fred had that same personality in real life. When I put on my makeup, my personality and voice does not change that much at all... and that has been one of the secrets to my success."

Rick concluded, "So, Fred 'Mombo' Petrick, almost all that I am... I owe to you. Without knowing, you inspired this youngster to follow his dreams - and with your encouragement, showed me how to do it."

Through his performances as Mombo, and his generosity in teaching and encouraging other entertainers, Fred Petrick made an important contribution to our art.

Copyright 2001 by Bruce "Charlie" Johnson

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