Back When They Bucked with Larry Clayman

by Ruth Nicolaus

Larry Clayman comes from a long line of rodeo clowns. He is third in the line of Claymans, including his daddy, Bill, and his granddaddy, Stanley, who were in the business of making rodeo fans laugh and protecting bull riders from angry bulls.
Clayman, who was chosen as the 1973 National Finals Rodeo bullfighter, was born in 1941 and “raised up” in the Missouri Ozarks, in the southwest part of the state. He worked his first rodeo in Mansfield, Mo., with his grandad at the age of 13. For two performances, he got paid twenty bucks, and “I thought, my gosh, I’ll never see another poor day,” he laughed.
Larry had already signed up for the Marine Corps when he was approached at an amateur rodeo in Okmulgee, Okla., by a legend in the rodeo world. World champion Jim Shoulders walked up to him, asking if he would clown rodeos for him. It “about floored” the barrelman to have the legend standing in front of him, but he had to decline, as his commitment was to the Marines came first. Shoulders told him about the rodeos held at Camp Pendleton in California, and that he should meet a Colonel who was working at Pendleton.
When Larry got out of boot camp and was assigned to Pendleton, he got to meet Colonel Ace Bowen, the man Shoulders had told him about. That acquaintance led to Larry meeting one of old original stock contractors in California, Andy Jauregui, an immigrant Basque sheep herder-turned contractor who was also the 1931 world champion steer roper. Andy owned J Spear Rodeo Co., and hired Larry to work his first professional rodeo. His dad and granddad had only worked amateur rodeos, but after being hired by Andy, Larry never worked another amateur. It was in Bishop, Calif., and he worked alongside Slim Pickens.
Larry clowned rodeos at Camp Pendleton, and then worked a lot of rodeos in southern California for Jauregui.
At the  end of his four years in the Marines, he was stationed in Washington, D.C., at Marine Corps Headquarters, with top secret clearance, working for generals and colonels. He became acquainted with Howard Harris, Cowtown Rodeo, and began working his weekly rodeos in New Jersey.
While he was in D.C., Jim Shoulders was putting on a bi-weekly rodeo in Leesburg, Va., on a polo field. Larry clowned for him, as well as for other stock contractors up and down the East Coast: Foy and Reynolds, among others, in Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Delaware, all over.  He worked for stock contractors across the country: Cotton Rosser, Harry Vold, the Alsbaughs, Keslers, Suttons, and Korkows,
After discharge from the Marines in 1965, he went back to California. Cotton Rosser’s Flying U Rodeo Co. and Any Jauregui’s J Spear combined to make the Golden State Rodeo Co., one of the biggest in the business. He clowned and fought bulls for them, which was a great thing, he said. “They had more rodeos than anybody, and kept me busy.”
Larry wasn’t working exclusively on the coasts. Throughout his career, which spanned three decades, he worked some of the biggest rodeos in North America: the Calgary Stampede, the National Western in Denver, Madison Square Gardens, the Cow Palace, the National High School Finals, the Indian National Finals, the College National Finals, and, in 1973, the National Finals Rodeo, which he worked with Jerry Olson
as the funnyman and Tommy Lucia
as barrelman.
Back in those days, the bullfighter and rodeo clowns were one and the same; the sport hadn’t evolved to where different people do each job. Larry was proud of his roles and loved doing both of them. “I was considered a good bullfighter, and took a lot of pride in that,” he said. “I loved to fight bulls. It was fun, exciting, and a challenge. And yet I loved to make people laugh.” He credits his grandpa with that trait. “It was natural for him to make people laugh.”
Larry was best known for his chimpanzee, Todo. He bought Todo in 1967 when he was six months old. For the next fifteen years, Todo traveled the rodeo road with Larry, making people laugh everywhere. One of his first acts was as a “doctor.” Larry would dress Todo in a white uniform with a red cross, with a red cross on his bag. Larry would be “down” from losing a shootout with the other rodeo clown, and his help would drive an “ambulance” into the arena, with Todo in it. Todo would jump out of the ambulance with his bag, stethoscope dragging on the ground, and bring the house down. He would give Larry CPR, jump on top of him, and make the monkey sound – “ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh.”  Todo loved it. “He could hear the crowd roaring,” Larry said. “He got the biggest kick out of it.”

Larry bullfighting 01 Sue at the 1973 NFR, Oklahoma City, OK – Gustafson Rodeo Photography
San Diego, CA 1973, Thunder, Todo and Blaze – Foxy Photo
arry steer wrestling in Springville, 1993 – Foxy Photo
ull Fighting Championship, Rapid City, SD 1979. (left to right) Red Stegall, Wick Peth, Jon Taylor, Skipper Voss, Miles Hair, Bob Robertson, kneeling Larry Clayman, Kelly LaCosta, little girl is Amy Noe – Johnny’s Photo
George Doak, Larry Clayman, and Jon Taylor at Gold Card Reunion in Las Vegas – photo courtesy of the family

Todo also Roman rode a team of horses, slapping one of the horses on the backside, throwing him off. As the horses made the circle around the arena, Todo would tumble across the circle and get back on.
Todo was Larry’s main act, but he had others like a poodle named Squirrely Shirley who had “beatcha” bugs… scratch in one place and they “beatcha” to a new spot. He had a border collie act, and had trained horses that laid down, sat up, bucked him off, counted, and, while they napped together, stole the blanket off of Larry.
One of his greatest honors was being part of a rodeo tour in Europe in 1970. It was organized by Buster Ivory, and the group, called Rodeo Far West, performed in Italy, Switzerland and France. Larry took Todo as one of his acts, and  also drove truck, hauling equipment and livestock. The tour lasted three and a half months. World champion bull rider Freckles Brown was also part of the tour, and Larry got to be good friends with him during that time.
In 1977, Larry decided to put on a pro rodeo in Springfield, Mo, and then he began a pro rodeo in Branson, Mo., six nights a week, all summer long. Harry Vold and Jim Shoulders were hired as stock contractors, and Jerry Olson came with his dress acts and worked as the barrelman. He got so busy producing the rodeos that his clown/bullfighter career slowly phased out.
And Todo had to be put to sleep for safety reasons in 1980. That was the final straw. “I didn’t intend to quit clowning, but it broke the straw in me a little bit,” he said. I didn’t have the umph, the fire in my belly, to go back on the road.”
And he wanted to live a normal life. He announced a few rodeos, but began trucking as his second career. He’d driven truck as a kid, and loved being around them. At the age of 75, he’s still driving. “Everybody asks me why I don’t retire. Heck, I don’t want to. Somebody’s gotta keep America rolling,” he joked.
Larry had a son, Stan, who died in an auto accident, and Stan has two sons, Joseph and Isaac, who live in Arkansas. Larry has three other kids: Kimberly, Matthew, and Michael, and five grandchildren. He and his wife Renee have been married twenty years.
He remembers fondly his rodeo days, and has no regrets about his work. “I never dreamed I’d fight bulls at the (National) Finals. I never dreamed I’d have that kind of success. I loved the rodeo business and it was so good to me.” He met a lot of people, went a lot of places, and had some unbelievable experiences.
He worked rodeos in nearly every state, he remembers, and one thing he is proud of is that he never missed a performance due to injury or illness. “I take pride in that,” he said, even though he suffered broken arms, legs, and had teeth knocked out. “You just keep working.”

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