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Korky Wants a Job, Just for a Laugh

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

It’s not like Abe Goldstein’s a First of May or a gillipper or a Bozo--old circus terms for a rookie clown.

“I’ve been clownin’ for 80 years,” growled Goldstein, 90, who may well be the last surviving member of the Keystone Kops, as well as the oldest performing clown.

Of course, Korky the Komic Kop, as he’s known professionally, has modified his act. “When I was 70, the doctor told me no more ‘bumps’ (pratfalls, flips, etc.),” he said.

And he’s ceased firing the gun he used on canine partner Teddy in circuses--poor Teddy would yelp and fall to the ground as the audience gasped, and then, as Korky went to fetch the body, the little terrier would leap up and bite him on the behind.

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Teddy’s long since passed on for real, but Korky still has his shabby Kop uniform, constable’s hat, badge and dependable (if drooping) cloth billy club.

Something else, too.

“I still got timin’,” the Komic Kop snapped. “Some of these clowns today, they just dress funny and can’t do anything else.”

Which brings us to Korky’s lament. Here he is, ready to go on patrol, and he can’t find a job. “I’m pretty well set, but a paycheck now and then wouldn’t hurt,” the clown grumped.

A Paying Gig

Korky, a small, wiry man with most of his hair, hasn’t had a paying gig since he was 85. That year, a chain of furniture stores in Pittsburgh hired him to cavort for a week. He doesn’t count the senior citizens commercial he did in Dallas last year because all he got was a free round-trip plane ticket.

“One problem is there aren’t a lot of circuses left,” Korky said, breaking into a story of how one clown lost his wife because she found out he married her only so that he could get a lower berth on the circus train (singles got the upper berths).

Whatever, Korky doesn’t sit around his house in Hollywood, waiting for an offer. He doesn’t even have a telephone answering machine.

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‘I’d Go Crazy’

“I’m out of here by 10 most mornings, see friends, do something,” said Korky, whose wife of 44 years died last year. “Otherwise, I’d go crazy.”

He perked up as the mailman arrived at the front door. An audience! “Here’s your mail, Mr. Goldstein,” the mailman said.

“Forget about the mail ,” Korky cracked, returning to vaudeville for the moment. “How about a fee-male ?”

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The mailman smiled and so did the Komic Kop.

He may be out of work temporarily, but Korky still performs for free at hospitals and boys’ clubs a couple of times a year, as he did countless times with circuses.

“It’s great to make kids laugh,” he said, “and they still laugh at the same stuff kids did years ago.”

He’s also the mascot for the Cauliflower Alley Club, a troupe of bent-eared former boxers and wrestlers who gather for lunch and laughs every week in Hollywood.

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Korky qualifies because in 1916 a San Diego promoter paid him $10 to fight while dressed like Charlie Chaplin, fake mustache, derby hat and all. “The crowd thought it was funny, but the other guy (the opponent), a big Greek, got mad and knocked me out,” the Komic Kop said, unamused.

Began as 10-Year-Old

The way Korky looks at it, he’s been clownin’ since he was a 10-year-old on a Cincinnati street corner, improvising stunts while selling papers. The first time a customer flipped him a nickel tip, Korky was hooked on show business.

“I’d go in front of a theater after the show was over and say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen! You’re gonna have a free show!’ ” Korky said, barking out the spiel as though it were 1906 again. “Afterward, I’d pass the hat. It was called ‘buskin’.’

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“I was always able to do contortions--you know, put my feet up on my shoulders,” he continued. Then he leaned forward and confided straight-faced: “Can’t do that now.”

But he still gets around well. The only time he’s used a cane was during his period as a Charlie Chaplin imitator 65 or so years ago (“every town had one then”).

That was after his stint as a $5-a-week tumbler for the Don Carlos Dog and Pony Show, a wagon troupe featuring four ponies and 20 dogs, with a couple of monkeys thrown in.

Memory Is Sharp

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Korky, his memory far sharper than the faded print of his clippings, paused in his recollections to watch a man in a red jacket park a car across the street from his house.

“There’s a restaurant two blocks away,” Korky explained. “People go there and pay a buck fifty to have their cars parked on the street. On the street!” Ah, the possibilities, if Mack Sennett were still around.

Not that Korky ran around with Sennett, creator of the pie-in-the-face, car-wrecking Kops of Keystone.

“I was a (Kop) extra,” Korky said, “not one of the big shots like Ford Sterling or Chester Conklin. It was easy gettin’ a job as an extra if you didn’t mind doin’ knockabouts (stunts). I walked up to a director one day and said, ‘Usin’ anybody?’ And he said, ‘What do you do?’ And I said, ‘Bumps.’ He knew what that meant and hired me.”

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$2.50 a Day and Carfare

Back then, in the century’s teens, Kop extras took their lumps for $2.50 a day, plus a box lunch and 10 cents carfare. “Sometimes you’d work days and all your scenes would get cut out,” the Komic Kop said glumly.

But the job gave him the idea for the spinoff role that became his trademark.

Over the next 60 years, Korky would romp about at circuses and fairs with such co-stars as Teddy, the not-so-dead dog; a trained hippopotamus that would bite him on the fanny, and a chicken (“from Peru, Indiana”) that would jump onto his head.

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“It’s been a great life, a great life,” he said.

So what if he’s hit a little dry spell? It happens to every performer.


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