Saturday, August 19, 2006

That Was Then, This Is Now: Bill Irwin

Before he was a two-time Tony award winning Broadway star, before he was a highly respected character actor in numerous films, before he was the first performer, let alone clown, to ever win the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship (the "genius grant"), before he and his partners David Shiner and the Red Clay Ramblers created their show Fool Moon and before he won the hearts of every child on earth as Elmo's pal Mr. Noodle on Sesame Street he was just another Ringling Clown College graduate named Bill Irwin.

OK, even then he kind of stood out as being really good.

Bill alledgedly turned down a Ringling contact offer from Irvin Feld, headed west and became an original member of the Pickle Family Circus, where he spent five years in their alley as "Willy the Clown" working alongside Geoff "Mr. Sniff" Hoyle and Larry "Lorenzo Pickle" Pisoni.

Soon he would become one of the most well known figures, and one of the greatest success stories, of the "New Circus" and "New Vaudeville" movements.

And he's a really nice guy!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

That Was Then, This Is Now

Today we know them as the comedy stars of the Ringling Gold Unit but "way back when" they were just two of the more talented guys in Clown Alley, working hard and honing their craft...

Mitch Freddes on the Red Unit in 1977...

and Tom Dougherty on the Blue Unit in 1980.


Thanks to everyone who sent messages inquiring about my 3 1/2 year old son, Shane.

He picked up a bug someplace and has been really sick for the past two days. His fever broke late this afternoon, he's just starting to feel better and is able to keep his food and liquids down.

He's now set up in front of the TV with his Elmo sofa and his Mickey Mouse Club blanket sipping creme soda and giggling his way through his Spongebob and Pee-Wee Herman DVDs... so he's back to his usual routine.

CBCB in the 70s: Red Skelton

Red Skelton seemed to love reliving his salad days (Red started out as a circus clown on the Hagenbeck-Wallace show) and hanging out with circus clowns. There are numerous stories of him taking the entire Ringling alley out to dinner.

Here he is in a 1973 photo with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. alley taken in New Orleans where he rode an elephant in the show's opening.

From left to right we have Jimmy James Plott, Bernie Kallman, a young Ann Margaret fresh from the set of Kitten With a Whip (just kidding, I'm not sure who the woman is. Mrs. Skelton? A daughter?) Red, what looks like it might be Mike Ferreira, Kenny Dodd, Dennis Stevens and down front we have Bernardo Crespo on the left and Lou Nagy on the right.

Where was Shorty Hinkle? Was he cropped out of this? Did Red have something against short clowns and refuse to be photographed with him ; )

Bernie Kallman, I know you are out there! Please tell us all about your meeting with Red! Give me just a moment first as I cue up the David Rose Orchestra recording of "Holiday for Strings" on my CD player...

Al Alexander

Al Alexander's Lemonzeen

What I wouldn't give for a car like this!

Wait a minute! I DO have a car like this.

In fact, mine is even better!

Anyone interested in buying a car like this please contact me immediately.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

CBCB in the 60s: Hinkle, Dullam and Dann

The Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus in the 1960s, when Frank McClosky, Jerry Collins and Art Concello owned the show, John Pugh was the General Manager, Floyd King was the General Agent, George Plympton was shooting television specials there and Kelloggs used the show and it's cast in commercials under that blue and white tent...

Whitefaces in white wardrobe: from left to right: Shorty Hinkle, Eddie Dullam and Harry Dann with an unidentified young miss.

CBCB in the 60s: McCabe and Dodd

The 60s era Beatty-Cole Alley was teaming with clowns who had extra jobs on the show. Billy McCabe (above, left) ran the cookhouse, Kenny "Tweetybird" Dodd (above, right) was the mailman, Mike Bourbon was in charge of wardrobe and Bernie Kallman picked up some extra scratch as an electrician.

CBCB in the 60s: Ernie Burch

Was Ernie "Blinko" Burch a member of the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Alley between his long stint on Ringling and his equally long run at Circus-Circus in Las Vegas? It's hard for me to say for sure.

Many of the early CBCB programs (and many of their early posters) contain old Ringling photos from the 30s and 40s that have been retouched. Why didn't they use Cole Bros. Circus photos? I don't know. Why didn't they use more recent Clyde Beatty Circus photos? I don't know.

But the 1962 program contains this picture of Ernie, who may have been a member of their Alley in an era when it featured other ex-Ringling clowns such as Emmett Kelly, Harry Dann, Albert White and Jimmy Armstrong and would soon add Lou Nagy and Dennis Stevens.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

In Rehearsal, Out of Makeup: Soapy

Today's series of photos come from rehearsals for the 100th Anniversary Edition of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and were taken in the Winter Quarters arena in Venice, soon to be demolished...

Duane "Uncle Soapy" Thorpe
(Bill Ballantine's portrait of Soapy, from his book CLOWN ALLEY, is of him wearing this spec costume)
This may not be a photo of Soapy after all as this message comes to us from ace Gold Unit clown Mitch Freddes...
"I don't think that is Uncle Soapy as he was not on the Blue Show at the time. As far as I know he was never on the Blue Unit. You are correct about the costume in Bill's book . I do remember seeing him in a costume similar to this one."
I've never seen a photo of Soapy out of makeup without his glasses (and the face isn't very clear) so can anyone else here confirm or deny this "Soapy Sighting"?

In Rehearsal, Out of Makeup: Prince Paul

"Prince Paul" Albert

In Rehearsal, Out of Makeup: Otto

Otto Griebling

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Otto in White

An extremely rare George Brinton Beal photo of Otto Griebling in his "whites".

Alfredo Landon

Alfredo Landon; I don't know much about him other than, like Paul Jung and Lou Jacobs, that he also liked to work with small statured clowns.

He must have been pretty good as he was chosen as one of the Producing Clowns on Abe Pollin, Karl Wallenda and Paul V. Kaye's massive Circus America at the Capital Centre in Washington, D.C. back in 1974.

And if you look closely, you'll see that the clown on the left seems to me to be a young Mike Padilla.