Clowning Around: After 32 years, Fifi plans to retire

Sep 16 2013 - 6:10am

Images

KELLY KEITER/Standard-Examiner
 Gayle Hasler Cook, aka Fifi the Magic Clown, fluffs her hair at her home in Sunsent while she shares memories of her 32 years of working as a clown
KELLY KEITER/Standard-Examiner
Fifi the Magic Clown has decided to retire to her busy, regular life as Gayle Hasler Cook. Here she applies her clown makeup for the last time.
KELLY KEITER/Standard-Examiner
 Gayle Hasler Cook, aka Fifi the Magic Clown, who has entertained young and old alike for 32 years, ties some balloon animals at her home in Sunset.
KELLY KEITER/Standard-Examiner
 Gayle Hasler Cook, aka Fifi the Magic Clown, fluffs her hair at her home in Sunsent while she shares memories of her 32 years of working as a clown
KELLY KEITER/Standard-Examiner
Fifi the Magic Clown has decided to retire to her busy, regular life as Gayle Hasler Cook. Here she applies her clown makeup for the last time.
KELLY KEITER/Standard-Examiner
 Gayle Hasler Cook, aka Fifi the Magic Clown, who has entertained young and old alike for 32 years, ties some balloon animals at her home in Sunset.

SUNSET -- Fifi the Magic Clown put on the grease paint, bright-red wig and polka-dotted dress for what may be the last time.

Fifi, who is Gayle Hasler Cook, is retiring after 32 years of tying balloon creations, performing with animals, painting faces and generally bringing laughter into other people's lives.

"It's time to let Fifi go," Cook said, her eyes filling up with tears.

Cook, of Sunset, is 55, and this summer's heat was difficult under the layers of clown clothes, grease paint, skull cap and wig. Her life has changed since she first put on a clown's nose 32 years ago. She works full time in a dental office to pay the bills, because the economy has not been kind to clowns. She also serves as a Relief Society president in her ward for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On top of it all, her husband's daughter called and asked her to keep a date open for a grandchild's birthday party, three months from now.

"That's not typical for a grandma," Cook said.

Cook married Danny Cook when she was 47 and became a mom and grandma at the same time.

Cook said for the past three decades, she has received joy from clowning as she watches people's faces go from grumpy to laughter. She is grateful for all the people who have invited her into their lives.

Years ago, Cook worked as a personal secretary for an executive at a local business. A sales representative, Steve Bauter, came in to see her boss and tied a balloon into an animal for Cook.

"Oh, that is so awesome," Cook said. "I'd never had a tied balloon, and I said that's the neatest thing."

Cook wanted to learn how to make balloon creations for her nieces and nephews.

Bauter told her where to buy a book and balloons, and told her to practice, which she did during her lunch hours.

Then the time came for Fifi to be born. Bauter, who is also Bobo the clown, was scheduled for an event in Salt Lake City. A death in his family had Cook's boss scrambling to find another clown, and he asked Cook to come as a clown and tie balloons.

Cook took on her mother's nickname, "Fifi," as a joke, but it stuck.

Putting on her clown makeup only takes her five to 10 minutes -- now. In the early years, it took her more than an hour to get the grease paint on just right. In the beginning, her costume consisted of a bunch of old clothes -- now it is one she designed and sewed herself.

When the economy was good, Cook had 400 shows booked a year. She also appeared in an episode of "Touched by an Angel."

From the beginning, Cook wanted her shows to be magical. She learned how to do magic tricks with animals, which ranged from doves to pigs to dogs to macaws.

Her magic shows for children always ended with her sharing "magic words" they should use every day. Those words are: "please," "thank you," "I'm sorry" and "I love you." She has received numerous phone calls from children who have told her about their success in using those words.

Clowning has also been a good medicine for her.

"There were days when I've been really sick, but I still got on the grease paint," she said.

Seeing children and adults smile and hearing their laughter were always the best medicine, Cook said.

Sometimes when she arrived at a party or school, children would chant, "Fifi, Fifi," and that "would make me feel like a rock star," she said.

Cook did not cancel a show the night of her mother's funeral. She said seeing people's happy faces helped her get through that day.

One of the best parties Cook entertained at was a birthday party for a 90-year-old woman. The family had paid Cook, and the woman was so happy with the show, she came up to Cook afterward and slipped her a $100 bill. Cook tried to give it back to her, but the woman told her, "This is the happiest day."

Contact reporter Loretta Park at 801-625-4252 or lpark@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaParkSE.

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