Saturday, September 02, 2006
Two clowns very near and dear to my heart, Ruth Chaddock and Peggy Williams. From Peggy herself: "It was taken near the animal compound in Long Beach, CA in about 1977".
I met Ruth when she came to Clown College to take plaster casts of all the students' faces so that we could use them to craft our own custom latex noses. I wish that I'd had more of an opportunity to talk with her. A sweeter person you couldn't ask to meet.
I first met Peggy Williams on the floor of Madison Square Garden in 1974 when I was selected to help participate in spec. Peggy held my hand and lead me to another performer who walked me through but I'll never forget standing so close to Prince Paul and Peggy Williams on the floor of the Garden! It was one of the great thrills of my childhood!
Peggy was also among the folks there to meet us and greet us on our first day of Clown College. She was a friend (and great storyteller) during Winter Quarters and while I was on the road. Peggy even sent me a very thoughtful birthday greeting this year that, because of computer trouble, I never got to reply and thank her for. Another very, very sweet person.
As for the photo, given the era that it was taken in I'm wondering if there wasn't some reference to "Laverne and Shirley" in their similar wigs and Ruth's "R" on her sweater. I don't know. Peggy, Ruth, if you're out there please tell us! Inquiring minds want to know!
Friday, September 01, 2006
I'm currently away at the Vermont State Fair from the 1st to the 10th. Then I'll be touring with Circus Royale throughout Upstate New York until the end of September. Despite the fact that we just received hundreds of photos from the Pfening Archive, the unexpected switch from PC to Mac means that I didn't have time to scan those photos before leaving home.
So, if anyone out there has photos (pre-1986) that they would like to share, please send them along to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dime Wilson in his familiar tramp character makeup that he wore for the next 50 years. The bare feet date this photo to be taken in the early 1940's. The costume makes me wonder what his take on the Baseball Gag entailed.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Can anyone identify the clown in this picture? All Bill Strong and I have been able to figure out is that he worked on the Hagenbeck-Wallace show for quite some time. He turns up in other photos from other shows but neither of us can seem to find any info on who he is.
His makeup is usually a little more "Classic American Circus Auguste" (white around the eyes and mouth, outlined in black) and he is usually pictured with a cane, but this is the best photo of him alone that we have.
Photos taken at the Charlie Rivel exhibit at the museum in his birthplace, Cubelles, Spain. You can see Rivels's wigs, shoes, makeup box, his trademark long sweater as well as the guitar and chair for his entree. The costume from the Maria Callas parody hangs on the wall behind them.
The site is terrific. Thanks for putting so much into it.
George L. Fox was a clown star whose image became very well known, and deserves our attention. However the info you pass on contains some errors and stretched interpretation.
Fox couldn't introduce violent slapstick or topical satire to America because they are ancient techniques, often employed. Slapstick before and after Fox clattered in a long line of violent comedy. As for topical satire, it was as old as Greek plays and as recent (before Fox) as 1850s America when it reached a peak of popularity in talking clown Dan Rice, whose spoken and sung "hits on the times" could be much more pointed than Fox's pantomime.
To label Fox "America's First Great Whiteface Clown" means ignoring that nearly all clowns then were whiteface, with great clowns before him. (Considering the clowns of minstrelsy, it's more accurate to say that all clowns were whiteface or blackface.) In the 1800s stage clowns vied for attention with circus clowns, while the leading circus clowns also appeared in winter all-star circuses in big city theaters. (Fox at Barnum's American Museum had nothing to do with circus, because it was strictly a stage show. Barnum had virtually no connection to circus till he was in retirement, when circus men approached him for the use of his name in what would become "Barnum & Bailey".)
The claim for Fox's pioneering role partly relies on our age's bias that 19th-century performing was excessive, full of waving arms and wild faces, needing the "reform" of quieter performers. Fox's silence fits the presumed "reform". However this bias ignores the historical fact of quiet subtlety in earlier performances, and the psychological fact that each age sees itself as an improvement on older ages. (Notice the same bias slapped on circus clowns, that all we do is "cavort" in arm-waving, mugging "antics".)
A related suggestion has been made that an American style of underplaying originated in Fox's deadpan. Any claim that someone pioneered an "American style" of anything is an attention-grabber but usually omits contemporaries and predecessors. As a historian and a performer, I ran across much comedy before Fox that wouldn't have worked without underplaying and deadpan.
Much of the praise comes from "The Age and Stage of George L. Fox" by Laurence Senelick. Though I hesitate to contradict Senelick, a brilliant performance scholar, I believe he made too much of Fox.
Fox's influence is questionable. Though his image became widely known, very few audiences or performers across the country ever saw him perform because he starred mostly in New York, then only one of many centers of performance (Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, etc.). However his NYC base boosted his retroactive stature, for reasons having nothing to do what his clowning. First, our age's New York-centric bias sees NYC performers, present and past, at a pinnacle. Second, as a practical matter of historical research, scholars can access archives in New York easier, making it more likely they'll feature New York-based performers like Fox. Adding to his retroactive appeal is the same romantic allure of James Dean or Janis Joplin, that they, like Fox, died young.
Hope this helps.
David Carlyon, CC '76 [and Ph.D. '93]
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I'll post something just as soon as I learn how.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Emmett Kelly's spotlight gag and Otto Griebling's pie plate come-in may have their origins in the same location. Shorty Flemm (listed as Shorty Flynn in some books) was a fixture on the Ringling show as well as at Shrine circuses for many years. He did a come-in gag similar to Otto's in that he played one side of the arena against the other for their applause. Instead of pie plates, Shorty used a broom and his gag included a bit about being chased by the spotlight.
After Shorty passed away, come-in was done, in similar fashion by Bluch Landolf but without any mention of a spotlight bit. Did two of the best known clown gags of the 20th century actually begin as a single gag by a largely forgotten clown?
Photo by Betty Sheets from John McConnell's book, A History of the Shrine Circus
(in the book EYE-LIGHT Shorty Flemm is reffered to as Shorty Flynn)
"Only a little more than a season ago Shorty Flynn went his way to that final "Happy Hunting Ground".
Shorty Flynn was a real clown. He was one of the last of that great Victorian group.
For many years little Shorty opened the Big Show in Madison Square Garden, NY, clad in realistic policeman uniform, decorated with medals, badges and buttons from many leading cities of the world and from all over our great American cities, of which he was especially proud.
Shorty and his broom always brought cheers as he bravely attempted to outrun the searching spotlight.
Shorty Flynn was featured in all forms of show business. Silent movies and the early talkies knew him as the princely little policeman who actually got his man and who always won the sympathy of the audience. Shorty was also a familiar figure on Broadway and the old Orpheum circuit when vaudeville was really vaudeville and didn't need a W.W. to prove it.
Shorty's last years of show business were confined chiefly to clowning with the Big Show in New York and Boston and for Hollywood where Shorty admitted honestly that he enjoyed living comfortably since he "wasn't as young as he had been " when any mattress was a bed."
~ From EYES-LIGHT by B. Boyd Blount, a BOBBEE book
- Photo courtesy of Fred Pfening and the Pfening Archive
"The Ringmaster well might feel like telling Bluch Landolf to pull up his pants as he passes into the Big Top - but those pants are really designed for half-mast. Old-times will recall Bluch in the NY Hippodrome and the Gay 90s Burlesques when he first created this still amusing form of precarious trousers.
Bluch was born in Cedarville, NJ and boasts 60-odd years of full and active show business. He comes from three generations of actors and Bluch also deserves further recognition as the uncle of that great and clever artist - the one and only, Lillian Leitzel.
Bluch actually performed for such colorful characters as Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell. Until 1897 Bluch was a gymnast. He was discovered by the late John Ringling in 1907.
Bluch's early circus career was interrupted by World War I but in 1928 he was back with the Ringlings in the combined Big Show and he has been among the great ones ever since. The state which claims the title of "Cradle of the Circus" has honored him - the Circus Fans organized in Hartford, CT are the 'Bluch Landolf Tent, CFA #24'.
The following lines occured to us in Madison Square Garden, NY, the first time Bluch went on instead of Shorty:
It was opening day and the Garden was jammed.
"What's the matter, Bluch? Got a toothache?" Then - I quickly knew ---"Oh, that's fine", I said. " I'm glad they picked you. Are you all set? Is there anything I can do?"
He shook his head absently. "I just learned the news. I'd like to run off." but quickly he turned and searched his trunk, then he spoke more lightly, " There's not much more time to choose, the spotlight's not easy in a dead man's shadow. Wonder what became of that broom? And where's my other hat?"
"Here it is" I said.
"And there goes third call! Gee, thanks, Red!"
~ From EYES - LIGHT by B. Boyd Blount, a BOBBEE book
Monday, August 28, 2006
Today is my 39th birthday.
I am a very lucky man.
For that I am very, very thankful.
I also have a truly wonderful wife and a really great son.
My dog? Well, Honeybear getting better but she'll never be as good as our old one, Knucklehead.
I just want to tell everyone that I deeply appreciate the response that this blog has received. It's really exploded in the last few days and we're receiving more hits than ever before, from all over the world. Through it I have gotten to meet some truly great folks like Bill Strong, Robin Estes, Mike Keever, Dean Chambers, Bernie Kallman, Fred Pfening and many, many others who have sent photos and messages which have contributed greatly to this project.
After only two months, we now receive hundreds of hits a day from every corner of the world. Not bad for an internet site that has nothing to do with pornography, violent video games, conspiracy theories or conspiracy theories about violent, pornographic video games.
The following are a series of photos of just a few of the clowns who have, either directly or indirectly helped and inspired me...
Mike "Coco" Polakov
Photos taken by Ian Lloyd at Leon McBryde's Advanced Studies 2006
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Which brings us to the photo above. It was taken on RBB&B in 1930. I know that after Ringling Jerry had a long career on the Shrine circuit so I'll ask some of the more seasoned performers here...
WAS THIS JERRY'S REAL MAKEUP OR IS THIS SOME GAG PHOTO?!?
This has got to be, hands down, the single most hauntingly disturbing image of a professional circus clown that I have ever seen! WOW! He's got a lot going on for one head. As Mitch Hedberg put it "Man! You have a lot of cranial accessories!"
1) He's wearing a wig with at least two different colors of yak hair. They must be pretty different because the fact that they are clearly different is obvious even in a faded black and white picture. It doesn't look as though the wig is built onto a skullcap as much as it looks like it is hot glued to a white leather yamulke.
2) He's wearing some kind of sunglasses or welder's goggles. They'd be kind of cool in a retro-futuristic Fritz Lang/George Jetson kind of way if they weren't being worn by a clown.
3) He's got some kind of oversized ears thing going on but they look like they are painted onto cardboard or wood.
4) The attempt at a Chaplinesque painted mustache. Other than Rocco Paris or Scott Linker, this never really seems to work as well as you think it will.
5) The "Billy Bob" teeth. These are now available commercially and several pro clowns use them to great effect, but those people aren't also wearing hairy yalmukles, welder's goggles, wooden ears and a Hilter moustache with them.
Put them all together and you have something that doen't look quiet so much like a circus clown as it looks like a Chubacabra that has been terrorizing a Mexican fishing village.
Now I'm not saying that Jerry wasn't talented or that he wasn't funny. For all I know this was his makeup for his entire career, he used it to great effect, audiences and Alley-mates alike hailed him as a genius and he was showered with riches by appreciative producers and the love of adoring groupies before finally settling down to a castle on the Riviera.
All I'm saying is that this makeup is SO crazy, so extreme, so out-of-the-ordinary that Jerry Bangs makes Chesty Mortimer look like Lou Jacobs by comparison. Imagine Jerry Bangs popping out of a dark alley at you. Or even a well lit alley for that matter!
~ Photo courtesy of the Pfening Archive