Jay Meehan: TuTu and his gang of pranksters
As a street scene in those days, we were quite easy pickings for anyone with a great notion. So, when our resident impresario, Terry Jannott, first pitched us with his then-most-recent epiphany, that of a "clown-themed" gang-ski, a quite mischievous grin spread across our collective kisser.
The story of how Terry, or TuTu Janneaux, his nom de guerre, first infiltrated the Ringling Brothers "Captains of Caprice" clown troupe during a circus performance in San Diego has been told often enough to become part of Park City folklore.
What he and his sidekick BoBo Botkins learned that day, after falling in line with the official clowns and following them under the Big Top, was that if you dressed up like a clown, you were a clown.
And so TuTu made it easy for all of us. He rented 100 clown costumes from a purveyor down in Salt Lake, got the Park City Resort onboard to provide free lift passes to those not already holding a season pass, and donated half of the $10 entry fee to the local ski team instantly morphing the entire frolic into a fundraiser.
My, how time flies! It’ll be forty years ago next week since our initial batch of court jesters first descended upon Park City Resort in full costume to cavort en masse upon the slopes, giving birth to what, for a while anyway, would become one of the town’s favorite annual traditions — Clown Day.
The excitement level rose with the sun that late-March dawn during the spring of 1974. Gathering at the Alpine Prospector Lodge, now "Grappa Italian Restaurant," we donned our garb, painted our faces, knocked back a Bloody Mary or two, posed for photos, and trooped off toward our collective on-slope improvisational destiny.
For some, an additional stop was made at the Resort Cafeteria where a friendly breakfast chef would, to further embellish their already dream-quality mindsets, fold clown-provided "exotic desert flora" into their omelets. Judging creative chairlift "dismounts," or, better yet, "pile-ups," would become a relatively frequent pastime.
We careened and caromed and tooted our own horns. We laughed and roared and romped and honked, all the while trying our level best to make fools of ourselves. Word had it, we succeeded no worries, there!
A story appearing in the next edition of The Newspaper, a then competitor that would later merge with The Park Record, stated that "the sight of 49 clowns, four hobos, a shah, and a ringmaster caused many a Saturday night party-goer to swear off the bottle."
Covert whipped-cream attacks were also reported. As were various guerrilla applications of old favorites like the "whoopee cushion," the rubber chicken, the "bang" pistol, and the spring-loaded snakes-in-a-can.
Even resort staff got into the act with more than a few lift operators and ski patrollers donning Groucho Marx glasses by afternoon. Not that he had to, but TuTu did put the word out that the "Clown Credo" that day included treating all resort employees with the utmost respect — a tradition that continued for as long as TuTu and the original core of Clown Day revelers remained on the slopes.
All things must change, however, and Clown Day was no exception. By the early ’80s, both the demographic and attitude of the participating clown troupe began to transform. Respect, as an ongoing ethic, waned. On-mountain decks began getting trashed and regular customers insulted. Finally, the point arrived where the Resort removed its support and costumed clowns were no longer welcome on the mountain.
For a while, some just filled backpacks with their garb and got their game faces on once up the mountain. Others attempted to restart the tradition at ParkWest and Brianhead. But, with TuTu running restaurants on the left coast and remnants of the original tribe losing interest, a local void appeared on Planet Tomfoolery, one that would last for over a decade.
Upon TuTu’s repatriation to the Wasatch, however, the original clown vibe began to rise from the ashes. Changes at both the resort and among Clown Nation, itself, brought on a new mindset. April Fools’ Day at the Resort once again began featuring on-slope impromptu clown-fashion shows. Colors and smiles were back in vogue! Pranks and tomfoolery hadn’t really gone anywhere.
Although he left us in a cultural lurch to go to that three-ring-circus in the sky several years back, the spirit of TuTu Janeaux and the Park City he so joyously helped form lives on! To many of us, he remains our patron saint of mirth and wit and taking April Fool’s Day to the next level. What a beautiful cat! We miss him madly!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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