Grahek fell in love with clowning when he went to circuses on the Cadillac fairgrounds where he grew up. He was a huge fan of Emmett Kelly and Red Skelton of radio, film and television fame.
“I portrayed my character after (Skelton’s) Freddie the Freeloader, the tramp clown that lived in the city dump,” Grahek said. “I’m copyrighted and registered my show name and my face pattern.”
At age 19, Grahek took a job with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus.
“I worked there for a month in ‘52, and then I got a call from a guy called Uncle Sam and he incorporated me into the United States Army,” he said. “I was in the battle of Pork Chop Hill, one of the worst battles of Korea. It was a hard, hard battle. I got through it okay, I was real fortunate. I’d seen a lot of the guys in my company, not only wounded, but dead, just plain dead.”
When Grahek returned home, he continued to clown, sold VW beetles for his day job, and raised a family.
“One son is a U.S. lieutenant colonel in the Army, another is on the crisis team for the FBI in Quantico, Virginia, and my daughter is a nurse in Detroit,” he said. “Where in the hell did I go wrong? Not one turned out to be a clown!”
Grahek said he’s now down to 42 parades a year,and gets paid $50 to $200 for each. “You gotta love this type of job, or you’d quit a long time ago,” he said.
He clowned for the National Cherry Festival for 29 years, but had dropped it in favor of a parade in Ludington.
“This year I had to dump Ludington when they asked me to be grand marshal,” he said. “This is a big honor; it’s the biggest event in Michigan.”