Who is this Bozo?
“Many years ago, a mother wrapped her newborn baby in a crazy quilt and — well, here I am — and I’ve been crazy ever since.”
Vance DeBar Colvig was born Sept. 11, 1892.
“Me? I’m from Jay-ville — a little lumber and mining town in Oregon. No special nationalities, just universal — a little of this and that. I always looked like the goof — the typical village clown who was blamed for everything.”
His theatrical career began when he was 4 years old, standing on stage as an extra in a local Christmas pageant. When he was 7, with no mischievous pranks reported, he was best man at his sister’s wedding.
“At age 7, because of too many freckles and my goony antics, I was named ‘Pinto, The Village Clown.’ I was a goofy-looking kid who figured that if people were going to laugh at me, they might as well pay for it. I didn’t know whether I wanted to be a clown, draw cartoons, write, hobo around, or be a musician. So I wrapped it all up and made stew out of it.”
He learned to play a squeaky E-flat clarinet and make funny faces. Everyone laughed.
“It was probably because my eyes crossed naturally when I played it. By the time I was 7, I was marching and clowning in all the parades and local events.”
He was always fascinated with circuses and carnivals, and when he was 13, he somehow made it all the way to Portland. There, until his father retrieved him, he briefly became a carnival clown at the Lewis and Clark Exposition.
“My future was a serious matter with dad. He wanted me to be a great lawyer or a great baseball player, but after mature deliberation, he got me a job at the Medford Depot.”
He spent his time drawing cartoons on the loading dock, and when Pinto’s boss eventually caught him, he told him he was working on the railroad and not on a comic strip for a newspaper.
“I objected to the way he ran down my art and I quit. Next day I was en route to Portland to take a job with a traveling band that breathed its last in Pendleton a few days later.”
It was a cowboy clown band, and after it folded, Pinto hopped a couple of freight trains, heading south.
“I had to move around on the under or top side of freight cars, ‘hoboeing’ my way to Corvallis, where I met a lot of my hometown guys.”
Pinto’s brother, Don, was a student at the college (Oregon State) and a player in the school’s band. Don took Pinto to meet the band director, who was excited to learn that Pinto played clarinet.
“He encouraged me to sign up for a course in the art department so I could play in the band. I became an earnest student at the Oregon Agricultural College. Maybe I wasn’t the best in the band, but I was the loudest.”
Pinto still didn’t know who or what he wanted to be. It was college for now, but the future had to be a whole lot better.
That’s all for now folks. Join Pinto and me next week, as we continue Pinto’s journey to Hollywood.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or WilliamMMiller.com.