Remembering Dorothy Miller

By Richard Snowberg

WCA Life Member Dorothy Miller passed away June 25th, 2013 at her daughter’s home in Orland Park, Illinois. At the age of 94 she had a full life of giving to others and sharing her love of clowning. She had a strong impact on many clowns both famous and those that were just putting on the greasepaint for the very first time.

And for newer WCA members who never met Dorothy here is some background information on this great lady. Dorothy Miller was the 1995 World Clown Association’s Clown of the Year and in 2001 she received the Midwest Clown Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1988 she was Chicagoland’s Senior Citizen of the Year and was inducted into the Chicago Senior Citizen’s Hall of Fame. She taught clowning at Chicago’s Daley College for over fifteen years. Dorothy was honored by having her character, Blab-I-Gail depicted on a Jim Howle oil painting for the Red Nose Philosophers collector set of prints. She held the office of education director for the WCA, and was the person instrumental in getting the Bo Dino Scholarship program established for this organization. Likewise she was a strong instigator in having the WCA introduce a Junior Joey program. On two occasions her clown character’s photo as Blab-I-Gail was featured on the cover of Clowning Around magazine. She was a wonderful clown who, however, always wanted the focus the limelight on others.

Dorothy was a fund-raiser and strong advocate who worked tireless for the International Clown Hall of Fame during its formative years in Delavan, Wisconsin. She was a founding member and official of the Clown Guild of Metropolitan Chicago and for decades wrote monthly columns in their Walk-A-Round newsletter.

Dorothy attended the first Univ. of Wisconsin-La Crosse Clown Camp program in 1981 and shortly thereafter became a staff member. Together with Betty Cash they became the longest serving members of the Clown Camp faculty. She was honored in 2008 for her contributions to this program.

Dorothy was like a second mother to me, and I dare say, to hundreds of other clowns. This fine lady had clown friends from around the world. And many of these friends have submitted remembrances and stories about their times with her throughout the past thirty to forty years.

My thoughts & feelings about Dorothy: I loved her! The very first time that I met her was at her home where she was hosting a tea party, white gloves, hats, little sandwiches and lots of tea. She was so warm and loving that I felt at ease in seconds of our meeting – I am not sure what I had expected but I was scared – I had heard so much about her. Dorothy made me feel as though we had known each other forever. At the end of the tea party, she gave me a tour of her home and pressed gifts into my arms as I left. Dorothy also introduced me to Corn Beef and Cabbage – ICK! I still remember how she laughed at the faces I made as I tried to eat it. I ended up ordering something else. Leah Tango Estrin

Dorothy was so easy to talk to. She knew so much about clowning and life. Tango loved her as much as I did! (Thank you for having her at Clown Camp.) I continued to talk to her on the phone and the occasional written note. I made her a T-shirt quilt composed of Clown Camp Blab-a-Gail shirts and she loved it. I miss her. I never got to tell her how much I loved her, how special her friendship was.

If its possible to make Heaven a happier place…. it certainly is now with Dorothy! She shared her kindness worldwide…with all ages and all genders. In the 30 years I knew her, I never heard her say…. I will get back to you with that or give me some time…. she helped you or listened to you right then and there. She was the total package! Dorothy you will be so missed! Thank you for your love and support over the years. Jeff Mr. J. B. Milligan McMullen

Dorothy was instrumental in promoting the establishment of a WCA Jr. Joey Program. She gave me a great deal of help and inspiration. She was always there for the underdog. She cared so much for those little ones. She always donated to their cause. Dorothy always had a little extra time and funds to give to the Jr. Joeys and I love her for that.
When my daughter “Miki”, first became a clown and was in competition, Dorothy was very kind and helpful to her. She took her time and worked with her, which a Mother can’t easily do – they just don’t listen to Moms. Her bow was tied in the back and Dorothy, in no uncertain words, told me to ” get her a foam bow. She will do much better in competition!” Ruth Angell Matteson-WCA’s Jr. Joey Program Creator

I don’t think anyone could have lived a fuller life then Dorothy has, mostly devoted to the wellbeing and service of others. She really enjoyed making life happy and interesting to all she met. I am so glad Val, Joe and I had a home stay with her on my first visit to Clown Camp. She pulled out all the stops to give us a whistle stop tour of Chicago in the taxi owned and driven by an ex-policeman – much to Joe’s delight – he even took us to Al Capone’s house and showed us the derelict mall where the Blues Brothers car chase took place, and not forgetting the more cultural places and view points! She provided us with marvelous hospitality to us foreigners. Arthur Vercoe Pedlar-WCA past president from Southport, England

In hearing the news of Dorothy Miller’s passing, like all of us that knew her, our hearts were saddened. I know that she is happy to be with Fritz, but to us it was the sadness of knowing that this lady of great character, dedication and love for everyone she met will be such a void that it will take a while for the clown community to regroup and to carry on. She was a lady that believed strongly in her convictions and said what she thought, trying to put her remarks in as gentle a manner as she knew how, but at the end of the conversation, you knew exactly where she stood on the subject. She was a lady who would listen to you, process the information, and tell you whether she thought it was right or wrong. Her love for Clown Camp was unequaled, and she did everything she knew to protect that institution and to help build it to the greatness that it achieved. Yes, I will get over the hurt of losing Dorothy, but the great memories of having the privilege of knowing her will be far greater than the losses. Take care, Dorothy; I’ll see you in the Alley one day. Leon Buttons McBryde

Everyone knows that Blab-I-Gail has a special clown name that reflects the fact that she really loves to talk. A few years ago, Blabs and I arranged to share a room for a convention and it was great fun as we spent a whole lot of time late in the evening chatting – often into the wee hours when we would finally fall asleep. One night we had talked and were very tired, we fell asleep, and soon after that a fire alarm in our hotel went off. Quickly getting on slippers and bathrobes, we made our way to the exit stairs and walked down several flights and out the door, which closed and locked. And there we waited…and waited…and waited. Time passed, we heard a lot of commotion around the front of the building…and we continued to wait as we were in bathrobes and slippers and looked pretty scraggly. There was never an all clear for the building and about an hour later, in the middle of the night, it must have been quite a sight to see these two old ladies walking all the way around the building to get to the front door and into the lobby, carrying purses and dressed in bathrobes and floppy slippers. Fortunately there was no one we knew around with a camera or it would have made a great blackmail photo. Janet Jellybean Tucker-WCA past president

I first met Dorothy many years ago at Clown Camp in Wisconsin. Since then I had many occasions to visit with her at clown gatherings and on the telephone. I’ll always remember our first meeting. I was attending my first time at Clown Camp and was introduced to her where we immediately became friends. She attended many of the WCA conventions and would always be one that attendees would seek out to say hello.
Dorothy had a wealth of knowledge about clowning and willing departed that knowledge to all those wanting to improve themselves. If anyone wanted to be critiqued about makeup, skits or anything they were doing, she would certainly provide help. Her honesty was something you could always be depended upon. I can’t think of anyone who approached her that didn’t get a fair and knowledgeable critique.
There will be several who will write about Dorothy in the magazine. I’m confident each one will express their loss at her passing. She will be missed by everyone who knew her. Those who never had the opportunity to know her have certainly missed meeting one of the nicest and friendliest persons you could ever know. I personally feel I’ve lost a friend. Myron Softy Jackson-WCA Past President 1997-98
Dorothy was a person who not only loved being a clown but loved clowns. Any clown coming to the Chicago area could always find a place to stay at Dorothy’s. She was always willing to help a new clown and support all of us.
When I first told her that I was thinking about running for Vice President of WCA, she sat me down and told me all the reasons that I should do it. I am going to miss her at the monthly Clown Guild meetings. She was always in the front row. She had trouble seeing and hearing but she was with the people she loved, her clowns. Bob Kiwi Neil-WCA Vice President

In the mid 1980’s Al Fast was teaching a class on make-up application, and Dorothy Miller was assisting Al by working with individual students. I decided to pull a prank and applied really horrible make-up in my room. It was really bad and I even outlined the mouth with my finger (about 1/2 inch outline) and didn’t powder (I was a grease ball). I put on some old mismatched clothes and an old sport coat. Put some make-up in my pocket and headed for the class. I took a seat near the back of the room. Dorothy was working up and down the stairs on my side. As she approached I asked “Would you help me with my make-up?” She said, “OH God”. She didn’t recognize me immediately. After a brief moment, she realized who it was…and we all had a wonderful laugh about it. Dorothy and her late husband Fritz were wonderful, gracious people. She was very loving by everyone and was always a treasure to be around. I’m sure we will all retain many fond memories of Blab-I-Gail. Thank you Dorothy for being a part of my life. Barry Bonzo DeChant-WCA Past President

Dorothy Miller was the genius and heart behind the character Blab-I-Gail. That character was the face that launched a thousand smiles. Not really it was more like a million. Her zany persona created joy in the hearts of the young and old, simple or sophisticated, and reached across cultural fences. She could have inspired the phrase, “To know her was to love her”. She never met a stranger and would converse with anyone who would
sit and listen as she blabbed. Thus her name, Blab-I-Gail. She was a talker for sure and with a voice that was crusty yet full of laughter. She was opinionated and didn’t care who knew it. Her opinions mattered though. And, not just to her but to those who were fortunate to know her. Many times her opinions were asked for by her students and peers. Sometimes they weren’t. And when they were not asked for they were given as freely as a grandmother to her grandchild. She was a dear friend to many because she accepted people into her heart. It was a big heart, as big as her many friends needed and always room for more.

“Blabs” was a lover of the art of clowning and did so much for so many who would choose to put on the red
nose and the big shoes. She was skilled in teaching the “First of Mays” the tedious job of creating and applying make up and could be caught boldly scolding a poor job. Most all of her friends can remember hearing the
gruff voice boom over the beginning makeup room ………Go take that crap off of your face and we will do it right! Come to think of it she might have made a good drill sergeant. But her growl had no bite because she would take the time and patience till she felt the novice student knew how to do it right. And a sense of pride
was earned as the student would eventually pass inspection.

Dorothy was a giver. That is a rare breed it seems like today and how we all will miss her love, laughter, encouragement, and generosity. No one who ever met Dorothy went away empty. She was full of life even when her life was almost over. After Clown Camp officially ended I got to see very little of Dorothy. It is a long way from Crossville, Tennessee to Chicago. But on the occasion when passing through Chicago I always knew the door to Blabs’ home and heart was always open. Sadly I was able to walk through those doors far less than I would have liked.

I can join a multitude of friends, and not all of them clowns, who say my life has been so blessed to have known her. That wonderful, gruff and hearty laugh that no one could claim but Dorothy Miller will forever spark a smile in my heart and bring out the child that lives in me because of knowing this dear saint of grease paint. Good-By Blabs……………..Oh how we all loved you. Dave Mr Magish Mitchell

During my first visit to Clown Camp way back in 1992 I met so many great people and learned so much from them. I can still remember one specific session where we as “new student clowns” could “parade” in costume and make-up in front of a panel of seasoned clowns. I did so and two of those seasoned clowns were Betty Cash and Dorothy Miller-who was kind enough to be “professionally diplomatic” about my clown image and specifically about my clown wig. At that time, and even now, you could not find any good or quality clown costumes or accessories in South Africa, and my clown wig was nothing other than a scary orange afro thing. As I walked away, Dorothy was there to suggest that I came to her Taking Care of Your Wig class. I attended and indeed learned how to take care of my wig. To this day I, as well as my wife and daughter all take care of our wigs the way I learned from Dorothy Miller.

When Dorothy first met my daughter Lisa-Mari at Clown Camp 2005 she made her feel so welcome and always greeted me with such a warm and great big hug. Dorothy belated thanks for what you taught me and helped me with in becoming a much better clown than what I was before meeting you. Dorothy will live on in our hearts from far away South Africa. Piet Bubbles Nortje-South African clown

The first time I became aware of Dorothy Miller, I was thoroughly intimidated. It had to be in the mid-80’s and I was attending my first clown convention. As best as I can recall, it was the Midwest Clown Association convention held in Arlington, IL and I entered make up competition as green as a newbie could be. “Veteran” contestants waiting in line offered varied opinions about the judges they were about to face and they told me the toughest of all was a Dorothy Miller. A day or two later at the conclusion of the awards banquet with my rather dismal scoresheet in hand, I sucked up as much courage as I could and approached Dorothy. She had taken the time and trouble to write comments on the scoresheet. To my surprise (and relief) she couldn’t have been more gracious and generous with her time. That night, she set me on a path of improvement and implanted in me a desire to do better next time. And I think that’s a large part of her legacy: helping people be better than they thought they could be.

Over time, Dorothy and I became good friends. I found myself frequently in Chicagoland on business and Dorothy invited me to attend Clown Guild and Nirome meetings. She opened her home to me for occasional “sleepovers” or just a good home cooked meal when I grew tired of motels and restaurants. She became a trusted advisor passing along dating advice (I was single at the time), guiding me thru the labyrinth of politics (yes Virginia, there is politics in clowning) and general life advice. She and her husband Fritz became surrogate parents for a time in my life when I sorely needed them and for that I’ll always be grateful.

Dozens of people can probably tell similar stories to a greater or lesser degree. Through her years with the various clown clubs, national associations, Richard Snowberg’s Clown Camp and conventions too numerous to mention, Dorothy touched many lives and we’re all better for it. A lot of what I accomplished in clowning – and in life – I can attribute to Dorothy’s influence. God speed Dorothy and thank you. Bill Lozon-WCA past president

I always felt close to Blabs. She kept saying there is always a cup of coffee and a bed waiting for you in my house whenever you drive across the country. I took her up on it once, and Blabs and I had many cups of coffee and she told me story after story of her years in the clown world. I was able to use some of her stories in my long running Hospital Clown Newsletter. Dorothy was a caring clown that was a very recognized clown in Chicagoland hospitals. Blabs was a wonderful woman and I’m so glad I became one of her friends. Shobhana Shobi Schwebke

I, like many others who have written about Dorothy, have benefited from Dorothy’s knowledge and assistance. The feedback I received from her when she judged me in competition at the 1989 WCA convention was very helpful and appreciated. She continually provided words of encouragement. Although she was know for her “telling it as it is” as, “get all of that stuff off of your face and let’s start over,” her comments were straightforward, sincere, good for clowning and helpful to the individual. It truly was great having Dorothy in my clown life. Lee Juggles Mullally-WCA past president

Chelle here are some short quotes for your consideration
Dorothy had a wonderful heart that came through in her excellence in clowning. However I most fondly remember her for her warm kindness. Norm Normondo Barnhart- WCA Marketing Director

Dorothy Miller-Blab-I-Gail or Blabs, so matter how you say her name it is spelled with just four letters: L-O-V-E. She was a shining spirit and an inspiration to one and all. Dorothy is all heart, and all love, and it’s been an honor and pleasure to have been part of her universal hug to humanity. Steve TJ Tatters Smith

Dorothy Miller was a role model for literally thousands of clown wannabe’s who attended her classes on clowning in the Chagoland area and throughout the United States. She was a matriarch-the Grand Dame of Clowning. Paula Stickers Biggio-Former WCA education director

Many people pass through our lives during our lifetime, but not many people actually stop to touch our hearts. Dorothy was one of those people that truly touched my heart. I love you Blabs. Rick Patches Zaborac-WCA past president

I will always look at you as that wonderful angel that the Lord sent down to me. God can only be with you and bless you for all the love you have given, not just to me but to everyone. Jackie LeClaire