Thursday, March 01, 2007

Emmett Kelly: Sweeping Up the Spotlight Gag (1967)

Every artist dreams of painting their masterpiece. This is Emmett's.

Not the funniest gag in the circus world, but inarguably the best known and the one that resonated the strongest with 20th century American circus audiences. This gag was bigger than big, huger than huge and elevated Emmett into a whole different level of celebrity, one that tracended mere "circus star" (such as Clyde Beatty, Gunther Gebel-Williams or the Flying Wallendas) and made him a bona-fide household name.

Credit goes out not only to Emmett for creating and performing the gag but also to John Ringling North and his production team for knowing how to showcase it so well.

This clip is from the 1967 film THE CLOWN AND THE KIDS, made at the tail end of Emmett's circus career, so it may not be performed here precisely as audiences might have seen it in the late 40s or early 50s but it does provide us a valuable document of this important gag.


Anonymous said...

Emmett may have made this gag famous, but it was created and orginally performed by clown Shorty Flem. Like many classic clown gags (ie: Charlie Bell/Lou Jacobs Hunting gag) it's the one who does it the longest that gets the credit.

Roger Smith said...

As we see with the midget car. Lou Jacobs had competitors in Chester "Bobo" Barnett and Glen "Kinko" Sunbury, but his was featured in the DeMille picture--so who had one first, or who was best, is lost to he who became immortalized in an Academy Award-winning feature. Fair or not, this is the business of showbusiness--he prevails who lucks out with the featured spot.

Anonymous said...

For some reason I can't get this to run fully, but....
Oleg Popov does a version in which he gathers the light and puts it in to a basket, which then lights up.

Anonymous said...

Omigosh. Watching this clip, I realized that I had done two bits like Kelly's, though I didn't realize it at the time.

In Portland, carrying two giant slices of bread in walkaround, I tried to capture a spotlight that was on the ground. Another one lit up, and then another one, until every spotlight operator was playing with me. (That's what our lighting guy Skip told me later, and that they were so into it that they missed their next cue.) That was a spontaneous occurrence, not a copy, but it sure echoed Kelly.

The other one makes me wonder, though. One day I got what I thought was inspiration: For walkaround, I took out a broom and a rug. I swept dust into a little pile, rolled out the rug, swept the dust under it, then picked up the rug, and walked on down the track to repeat it.

Though I only saw one circus performance as a kid, and never watched this movie that I recall, I wonder if I saw this bit somewhere and unconsciously copied it?

David Carlyon