Hello Pat, and a very Happy New Year for you and yours !!!.
I'm glad you are interested in clowning "South of the Border"; we certainly have a very interesting and old tradition in clowning down there, and I'll try to tell you as much as I can about it.
I think I told you that we have no big circuses in Latin America. The traditional circus there is the one ring european style. That fact allows the clowns to be heard when they speak, wich means they use verbal jokes as much as visual gags in their routines. The traditional clown act is performed by the European, Pipo Sosman-type of whiteface clown and the easy-on-the-make-up auguste.
By the way, we don't call that type "auguste" but "tony" or "toni". It was always like that, and I found many explanations for the origins of that name. One theory says that it come from british clown Tony Greace, which wouldn't make too much sense, considering that he was a whiteface clown, not an auguste.
Other possibility that was mentioned was that it comes from "Tonino" Aragon, a spanish clown and grandfather of Pompoff and Thedy (Did you see them on the Ed Sullivan show? Those really are called Zampa and Nabuco (or Pepe), the original Pompoff and Thedy are their parents).
The only certain thing is that the only other country where augustes are called tonys (or tonies) is Italy. So, it comes from there. Considering that the very first clown who performed in Argentina, back in 1834, was the italian Pietro Sotora, kind of makes sense. So, the character is called Tony in all South America, except Mexico I believe.
The white face disappeared from Argentina in the early '70s, but the character is still there, replaced by the second auguste or by the ringmaster. The material is, as incredible as it may seem, mostly borrowed from American burlesque (how come?; no idea...). "You Are Not Here", "The Funnel", "The Eggs", "The Sonambule" and many routines Abbott & Costello perfomed in their movies.
Funny thing; those routines were performed by clowns down there a lot before A & C did them in their movies.
Of course, South American clowns use acrobatics in their acts, as well as lots of music. All clowns coming from the circus are able to play a few instruments, mostly by ear. My mentor, Luis "Luchito" Valenzuela, who was born in the family circus, could play sax, clarinet, keyboards, violin, trombone, trumpet, tuba... and he couldn't read music at all.
Many traditional routines from the European circus are used there too. Routines with a military theme are very popular, most of the time the clowns being dressed as Scottish lancers... why? Your guess is as good as mine. I assume it is because a man wearing a skirt is always funny, specially when the clowns use those tights with the yarn bits looking like hair and crazy colored underwear.
The boxing routine is very popular too, as well as table tumbling, Clark and McCoullogh style.
One thing you'll never see performed by South American clowns are the big production numbers like the Atom Smasher and "Fireman Save My Child" for instance. I guess it is because of economic reasons.
So, most clown teams there include a straighrman (whiteface, second auguste, ringmaster), the auguste and, more often that not, a sexy dressed woman.
Nowadays, many circuses have only ONE clown, an auguste, who does talent contests with children from the audience and some dialogue with the ringmaster... sad.
I remember when I was a kid (I'll be forty in exactly two weeks) that circuses usually carried two or three different clown teams with them, making a total of eight to ten clowns... Not anymore.
Interesting thing: even in cases when the clowns didn't use any special wardrobe for their acts (no soldiers or washerwomen acts, for instance) every time they appeared on the ring for their acts, they would be wearing different suits. I mean, the suits were all cut the same style, and they were carrying the same type of hat and shoe, but always in different colors and prints... And that would mean to have five or six different suits... strange, isn't it?. Again, that doesn't happen anymore. And again, the reason is... no money.
I'll be scanning some photos of South American clowns to e-mail you. Of course, if you think that could be interesting to your readers, please feel free to post them for all to see.
The Oxandabarats: Totin (at right) and his son Toton, in a photo from 1986.
Very popular in circus, great musicians and incredibly funny comedians. They had an elephant, Mara, and she would perform with them as the closing act in the circuses where they were hired. For the elephant act they would use straight make up, as trainers from India, with turbans and all. Great clowns.
From left to right, Carlos Scazziota "Salta Violeta" (1936 - 2000), Armando Quintana "Anacleto" (1914- ?) and my teacher, Luis Valenzuela "Luchito" (1918 - 1997), during a TV show in the early '80s.
"Salta Violeta" was a very popular clown, born in his father's circus (Miguel, he was a white face clown and his son's first partner) and he performed all his life in circus, TV, movies, revues. He was always working, either for children or adults. He would use a cloth dog as a prop, and "she" would "perform" tricks... a hilarious routine; I do something like that with a rubber chicken. His son keeps doing the character and, guess what? Yes, he uses Violeta, the dog!
The most popular clown in Argentina EVER, mainly because of his twenty something years on TV, Gerardo Roberto Samaniego "Firulete" (1923 - 2004).
He had different partners during his circus career, including his brother in law, white face "Santiaguito" (Ernesto Racedo, 1912- late '90s), and his son, auguste "Cañito" (Gerardo Samaniego, 1949).
He was the very first Clown I saw in my life, on TV, when I was three or four, and since that moment I knew I was a clown... I had the privilege of sharing a stage with him and his family once and he laughed a lot when I told him that it was his "fault" that I became a clown.
A photo from 1988, Lucho (yes, the same from the photo with Sacudile) and his partner, auguste Tonelada. He was as old as his white face partner, and when Sarrasani Circus was in Argentina during the 1948/49 season, they were the featured clown act.
A photo from italian circus Orlando Orfei in the early '90s, in Buenos Aires. The clown at left with the Blinko type of eyelashes is from Chile, Hugo Fernandez Gacitua "Pituto", very popular in Argentina.
I got a really nice message from my friend, International Clown Hall of Fame inductee Mr. Billy Baker of Pigeon Forge, TN, who tells me that New Year's Eve has come and gone and that the final curtain has decended on his long running show "Elwood Smooch's Old Smoky Hoedown"...
"I closed my Old Smoky Hoedown with sweet tears Sunday night. Memorable show, went out with my pants down and hands up. Just like I started it 11 years ago. If you counted happy hearts and blessings rendered, we were the richest show in the Smokies."
But you can't keep a good clown down and Billy is far from ready to hang up his big old floppy shoes just yet! Look for him to join the cast of another show in Pigeon Forge in just a few weeks.
In the meantime, he passes along this photo from deep within his trunk of the clowns of the notorious "Bozo Row"...
"Patrick, here is a shot that might be of interest...
"Bozo Row" - This is a group shot of the inmates that lived on legendary Bozo Row in Hollywood in the late 70's-early 80's.
I arrived in Hollywood in 1978, and ended up managing an apartment complex, that within a year or two, was full of Ringling rejects coming to Lotusland to try their luck. Out of 12 units, 10 were filled with Ringling grease paint comrades. There were also many, who passing through were adopted or too broke to go elsewhere. It was a circus train that never left the station.
This picture appeared in Los Angeles magazine in 1981 with a story. In the picture are: Billy & Dolly & Katie (1 year old) Baker, Jimmie Briscoe, Ed "Smitty" Smith, Ron Jarvis, Kevin Bickford, Robin Shaw and Daniel Rodgers.
Kevin and Robin still live in the neighborhood. It was a hoot!"
I wanted to write you for the last past weeks, I really need to say a huge THANK YOU !!! for the incredible opportunity you are giving me through your blog... But... let me explain myself a little better...
My name is Marcelo Melison, aka PEPPO the Clown. I'm from Argentina, but I emmigrated to Canada seven years ago. I'm a collector like you, I'm looking here and there for photos, books, newspaper clippings, whatever... I don't exactly remember how I did it, but like a month ago I met your website. Oh dear... How can I make you understand how incredibly happy all the photos and video clips made me?
I saw the one and only Grock on stage for the very first time in my life !!! (almost twenty years ago I met a guy at work, he was from Switzerland, and somehow he mentioned Grock's name, he saw him when he was a child, back in his country... I almost drove him crazy asking him about Grock's act !!!). I saw the Banana Man, a longer clip of his act (I saw a very brief moment of it in the PBS video "Vaudeville" and I loved it... Then I met his official website and because I loved what I saw in some of the photos, I made a huge papier mache hand, like his... children love it !!!). And so many photos, bits of information here and there that inspire me, give me ideas, or, simply, just make me happy...
As I mentioned, I'm from Argentina, so I grew up watching and absorbing the European tradition of clowning (which is the one in use in those small one ring circuses) which means, lots of verbal comedy, some "violent" stooge-like slapstick, and music, a lot of music... Argentinian Clowns usually play "normal" instruments like saxophone, violin, guitar, trombone... and crazy ones like bellows, bicycle pumps, car horns, metal discs, saws, etcetera.
I had the good fortune of meeting a clown who was born in his family circus, he was THE Clown in my book. He took me under his wing and he taught me so, so, so much, that you couldn't believe it. He was a very generous man, he was in his seventies when I met him; he passed away before I moved to Canada. So, when I came to this country I had to study the American style of clowning, with more exagerated costume and make up, more visual action, and pantomime. Quite a learning process !!!.
So, Pat, all this long message to say, again, THANK YOU for all the great work you are doing by helping other "clown scholars" like me to do research and get inspiration for more nutty stuff to be enjoyed for "children of all ages " (I just love that definition).
If you are interested, I can scan some photos of Argentine clowns from my collection and e-mail them to you. Some of the explanatinos could be interesting to you, I think.
Dear Pat, please take care, my best for you and all the people you have in your heart. May God bless you and all the children you make happy. Hope to know from you soon !!!.
An interesting photo... Nicolita & Colito, father and son, both little people.
Nicolita, left, was named Nicolas Cordasco (1912 - 1993); with his son, Nicolas Roberto Cordasco (1944- late '90s) were a rarity, a clown team formed by two little people. They were very popular in Argentina, in circus and TV, and they were billed as "The Gold Midgets" (that word is not considered offensive down there..).
Both father and son were married to tall women, and both were quite the ladies men... I met Coli in person a few times. Nicolita started his circus career in Buenos Aires, he was a heck of an acrobat, and guess who was his first partner and teacher back in the early '20s?. Well, another famous clown from Argentina, Alfredo Landon...
Here you have Lucho and Sacudile, in the early '60s. Lucho (Luis Cordero) was born, I think, in Bolivia, in 1905. The auguste, Sacudile (Sixto Vinelli, grandfather of famous journalist Anibal Vinelli) was born in 1892. I don't know when they passed away. They performed in many circuses around South America.
7 minutes and 44 seconds from Cirque d'Hiver Bouglione's 2007 production "Artistes" courtesy of the folks at placeaucirque.skyblog.com. Look for clips of Fumagalli in several gags (including the Busy Bee) as well as Willer Nikolodi, recently featured in Big Apple's 2005 production "Grandma Goes to Hollywood".
I find the Disney "Main Street Electrical Parade" soundtrack and the intrusion of the source's name flying by every five seconds as inexplicable (and as annoying) as I'm sure you do but it's worth it to catch a few glimpses of the show.
Please note that the title of the blog and it's location have changed slightly. I should have warned everyone in advance, for those who have the site bookmarked, but hopefully this will make it easier for folks (and search engines) to find us.
Tomorrow we begin a series on Latin American circus clowning, a subject I've been able to find very little on, and should finish out the week with some great photos from the Ringling show in the late 70s.
Pipo Sosman Jr., son of the legendary whiteface clown and, unfortunately, best known to American audiences as David Larible's comedy partner (who was criminally underutilized) in K-Feld's short-lived show Barnum's Kaleidoscape