Looking Back: Milky the Clown

Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 30, 2017

Hate scary clowns? Then the Birmingham Museum has a treat for you. Milky the Clown was a local legend known for his magic, not for luring children into a sewer system.    

Clare Cummings, in character as Milky the Clown, entertained kids in metro Detroit from 1950 to 1967. Cummings, who grew up in and lived in Birmingham, began practicing magic at the age of 12 and performed in his first professional show at the age of 17 in 1929 at the Baldwin Public Library.

In 1950, Cummings was approached by a WJBK producer who was looking for a children’s show host and was charmed by Cummings’ magic skills, gap-toothed smile and gentle nature. Later that year, Twin Pines Dairy approached the station looking to produce a two-hour children’s show with movies, cartoons and a magic clown. Milky was born. Cummings designed the distinctive makeup himself, and his wife sewed the costume, designed after the clown from the opera “Pagliacci.”

The show premiered on Dec. 16, 1950, and became an instant hit. Originally shot without a studio audience, the show quickly switched to a live crowd, and tickets were sold out two years in advance.  In 1955, the show moved to WXYZ, home of Soupy Sales, and then to WWJ in 1958.

In 1964, Cummings left the show to devote more time to his family and full-time job, letting another performer step into the iconic makeup and costume until 1967. Occasionally, Cummings would still make appearances as Milky, including his farewell performance in 1992 at Oakland Mall.

Kids loved the show, and so did Twin Pines Dairy. During the show’s run, Twin Pines saw its milk orders and delivery routes more than triple. All sorts of promotional materials were created with Milky’s face and the Twin Pines logo on it, including this button a Birmingham resident bought at an estate sale at Cummings’ home after his death in 1994.

Remember, the magic word is Twin Pines!

 — Caitlin Donnelly, museum assistant, at the Birmingham Museum