Saturday, July 15, 2006

Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros: Buck Nolan

Buck Nolan

Date of birth: February 1936 Princeton, West Virginia, USA
Date of death: November 2004 Richmond, Virginia, USA. (colon cancer)

His real last name was Buxton, but performed under the name Buck Nolan "The World's Tallest Clown" and was with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus for many years. He received modest royalty checks for his film work in the 1993 Debra Winger movie, "Wilder Napalm," and reportedly turned down the role of Darth Vader in Star Wars because he had a contractual conflict for another obligation.

After 33 years as a professional circus clown, Buxton retired to his home in Princeton where he traveled around to flea markets in the area. (Bluefield Daily Telegraph, WV)

Photo courtesy of Bill Strong

Al Ross

From Bill Strong...

"Al Ross was always a favorite of mine, mostly because he was such a quiet, and gentle man, the girl with him is Joanne Sherman, who's husband Dennis was a Flyer in Phil, & Fran Schacht's Flying Apollos. A lot of people now don't know Phil & Fran did a Flying Act, they also did a Fabulous Cradle Act. Taken in Hawaii in the early 70's"

Al Ross (1907 - 1981)

Born Alphonse Helwig in Cincinnati, Ohio, he took the professional name Al Ross in 1930 when he was part of the Ross acrobatic troupe.

Ross, a tramp clown, provided training for fellow shrine clowns in proper clowning skills and etiquette. He would shoot long balloons into the circus crowd. When he threw away his black derby hat, it came right back to him. He rode an old bicycle that fell apart, and was adept at acrobatic balancing and tumbling. Ross was a member of the Aladdin Temple Shrine unit and was seen in many shrine and other circuses in the U.S. He was a performer with the Jack Parr Special Service Unit.

During his last interview he stated, "anyone who can make people laugh has the greatest gift God can give a man."

Al Ross was inducted into the 1993 Clown Hall of Fame.

- From the International Clown Hall of Fame website

Hamid-Morton 1954: Jimmy Davidson

Photo courtesy of Bill Strong

Hamid-Morton 1963: Whimpey & Hal Haviland

From the 1963 Hamid-Morton Milwaukee Shrine Circus program we have English clown, Whimpey (top) and, looking quite a bit like a pre-Larry Harmon era "Bozo the Capitol Clown" who would rather be somewhere else (why would any professional circus clown send THIS picture out as a promo photo?!?) we have Hal Haviland.

I believe I've seen old flyers on Ebay for Whimpey's school show which featured a high unicycle. As for Hal Haviland I found the following on the CHF website telling us what Mr. Haviland was up to in 1975...

Hal Haviland made another court appearance in his continuous fight against the government and its animal regulations. Observers felt the weight of evidence was in his favor, but a decision was delayed until some other time. As the year progressed even tougher laws were to be enacted by both the Federal government and various states, all of which caused great concern and worry for animal trainers, circuses and circus fans.

Photos coutersy of Bill Strong

Houston Shrine Circus 1963

Here are the clowns of the Houston, TX Shrine Circus 1963.


Photo and description courtesy of Bill Strong

The Barios

The other day I posted a photo of The Bario family of clowns and traffic here on the blogsite dropped by 30%. Here's more on the family in the hopes that the more we know about them, the more we will appreciate and love them...or perhaps traffic here will now drop by 40%, who knows?

(Manrico and Dario Meschi, flanked by Nello and Freddy)


One of the most celebrated European musical clown families is that of the Barios. The brothers Dario and Manrico Meschi came originally from Livorno. Dario was the whiteface clown, while Manrico was the auguste who took the name of Bario. They worked with a number of other famous clowns, among them Cerratto, Charley Iiles and Rhum, but it is as the Trio Dario , the Dario, Bario Company or Bario-Barios that they are best remembered.

(Above, Bario (C) , Dario (D) and Rhum (E))

(Poster of the Trio Dario, from the collection of Dr. Alain Frere.)

They were greatly influenced by their Parisian contemporaries, the Trio Fratellini, with whom they were to share equal standing in their profession.

Dario and Manrico were later joined by their children, Nello, Swedish-born son of Bario born in 1918, Willy, Dario’s son born in Paris in 1920, Freddy, Bario’s second son born in Brussels in 1922 and his daughter Tosca, born in Nancy in 1924.

In postwar years, the equipe consisted of Bario, sons Nello and Freddy (the latter as whiteface clown, replacing Dario), and Henny, Freddy’s wife, who replaced Tosca.

(The Bario-Barios, left to right: Freddy, Nello, Henny and Bario)

Bario, born in 1888, died in 1974, leaving Nello, Freddy and Henny to continue the family clowning traditions together. Not only are they all fine musicians and comics, they are also adept as dancers and have gained fame in France on television.

Although they have appeared in many countries, with several summer seasons in England at the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome, it is in France that they are most loved, and they returned to the circus ring there in 1984 with the Cirque Nouveau Jean Richard.

--From The Performers, Issue 4, June 1985

Friday, July 14, 2006

Mike Coco

(Photo from a Circus Hall of Fame Sarasota, FL postcard)

MICHAEL "Coco" POLAKOV (1923 - Present)

1991 International Clown Hall of Fame inductee Michael Polakov or "Mike Coco", as he is known, achieved fame in England where the family came while he was a youth and his father (also known as Coco) was the longtime star clown of the Bertram Mills Circus. He was associated with the Bertram Mills and Billy Smart Circuses in England, which later included tours of Europe. He came to the U.S. in 1953 to work for a limited time with the Mills Bros. Circus, before returning to England. Coco later returned to the States and joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, working both as a member of the alley as well as spending eight years as Advance Clown and Goodwill Ambassador. He is credited with creating the makeup for Ronald McDonald, touring theme parks with Coco's Musical Comix and continued performing in circuses and acting as an Advance Clown for smaller shows.

- Paraphrased from the ICHOF Website

Mike Coco: Painters Gag

Though he is best known today for popularizing the "Busy Bee" gag in the United States, Mike produced and performed a painters "slosh gag" on Ringling so successful that it was used almost annually from the late 50s through the mid 60s.

Mike didn't invent the slosh gag (and the American circus clowns back to the 20s and 30s are rumored to have done them, although I have no photographic evidence) but he can be credited with creating, honing and popularizing the slosh gag format that served, and continues to serve, the Ringling show from that time to this day.

Mike Coco: With Coconut

I met Coco and Coconut at Great Adventure as a kid (more on that below) and my father said to me after they left, "Jeez! I betcha wish you were THAT kid!"

And I did.

Mike Coco: Coco's Musical Comix

Mike Coco, the very first clown I ever remember meeting in person (after Otto Griebling, but that's another story) on my very first trip to an amusment park, Great Adventure (pre-Six Flags ownership) in Jackson, NJ.

If I remember correctly, Mike performed walkarounds and worked the circus show in the arena in the western themed end of the park. He also worked the lakeside pavilion with Coco's Musical Comix (pictured above) singing any and all circus and clown themed hits of the rock and roll era.

For those of you who have never been to Great Adventure...

In the early 70s a real estate tycoon named Warner LeRoy wanted to open a Walt Disney World like resort in the pine barrens of New Jersey; a theme park with a drive-thru wild animal safari. New Jersey did have a short lived animal park in the 1970’s similar to Great Adventure’s safari called Warner Bros. Jungle Habitat (this was not owned by LeRoy) but Jungle Habitat had safety flaws and was an insurance nightmare (second only to Vernon Valley/Great Gorge Action Park, the deadliest amusement park in history) , so the park closed in 1976. LeRoy improved the drive-through safari concept and made it safer. Throughout the early 1970’s, Great Adventure slowly rose, turning into one of the nation's premier family theme parks.

Great Adventure opened on July 4th, 1974, with major rides, a 500 acre wild safari; just a huge entertainment complex. They even boasted the World's Largest Ferris Wheel called the Giant Wheel (eventually renamed Big Wheel when the ride lost the record). The wheel was the tallest structure in the park at opening, standing at 150 feet tall, and manufactured by famous designer Anton Schwarzkopf.

The 1974 season of the park was a success as was 1975 and '76. In the fall of 1977 Six Flags bought the park. The park continued to feature clowns after Coco but when Six Flags took over the clowning switched to recent CC grads and finally to any teenaged kid in a clown suit. By the mid 80s the clowns were fazed out in favor of costumed Warner Bros. characters.

Mike Coco: Stilts

There were very few high stilt walking clowns in the American circus prior to Mike.

After he left it was a production number staple on the Ringling show throughout virtually all of the Clown College era.

Bubi and Jules

East German clowns Bubi and Jules in the ring of the Blackpool Tower Circus in 1976.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

New Website

I didn't have time to update the blog this morning since I was busy creating a new website for myself. Please take a moment to check it out and let me know what you think...

I've never built a website before so it's a little lame, hopefully It will get better as I tweak it over the next few days.

Anyone out there who needs a site...I work cheap!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bernie Kallman

Bernie Kallman in a late 60s/early70s era publicity photo from the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus. Other than being featured prominently in Jill Freeman's book Circus Days ( ) and Mike Naughton's assertion that Bernie was a great guy and a wonderful clown I've got no information on the man.

Anyone out there remember Bernie?

Les Bario

Les Bario featuring Papa Bario.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ben Dova Video

Video of Joseph Späh as Ben Dova, the Convivial Inebriate, performing his swaypole act on top of the Chanin Building for the newsreels in 1933; No wires, nets or camera tricks.

Ringling 104th Alley

From the early 70s - Members of the 104th Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Blue Unit Clown Alley (including Maude Flippen, Janice Gillespie, Swede Johnson, Prince Paul, Michu, Mark Anthony, Earl "Mr. Clown" Cheney, future Clown College directors Ron and Sandy Severini, Tim Tinsman, Kevin Bickford and longtime Vidbel's Old Tyme Circus star clown Billy Vaughn) as they appeared when I saw them at Madison Square Garden on 33rd St. in New York City, just an hour from my house.

Clyde Beatty - Cole Bros. Alley

From the early 70s - The Clyde Beatty - Cole Bros. Alley (Buck Nolan, Lou Nagy, Jimmy James, Bernie Kallman and Kenny Dodd among them) as they appeared when I saw them at their annual stop at the Brunswick Square Mall in East Brunswick, NJ just a few minutes from my house.

Hoxie Bros.: The Fornasaris

From the early to mid 70s - The Fornasaris as they appeared on Hoxie Bros. when the show used to come for it's annual date at the Sayrewoods Shopping Center at the corner of Route 9 and Ernston Road in Parlin, NJ, just a few FEET from my house.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Ben Dova, The Convivial Inebriate

Remember Lee Evans ring gag at the end of the film FUNNY BONES (or Bello Nock's swaypole routine from his final year with Big Apple)? Well, here is where it all starts...

Joseph Späh as "Ben Dova, The Convivial Inebriate", far and away the most interesting story that you'll read all day...

Frankie in the Mirror

Saluto Bio

Frank T. "Frankie" Saluto
(1906 - 1982)

Born: Nov. 8 1906 in Massachusettes
Died: July 30, 1982 in Sarasota, Fla.

Exact height: 3' 10"

Known relatives: Lillian Saluto Cash, older sister

Frankie Saluto began clowning in 1928 and shortly afterwards joined the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He became known for his walkaround attempting to get a large live rabbit (the rabbit went through a long string of names before Saluto finally settled on "Buns") out of, and then back into, a large wooden box. His career highlights also include his uncanny minature Chaplin impersonation, playing the gas station attendant in Lou Jacobs' legendary car gag and being a member of the Ringling Giants, a midget baseball team that played exhibition games for circus publicity and charity causes.

In his will, John Ringling bequeathed a diamond stickpin to the one clown chosen "Most Popular" by his peers in Clown Alley. Saluto had the honor of winning that distinction, for which he was extremely proud.

Pictured frequently in circus programs as well as appearing in books on circus and clowning, he retired in 1974 at age 65 after 46 years of clowning.

One person's memories of a brush with Frankie...

I would like to inquire at this time about a photo that I have it was taken at the Ringling Bros, Barnum & Bailey Circus performance at New York City's, Madison Square Garden in 1965. I am featured in the photo, holding a mirror for a very friendly clown named Frankie Saluto. I clearly remember it because I was excited and a little afraid. I had never gotten so close to a clown before and I didn't realize until that moment that they really were just regular people under all that make-up. I think what really caught me by surprise was the fact that this clown was a midget and we were the same height; I was only 5 years old at the time!! I can still remember being introduced to him by my dad and the clown said his name was Frankie Saluto! My Dad, Mr. Louis Liotta, was a legendary N.Y. Post Photographer for 57 years and going to the circus each year was always a special treat and great memories of me and my dad. In those days we got to see the sideshow before the main circus events, ie, the skinny lady, the fat man, the man who swallowed fire, the snake man and up close and personal with all the animals! Wow, that was alot of excitement and fun when you are only 5 years old!! The photos are large black and whites and they are great photos of a great clown and friend, Frankie Saluto! - from the CHS message board

Frankie Saluto

Earle Shipley

A very wistful looking Earle Shipley (identified on the back of the photo as "The Dean of Clowns") who, I recall Jackie LeClaire once telling me, was a really nice guy. Earle was a Ringling Advance Clown from 1958 through 1960.

If I remember correctly he was also the uncle of mid-to-late 60s Ringling clown Billy Ward and Earle gave Billy all of his costumes and props when he retired.

Kelly-Miller Alley?

Here is a photo that the caption on the back claims is from the Kelly-Miller Circus.

It might be, it might not.

If it's not, more than likely it's a photo taken on the Beatty-Cole show back in the early to mid 70s when Billy McCabe (center with an unusual Lou Jacobs/Jimmy Stewart-inspired cone headpiece atop his usual Harry Dann-inspired makeup and Jackie LeClaire-inspired costume) and Bernie Kallman (right) were alley-mates.

Anyone know identity of the auguste on the left? He looks like he borrowed a pair of Billy's extra pants and one of Bernie's other jackets.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Doug Ashton

Doug Ashton was born into the circus. His mother was a bareback rider and trapeze artist and his father played trumpet in the circus band. Like his five brothers and two sisters, he was born as his parents toured Australia, although the family lived in Melbourne.

From the time he was born Doug was trained in the art of entertaining. He and his brothers practiced and acrobatic and tumbling act in the front window of an old store in Swanston Street, dazzling Melbourne lunchtime crowds with their somersaults and backflips.

By the time he was 16 Doug and his brothers Neville, Hoody, Dingie, Mickey, Goldie and his sister Ruva had turned professional with an act they called the Flying Ashtons. They signed a one year contract to tour South Africa with Boswell's Circus and set themselves on a course which would take them to venues all over the world as one of Australia's most famous circus acts.

"I was what they used to call the flyer," Doug said. "My brothers called me skinny, and because I was the lightest I was the one in the air most of the time." The Flying Ashton' lightning speed and pinpoint accuracy made them the toast of overseas circus and vaudeville acts.

After South Africa came a sell-out tour of England and within a year a Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium.

The Ashtons left Australia in 1947 and their fame and success kept them on the road - traveling between Britain, the United States, and Europe - until 1963, when they decided to split and seek their own fortunes. Ruva, Neville and Mickey returned to Australia, Dingie, Goldie, Hoody and Doug all decided to settle in the US.

"I went out on my own and it was then that I decided that clowning - making people laugh - was as good a way of making a living as I could find," Doug said. "I think I was just born silly."

While Doug was growing up, and practicing the tumbling routines with his brothers in Melbourne, he also worked with some of Australia's greatest stand-up comics. Those he admired were Roy Rene and George Wallace, and he learned a lot from taking bit parts in vaudeville shows at the old Tivoli Theater in Melbourne. "I remember seeing those men make audiences laugh and it always impressed me - there can never be enough laughter in the world," Doug said.

And, since his decision to become a clown, Doug brought laughter to people all over the world. He performed with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey for nine seasons, met and married a circus showgirl named Sally and together they toured the US and Australia as a double act for many years. He appeared on the Ed Sullivan show with Elvis and appeared in movies with Red Skelton and Mickey Rooney.

In 1987 he and his wife were invited to join the International Training Program for the Flying Fruit Fly Circus in Albury - Wodonga, a youth circus, where Sally taught web, trapeze and cloud swing and Doug taught what he knew best: slapstick, knockabout circus comedy.