Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Ringling: Gold Unit Clown Alley 1988


Photo credit: Nicole Portwood

The 1988 Clown Alley from the Gold Unit of Ringling in Japan. 

From the top, left to right: 
Nicole Marsh Portwood, Jeff Wolff, Thom MacNamara, Rich Potter
Jeff Taveggia, Willie Yeomans, Christopher Hudert, David Magidson, John Pfeifer, Eark Dakan
Robb Zeiser, Wayne Sidley, Chuck Sidlow, Robert Zraick, Michael Frum, "Mr. Bill" Machtel, Sam Rivera, Karen Bell
Arturo Figueroa, Stephen Smithwick, Randy Brake, Steve Marshall, Susan Doctoroff Landay, James Wade and "Bucky" Dussell. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Jimmy Douglass


Jimmy Douglass, long time producing clown for many mud shows and Shrine dates. 

I would love to hear more about Jimmy's gags. Elmo Gibb told me about the Jimmy Douglas produced firehouse, which sounded pretty funny. The firemen would be looking for the hose, and they would finally take an axe to the stomach of a fat fireman and pull the hose out like it was his intestines.
Big time comedy! 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Cirque D'Hiver Bouglione: Haunted House Entrée

Fumagalli, Darius, and Alberto Caroli performing the Haunted House entrée in Phénoménal, the 2013/2014 season of Cirque D'Hiver Bouglione in Paris, France.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Clown College Students 1969


Four members of the Ringling Clown College class of 1969: Jim Harmon, Frank Carbone, Manuel Marcos "Zapata" Barragan, Joe Sullivan, and Conrad Hartz.
All but Jim Harmon toured with Ringling. Carbone and Hartz with the Blue Unit, and "Zapata" and Sullivan on Red.

Conrad Hartz currently lives in South Carolina and makes beautiful marionettes that he performs shows with. "Zapata" and his fellow class of 1969 alum, Johnny Peers, teamed up after several years on Ringling and became one of the most popular clowning teams of the 1970s. Unfortunately he passed away in 1980 at the height of the team's success.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Circus Vargas: Guest Clowns

Dale Longmire, Billy McCabe, Bruce Warner, and George Clyatt help two news reporters become clowns with Circus Vargas sometime in the early to mid 1980s.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Sirkus Finlandia: Michelle Musser


Michelle Musser began her clowning career on Ringling in 2006. From there she teamed up with Nathan Holguin and they performed as Punchy and Judy at Circus World Museum and Culpepper Merriweather Circus.
After going solo, Michelle spent three seasons with Sirkus Finlandia in Finland. These photos, taken by Kari Nieminen, were taken during the 2018 season.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Ringling: Robot Soda Jerk Gag

Greg Mooney, "Enof" Killebrew, and Dana Nelson perform the Robot Soda Jerk track gag during the 115th Edition of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 1985.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Daredevil Chicken: Anne Goldmann and Jonathan Taylor

Ryan and I had the pleasure of seeing Anne and Jonathan live when we were taking over for them on the Mr. Swindle tour earlier this year.

We were lucky enough to watch them twice, and both times we were laughing hysterically.

Daredevil Chicken wowed audiences on the Gong Show in 2017, and they have performed in top cabaret and variety shows around the world.

Learn more about them here.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Pierre Étaix and Jerry Lewis

Two great clowns of the silver screen photographed together at the Cirque D'Hiver Bouglione in Paris, France during the filming of The Day The Clown Cried.


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Hippodrome: The Three Ghezzis

The French comedy acrobats, The Three Ghezzis, performing their body breaking slapstick on the British variety program, Hippodrome.

Unfortunately the ladder portion of their act has been edited out, but does exist in other videos. Besides this act I have seen footage of them performing a construction routine.

I welcome any additional information about these gentlemen!

Friday, September 18, 2020

Ringling: Dentist Gag


Richard Fick, Tammy Parish, Kevin McGowan, and "Frosty" Little presenting a version of the Dentist Gag for gag night during Ringling Winter Quarters in 1983.
Every year during Winter Quarters, the Ringling clowns would perform all of their new gags for the Felds in the hopes they would be chosen to be included in the show. From the records we have of the Blue Unit 114th Edition, this gag did not make the cut.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Nicolai "Coco" Poliakoff

From Wikipedia: Nicolai Poliakoff OBE (2 October 1900 – 25 September 1974; LatvianNikolajs PoļakovsRussianNikolai Petrovich Polyakov) was the creator of Coco the Clown, arguably the most famous clown in the UK during the middle decades of the 20th century. 

Nicolai Poliakoff was born in 1900 to a Jewish family in Dvinsk (today Daugavpils), Latvia which was then part of the Russian Empire. His family were poor and worked at the local theatre to supplement the money his father earned as a cobbler. When his father was conscripted to the army in the Russo-Japanese War the five year-old Nicolai started singing for food to avoid starvation.[1]

  • 1908—Nicolai “ran away and joined the circus,” as the saying goes. He travelled 300 miles by train to Vitebsk, in Belorussia (today Belarus), where he persuaded a circus owner to give him a job, telling him that he was an orphan with no one to look after him. The director bought his story and placed him under the charge of Vitaly  Lazarenko, a clown and acrobat who would become a major circus star in the Soviet Union after the Communist revolution.
  • Nicolai eventually persuaded his father to allow him to follow a circus career, and he was apprenticed for four years to Rudolfo Truzzi (1860-1936)—son of Massimiliano Truzzi, the founder of the great Russian circus dynasty of Italian descent. With Truzzi, Nicholai studied the fundamentals of acrobatics, trapeze, horse riding, and an array of circus disciplines. Russians are particularly fond of nicknames, and Nicolai was called Kokishka by Truzzi, a diminutive of “koshka” (cat in Russian), which in time became abbreviated to Koko—and rendered as Coco when Nicolai arrived in the UK.
  • In 1915 Nicolai Polakovs was enlisted in the Imperial Army. During the ensuing Civil War, he was conscripted by the Red Army, escaped—only to be conscripted again by the White Army and escape again, disguised as a girl in a troupe of Mongolian travelling entertainers. Finally, when the political situation began to settle down, he returned to work in the circus.
  • 1919— Nicolai was performing in Riga, when he met Valentina Novikova (1901–1983), whom he married in June of that year, and with whom he would have six children: Helen, Michael (1923–2009), Nadia, Sascha, Olga, and Tamara.
  • 1920— He worked for the newly created (in 1919) Soviet state circus organisation, and travelled in the Soviet Union from one circus building to another.
  • 1926— He had his own circus collective, a small but lively troupe of twenty based in Lithuania.
  • 1929— Nicolai performed at Circus Busch (Before World War II, Soviet performers were still allowed to work in Western Europe.) in Berlin (and took the time to do a cameo in Karl Grune’s film version of Carl Zuckmayer’s play, Katharina Knie). He served with the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps of the British Army in World War II. He appeared with the Bertram Mills Circus for many years. His clown persona had two distinctive visual features that endeared him to television audiences: his boots, described as being size 58, and his trick hair with hinges in the centre parting, which allowed it to lift when he was surprised. He is a member of the Clown Hall of Fame.
  • 21 December 1929 to 18 January 1930—Nicolai first appeared for Bertram Mills in Manchester.
  • 1933–34—Coco’s contract with Mills was extended, and following the Olympia Christmas season.
  • During the Second World War, Nicolai entertained troops as a member of ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association).
  • In 1942 Coco and Michael were engaged at the Blackpool Tower Circus, for the Easter and summer programmes .
  • 1946— Bertram Mills Circus reopened and Coco returned. He appeared on tour for every summer season until the closure of the touring show in October 1964.
  • 1947–48 & 1966–67—He performed with Mills at the Olympia in London(Christmas show)
  • 21 October 1949—Nicolai and Valentina eventually became naturalised British citizens.
  • April 1957— During a performance at Chelmsford, Nicolai was knocked over and injured by a vehicle driven by Kam, "the only motoring elephant in the world"—one of Mills’s four elephants trained by Joan and Gösta Kruse.
  • 1959— He was involved in a serious road accident prompting him to devote himself to the promotion of road safety awareness in children.[2] However, at the same time he continued to work in the circus in the mid-1960s, seated ringside while selling programmes dressed in his full auguste's costume.
  • 1962— he was the subject of This Is Your Life when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at Olympia (London).
  • 1973—He returned briefly to the circus world, when he toured with the Roberts Brothers Circus.
  • 25 September 1974—Poliakoff died in Peterborough Hospital after a short illness, and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary's[3]Woodnewton, in Northamptonshire, England.[4]

Poliakoff was appointed an honorary member of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women[5]. In 1963 he was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for this work by Queen Elizabeth II, one of the few foreigners ever to receive this honour. 

His eldest son, Michael, a longtime circus "Producing Clown", creator of a much imitated "soap gag" entree, and the Clown who designed the post 1960's Ronald McDonald[6], was by then already using the "Coco" moniker. Michael had made his debut in the ring at 17, as "Coconut" and his sister Helen as "Cocotina" ('cocos' being the Spanish word for grinning face and applied to the coconut because of the three marks on its shell).[7] Michael's Coco the Clown was inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame in 1991.

As well as Michael, Poliakoff had five other children with wife Valentina: Helen, Nadia, Sascha, Olga, and Tamara. Tamara was the founder, along with her husband Ali Hassani, of the first circus in the UK not to use performing animals.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Clyde Beatty Clowns 1994

The Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. Clown Alley from 1994 performing the firehouse gag and balloon chase on the video Kids Love The Circus.

Just try and ignore the awful song and voiceovers.....

I see DuRay McManus, Rob and Andrew Torres, and Brian and Laurie Dwyer. Anyone know who the yellow wigged Auguste is?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Tweedy, Alexis, and Little Nick

Alan "Tweedy" Digweed, Kevin "Alexis" Twomey, and "Little Nick" on a circus in the UK in 1998. 

More info provided by John Cooper: the circus is Zippo’s Circus, and it is “Little Nick” Reid. Thanks, John!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Dead And Alive: Billy Vaughn and Mike Snider

Billy Vaughn, Mike Snider, and ringmaster Dan McCallum (a former Ringling clown) performing the classic American clowning standard Dead and Alive on a Vidbel Shrine date in Altoona, PA.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Ringling Clowns Early 1950s


Chest development? Must be all the hormones in milk...

Too well developed to pass as a girl acrobat? Must not have been chest development. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Uncle Junior Project: Robert "Onionhead" Dunn

Photo credit: The Washington Post

Robert "Onionhead" Dunn, a thirteen year veteran of Universoul Circus, is just one of the African-American circus artists whose story is being told through the Uncle Junior Project.

From their website:

"The Uncle Junior Project lends an opportunity to discover and honor the achievements of the many extraordinary individuals and groups in the African-American circus community.

TUJP is a digital exhibit that is:

  • inclusive of all groups of people

  • told by those who lived it

  • presented in an accessible format

  • true to both the positive and negative

Through interview-driven documentaries, powerful historical imagery, and personal essays; the exhibition profiles performers of African descent."

On the site you can find a short video interview with Onionhead as well as Danise Payne. The ICHOF has also recently supplied the UJP with video materials for Bernice Collins.

Please check them out at https://www.unclejrproject.com

Leo Acton

Leo Acton on tour with the Culpepper Merriweather Circus. Leo graduated Ringling Clown College in 1996 and toured with both the Red and Blue Units before appearing with shows such as Circus Gatti, Loomis Bros., and Culpepper, which he has been on for several years.

Photo credit: Kirk Marsh

Friday, September 11, 2020

Cirque D'Hiver Bouglione: Rob Torres

I apologize for this being belated, but yesterday would have been Rob Torres' 47th birthday.

He started off graduating Ringling's Clown College in 1991, spent years as a road and advance clown for Clyde Beatty, street performed, worked for Disney, and then put himself on the world circus map by blowing people out of the water at the Budapest Circus Festival in 2008.

After that he worked all the best shows in Europe until he passed away in 2018, way too young and at the top of his game.

Here is probably his most well known act presented during his third and final contract with Cirque D'Hiver Bouglione in Paris for their 2017/2018 show, Exploit.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Cirque Du Soliel: The Pablos

The clown characters, "The Pablos", first appeared in the Cirque Du Soliel show, Alegria, and then joined La Nouba in Orlando from 2014 until the show's closing in 2017.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Circus Vargas: The Italos

Italo Fornasari and his family performing their musical entrée on Circus Vargas in 1987.

Kinoshita Circus: Jessi and Tucker


Jessi Hoffschildt and Aaron Tucker are currently touring Japan with Kinoshita Circus. They are two of the lucky few who are still able to perform during this pandemic.

Jessi and Tucker both began their circus careers on Ringling, and both have appeared for many seasons with Kinoshita.  

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Ringling: Sideshow Clown Car 1977

Members of the Red Unit Clown Alley perform a Sideshow themed clown car for the 107th Edition of the Greatest Show on Earth in 1977.

I can make out Lou Jacobs, Frosty Little, Richard Mann, Mike King, Anthony Chino, John McHugh (?), Ruthie Chaddock, Kathy Herb, Garry White, Serf Rocha, Barry Lubin, and Tim Doody. Missing is Lenny Wolen as the fat lady.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Clown Alley Art: Les Francescos


Three of my favorite clowns, Les Francescos (Francois, Enrico, and Ernesto), as seen through the eyes of the talented artist, Elena Zaïka.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Acrobuffos: Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone

From the Acrobuffos website:

Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone met at a circus in Afghanistan, became engaged while street performing in Scotland, married in China, and occasionally go home to New York City.

Since 2005, they have created seven shows together, competed in international circus festivals, performed in over 25 countries, headlined at the Big Apple Circus, and were featured on a postage stamp.
Christina is a former ballerina who graduated from Princeton to become a clown; Seth is a former juggler who graduated from three clown schools, including an MFA in physical theater.

 Madame & Monsieur on Big Apple Circus
Air Play

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. Clowns 1987

Robert Grissetti, David Gerard, Geoff Cobb, and Thomas Caguin, four of the 1987 Beatty Cole clowns.
Robert, Geoff, and Thomas were all fresh out of the Clown College class of 1986.
David had spent a year on the Ringling Red Unit after graduating from Clown College in 1980, and later worked for Clyde Beatty and other shows.

Blue Unit Clowns on Good Morning America 2001

David Solove, Marni Sussman, Todd Zimmerman and the rest of Clown Alley provide a backstage look at what it's like being a Ringling clown.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Les Fratellini 1948

François and Albert Fratellini with Gabriel Geretti performing a clown entrée at the Cirque D’Hiver Bouglione in Paris.


Carmelo, aka Jorge Rodrigo Celedon Bustamante (now you know why he goes by Carmelo) is a very funny and talented Chilean clown whom Ryan and I performed with on Circo Hermanos Vazquez.
It is rare to see a drunk act in American circuses, but Carmelo would consistently bring the house down on Vazquez. Many copycat acts sprung up after his success in Latin American circuses.

Photo credit: Rick Purdue
Photo credit: Rick Purdue

Monday, August 31, 2020

Boxing Gag: Kelly Miller Circus 1996

Darren Burrell, Tom "Popcorn" Sink, and Lem Fillyaw performing the Boxing Gag on the 1996 edition of the Kelly Miller Circus.

Darren aka Burl and Lem are both Clown College graduates: Lem in 1993 and Burl in 1995. Popcorn was a clown on several different mud shows for many years.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Rose Hanlon: Ringling Early 1950s

Rose Hanlon, of the Hanlon-Lees family, one of the first women clowns with Ringling. 
The first two photos are from the Milner Circus Collection. All other photos are from the ICHOF archives.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Happy Birthday, Pat Cashin

Today would have been Pat Cashin's 52nd birthday.

He is missed by so many people around the world, but I am overjoyed that this blog remains as a tribute to a great, passionate, and funny man.

So here's to Pat! I hope you're raising a glass with Lou Jacobs, Otto Griebling, Paul Jung, and all the other clowns you helped immortalize on these pages.

Pat, Mark Smith, and Ashley Banks performing an homage to Ernie Kovacs' Nairobi Trio in the 1997 Clown College graduation.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Bill Irwin and David Shiner: Old Hats Intro

Bill Irwin and David Shiner performing the opening to Old Hats at the Pershing Square Signature Center in New York City in 2016.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Western Gag: Ringling 1989

Members of the Red Unit Clown Alley performing the Western gag with special guest host, Michelle Lee, on the television special for the 119th Edition of Ringling.

Kudos to Adam Auslander for improvising a bit with Michelle during the filming that became a great moment in the gag.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

European Whitefaces 1900s-1920s

(Photos courtesy of the ICHOF archives)

Manrico Mariani (Moriss) 1900s

Louis Lavata 1920s

Iles 1920s

François Fratellini 1920s

Cyerillo   1920s