Saturday, September 16, 2006

Picture Day on the Beatty show

Photo courtesy of Bill Strong

I'm not sure who that is on the elephants but from left to right underneath we have Shorty Hinkle, Jimmy James, another unidentified (Toby Jorio?) and Lou Nagy with Kenny Dodd in the foreground.

I would guess from Jimmy's makeup that this was taken in the mid-60s. That and the fact that Bernie Kallman isn't there, leading me to believe that this was taken before he joined the show.

Picture Day on Ringling

Pile up gang! It's Picture Day from back before Clown College, when the auguste came to rule the Ringling Alley.

Four, count 'em, FOUR whitefaces all dressed in white costumes trimmed in red. No "clown" noses. Two wearing similar peaked white hats but each unique enough that they are easily identifiable.

I'm not sure of the name of the guy at the top (I know that he was used on the cover of the Ringling program one year so he's probably someone for whom I haven't connected the name and the face yet) but I know that right below him are Jackie LeClaire's father Jack LeClair (they spelled their last names differently) on the left and Milt Taylor on the right, two lovely young women and Frankie Saluto at the bottom.

Frankie's makeup is slightly altered in this photo from his usual makeup at the time. Jack LeClair's makeup is different too.

There are several photos (all from about the same time, possibly the same day) of Jack LeClair with this makeup he wearing here, one that differs GREATLY from his earlier makeup. Why would a clown with such a great, expressive face and such a simple yet effective makeup suddenly change it at this point in his career?

I've been told that "back in the day" Ringling management would ask some clowns to come up with an alternate makeup for some press photos to make it seem like there were more clowns on the show than there actually were.

That's why we have strange photos of Lou Jacobs, Gijon Polidor and Felix Adler all in a very similar makeup (the most famous photo of which is a close up of Felix shouting with his hand to his mouth, which was used for years on posters and publicity materials and is the logo for the Felix Adler tent of the CFA) over the years. That's why we have photos of Paul Jerome in whiteface in the 40s. That is why there are whiteface photos of Otto Griebling on the Cole show.

So maybe THAT explains the change in Frankie Saluto and Jack LeClair's makeups.

Or maybe they just felt like a change.

Rules were far more relaxed for the clowns on the Ringling show back then and they were free to experiment and try different things.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Otto and Jackie

Otto Griebling, out of makeup, bowling with Jackie LeClaire in what looks to be the late 50s/early 60s.

I remember reading in an interview that Otto's daughter was always mortified that her father wore his hair so long. Then the Beatles came along and suddenly he was the coolest Dad around. Groovy!

Joe Jackson Sr.

Photo courtesy of Robin Estes

Vaudeville star Joe Jackson Sr., in and out of makeup.

Paul Jerome: Tramp Makeup

The very distinctive tramp makeup of Paul Jerome, "The Neon Clown", which features the light up nose that so many writers have attributed (and continue to attribute) to Felix Adler. Jerome's earlier whiteface makeup IS similar to Adler's and next week I'll try to find a few photos to post side by side for comparison.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Series of photos courtesy of Robin Estes

Last night we received a message in the "comments" section of a photo of Otto Griebling and Harriet Hodgini from someone identifying themselves as "Julie".

She said that she is the grand-daughter of Otto and Hanna Griebling.

I hope a few more photos of "Grampa" here could entice Julie to email me at so I could talk to her at length about her grandfather.

More Otto

Another Otto

Happy Kellams

Longtime Shrine Circus fixture Happy Kellams

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Big Apple Circus: Step Right Up

Last night I was fortunate enough to see the dress rehearsal for the new 29th edition of Big Apple Circus, "Step Right Up".


Francesco, Justin Case, Johnny Peers, Joel Jeske (who really outdoes himself) and Barry Lubin ALL IN ONE SHOW! And that's just the comedy! Steve Smith and his team have much to be proud of this morning. They've assembled an amazing cast that have created a truly wonderful show.

Bobo Barnett & Clown College

"Prof." Chester "Bobo" Barnett, former Ringling clown and longtime star clown with several Shrine shows, in cap and gown and described as "Bachelor of Buffoonery College of Humor" in this autographed photo from 1945.

How widely distributed was this photo and just how much did Bobo have invested in the idea? Was it just for this one single publicity photo? Did he frame the act around it for a time?

We've all heard that the idea for Clown College was Irvin Feld's.

I've heard that the idea for Clown College was Danny Chapman's.

I've heard that the idea for Clown College was first suggested by Otto Griebling.

But maybe the germ of the idea came from a widely distributed publicity photo of Bobo Barnett?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Francescos 1955: Boxing Gag Video

Video of what looks to me to be the Francescos doing a boxing gag in 1955.

Unfortunately, I can't show it to you here.

Google videos does not allow you to embed video the way YouTube does so you'll have to cut and paste the address below into your web browser window...*+clown*&pr=goog-sl

It's only a few seconds of video but it's well worth your trouble for the chance to see a absolutely flawless execution of a "toothpick" in live performance.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I don't think that there is ANY photo that sums up the shock, horror and genuine uselessness that I felt on the morning of September 11, 2001 like the image of Emmett Kelly running across the RBB&B lot with a bucket of water attempting to help put out the roaring Hartford Circus Fire of 1944.

You sat and watched it on TV, over and over and over... and were powerless. You had no idea when or where it was going to stop. No idea what to do.

No matter what you did, what you thought, no matter how hard you tried you couldn't stop it from happening again and again and again. The worst thing imaginable. Over and over and over. Planes, buildings, horror, crashes, death. Over and over and over.

And just when you believed that it couldn't get any worse, the Towers began to collapse.

It was a beautiful day. With the trail of smoke visible from my front window, it was STILL a beautiful day.

That's what really killed me. How could something so terrible happen on such an absolutely beautiful day?

I'd just driven past the towers a few days before. I was driving through the Holland Tunnel on my way to Steve Smith's birthday party, listening to the new Elvis Costello CD and I felt good. Really good. All seemed really right with the world.

It was a wonderful night. It was a wonderful party. People came from far and wide and I met and talked with people I've admired since childhood, all there to celebrate the birthday of a man who has been a good friend to us all.

On September 10th I spent the day at Newark Airport. I was there shooting a commercial for United Airlines and spent the whole day in their VIP lounge, looking out at the New York skyline, drinking it in.

I still felt good from the party. I felt good to be cast in another commercial. I'd done 5 in the last year. One was even running internationally. It felt like I was finally getting somewhere . It felt like things were finally coming together.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Slivers: Beautiful Day

Photo courtesy of Tom Dougherty

Tom described this as his favorite picture of Slivers. I can see why.

Slivers on a hilltop, on a beautiful idyllic day playing with a dog. He's a young man at the height of his career, at the top of his profession with one of the largest circuses the world will ever see as his playground in the background.

What's not to love?