To the youngsters in the Los Angeles area who laugh at his sad face and tattered clothes, he is known as Patches the Clown. But under the greasepaint is Will Hutchins, who starred as Tom Brewster from 1957 to 1961 in the ABC-TV Western Sugarfoot.
As part of a government-financed free theater, Hutchins and a group of actors perform free in schools, parks and senior citizen centers. He earns only $900 a month, but the work is steady. “I don’t miss the series. It was going to jail every day,” says Hutchins, 44. “When I walk down the street some people still recognize me as Tom Brewster, but that’s all that is left of that time of my life.”
When Sugarfoot folded, Will was earning $1,000 a week. “My world crashed,” he says. “I had just bought a $4,000 Porsche, but I began to get acquainted with unemployment.”
Hutchins, a native of Los Angeles and a Korean war veteran, didn’t work for two years. He did occasional TV bit parts and co-starred in two short-lived series: Hey, Landlord! and Blondie. Then he read a magazine article about a man who gave up everything to be a clown. “At that time I didn’t have much to give up,” he says. A friend got him a job with a small circus. “We traveled in an old car—an old clown, a young one and me,” says Hutchins. He called himself Patches after his grandmother’s dog. “I remember my first night as a clown. The old clown slapped the makeup on me and sent me out to warm up the kids. I was scared at first. Luckily, I knew some small magic tricks and soon had them laughing. I learned.”
Now divorced from Chris Burnett, Carol’s sister, Hutchins lives alone in a modest house in Hollywood Hills. He insists he isn’t sorry that stardom passed him by. “I don’t have the energy, the push and the drive to succeed,” he confesses. “Besides, I know a lot of stars who don’t seem happy. I would rather clown around and see happiness on the faces of children.”