From today's (May 25) Detroit Free Press online editionRicky the Clown made generations of kids laugh
Family friend fondly recalls the amazing life of a Detroit legend
BY TOM PANZENHAGEN
FREE PRESS DEPUTY SPORTS EDITOR
For a kid growing up in Detroit in the 1960s, it was better than going to the circus or the zoo. That's how I remember my family's visits to the home of Ricky the Clown.
Ricky -- born Irvin Romig -- died Sunday at age 90. It boggles the mind to think how many kids he made laugh in a lifetime of clowning. I was one of those kids, but luckier than most, because Irvin and my dad, Richard Panzenhagen, were best friends. They grew up under the same roof on Mt. Elliott in Detroit.
By 1960, my family had moved to the east side of Detroit; Irvin, his wife, Rose, and son, Chris, had moved to the faraway reaches of West 10 Mile Road. Driving to Southfield, a veritable wilderness in those days, was akin to driving Up North -- the Lodge Expressway wasn't even finished yet.
The Romigs' ranch-style home was across the street from WXYZ-TV's (Channel 7) Broadcast House, where Irvin performed on such programs as "The Ricky the Clown Show" and "Action Theater."
While their house was comfortable, the backyard was amazing. It was the biggest one I'd ever seen and, believe it or not, a llama lived back there. It didn't do much, but how many people do you know who have a llama in the backyard?
Irvin had go-karts for us kids to ride, and he'd haul grownups around in a contraption that resembled a paddy wagon hooked up to a tractor.
The basement was a kid's delight, a storehouse of props that had been used in the act over the years -- everything from toy guns to musical instruments to a gorilla outfit. The best part of any visit, though, was Irvin himself, who would slide easily into his Ricky persona to entertain guests.
I'll never forget his endless supply of gags and one-liners, or his over-the-top version of "Mammy." Mostly I'll remember the joy Irvin got from entertaining others. His laughter was infectious.
Ricky the Clown was inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame in 2001, alongside the likes of Emmett Kelly and Red Skelton. Yet it's fair to say that Irvin Romig didn't achieve real stardom. His greatest legacy will be that he made generations of kids laugh. Luckily, I was one of those kids, and I had a front-row seat.