Saturday, October 28, 2006

Rivel at Olympia

Charlie Rivel from the cover of the Picture Post dated December 31st, 1938, the year he was the clown at Olympia.

"Akrobat Schoooooooooooooooooooooon!"

Wilson and Randow

Dime Wilson and Gene Randow get ready for a Shrine date in this undated photo from the archives of the La Crosse Tribune, La Crosse, WI. Photo by Harry Larsson.

The Prince and His Subjects

Prince Paul surrounded by schoolchildren (from Venice, FL?) in this 1967 Ringling publicity photo taken by Zack Bloom.

Friday, October 27, 2006

CBCB Alley

The classic Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Alley photographed in what appears to be a doorknob's reflection.

I can ID Kenny Dodd, Lou Nagy, Jimmy James and Buck Nolan with Bernie Kallman peeking in way up top.

I believe the whiteface with the curly sided bald top wig is Larry Burkett.

Bernie, I hope you'll be kind enough to help out with the rest...

Jackie LeClaire

Two of my favorite pictures of one of my favorite people, Jackie LeClaire.

I believe that these both date from the early 60s when Jackie was doing advance work for the Ringling show.

Imagine... Kennedy may have been in the White House, The Beatles may have been on Sullivan, Lenny Bruce may have been off somewhere saying a dirty word... but you'd never know it from these timeless images of a classic circus clown.

These could have been taken in 1927 or yesterday morning.

A clown is a clown.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lazlo Donnert.

Yesterday we got a very nice message from Lazlo "Laci" Donnert, grandson of Lazlo Donnert, a pmember of the Ringling Blue Unit Alley from the late 60s through the mid 70s.

I had the pleasure of working with Lazlo and his family on the Red Unit in 1999. He was always very nice to me and even allowed me to play with his dogs each day before the show. I was missing my own dog while on the road and Lazlo understood.

We had the chance to have a few long conversations and Lazlo enjoyed having someone from the Alley to talk about the old days with. He was very generous in sharing stories about his time working alongside Doug Ashton, Frankie Saluto and Otto.

Laci, can you give us a little biographical material on your grandfather?

And please tell him that we all say "Hello"!

Chuck Sateja

Photo courtesy of Donald Stambaugh

Here's the description from Donni...

Here is a pix of Chuck Sateja taken on the All Star Clown Revue in a mall in Boston Mass. The manager of an ice cream store asked Chuck to front his new Rainbow ice cream flavor Chuck being a lover of ice cream cheerfully agreed. This was in early 70s. Chuck was flamboyant & funny clown spent many years on Ringling with friend Bobby Kaye & that group-------Donni

Polack Alley from the '60s

Photo courtesy of Bill Strong

The 1963 (possibly '64) Polack Bros. Clown Alley are, L to R, : Johnny Cirliano, Peluza, Dick "Rocko Lewis, & Al Ackerman.

The woman in the center of it all is Joanne Pinson , when she was on Polack with The Flying Ray-Dens.

This photo would have been towards the end of Dick Lewis' career. Not too long after this he would break his neck in the ring performing his table rock act.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Highbrow Paper on the Chickys' Mirror Entree

I wonder what the Chickys themselves would make of this?

Otto Griebling

Otto Griebling, an artist alone in his field.

OK, it's not so much a field as it is the backyard of a circus but you get the idea.

Billy Lerche

Photo courtesy of Bill Strong

Billy Lerche, about whom I know nothing except what was written on the back of this photo.

He looks like he could be a distant relative of Bindlestiff Keith Nelson's Mr. Pennygaff.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Buck Baker

Myron "Buck" Baker (you didn't think his momma named him "Buck, did ya?) was born in 1873 and died in Washington July 6th, 1943.

From 1902 until 1907 he appeared in vaudeville as a trick bicycle rider. In 1908 he joined the Ringling Bros. Circus and subsequently worked on the Walter L. Main, Morris & Rowe, Gentry, Bailey Bros, and Hagenbeck Wallace circuses.

He was a prolific Producing Clown specializing in several trick automobile gags. He may have invented the "second driver" car that seems to drive by itself, the kind used by the Wiswell and Cook families for many years. He also created an early version of the bathtub that Lou Jacobs made famous. There is also strong evidence that he created that absolute all-time classic of three ring American circus clowning, the Firehouse Gag.

Because there are more photos from the Last Supper than there are of Buck Baker, I'm using my meager detective skills to deduce that he is the clown on the far right with his face (frustratingly) obscured by his hat.

This photo is from the Pfening Archives. Fred has this photo ID'ed as "BAKER, BUCK WITH CLOWNS" and has neatly typed "BAILEY BROS. CIRCUS (HARLEY SADLER) WITCHITA FALLS TEXAS 9/11/35) " under it. Included with it is Buck's obituary from his local newspaper so it's on good authority that I'm accepting that Buck is one of the four clowns in the photo.

Now, Buck Baker wasn't a "little person" so that eliminates the man on the far left, He could be either of the two gentlemen in the center of the photo but Buck would be about 62 years old when this photo was taken in 1935 and neither of those men look old enough to be 42 much less 62.

Therefore, if this is a photo with the elusive Mr. Buck Baker in it, it's my guess that he's the cat in the hat.

If anybody out there has a better photo of Buck, PLEASE let me know!

Doug Ashton?

We've had a lot of international visitors recently.

Folks from all over Europe, Asia, the Middle East, South America and even South Africa have found us here in the past few weeks but we have one person in Australia who is looking in almost every day.

I'm wondering if it might be Dougie Ashton, seen above with Michu, Tim Torklidson and (hiding in the back) future Dean of Clown College, Ron Severini in whiteface.

I just worked with Doug's nephew, Mike Ashton, his wife Sue and their beautiful new baby. Mike told me that Doug is back in Australia with a gig in a seaside resort town. If you're out there Doug, please drop me a line!

Monday, October 23, 2006

John Cooper on Charlie Cairoli

Where to begin? What to leave out?

I suppose the start is obvious.

Hubert Jean Charles Cairoli. (Some sources have it as
"Jean Hubert Charles".)
Born: Milan, Italy. 15 February 1910.
Died: Blackpool, England. 17 February 1980.

A friend of mine once heard a girl tell Charlie that
he wasn't a real clown, probably because she believed
a real clown had a heavy facial make-up. His response
was "Oh!", and a big smile.
If Charlie Cairoli wasn't a real clown, then there is
no such thing as a real clown.

Whilst he was born in Italy, his parents were both
French, and it was their only visit to that country.
Charlie made his ring debut at the age of 7, and by
1929 he was working at Cirque Medrano in Paris,
France, in an act with his father (Jean-Marie) as
white-face, and the celebrated auguste, Porto. By this
time, Charlie was known as Carletto. The Cairolis were
to remain at Medrano until 1937, Charlie's elder
brother, Filip, replacing Porto along the way.

For much of that time, the other major Parisian circus
building (Cirque d'Hiver) featured Les Fratellini.
Naturally there was professional rivalry (and respect)
between the two star clown trios, and each sent family
members to the other building to spy on their

Charlie would notice the frequent presence of one
particular charming young lady in his audience, so
made sure he met her. He discovered that her name was
Violette. Violette Fratellini. Her father was Paul.
The result was marriage (despite some initial
opposition from both families) and, subsequently, 3
children (2 daughters and a son).

The year 1939 found the Cairolis at Blackpool Tower
Circus, where they were very successful. Filip
returned to France when war broke out, but father and
younger son stayed on in Britain, often billed as The
Cairoli Brothers when working in variety when the
circus wasn't operating. Having been born in Italy,
Charlie was interned towards the start of hostilities,
but eventually he would perform 2 shows each day - and
then spend the night working in a munitions factory.

Charlie Cairoli remained a fixture a The Tower until
his retirement at the end of the 1979 season, a season
during which his health had not been good.

"Johnny" Cairoli retired in 1947, after which Charlie
worked with 4 different white-face clowns, namely Paul
Freeman, Paul King, Paul Conner and, to complete the
circle, Charlie Cairoli Jr. (The photo with the
posting on 8 July shows Paul King.)

Featured prominently, there would often be a brilliant
stooge called Jimmy Buchanan. Jimmy worked absolutely
straight-faced. Dead pan. Even whilst his nose or ears
were severely tweaked - and with a mouth full of

Violette Cairoli and Jimmy Buchanan have both departed
this life.

However, Charlie Junior still works as a clown,
although he took some time out from circus, and
dropped the "Junior" a while ago. Of late, he's been
in and out of hospital, so is resting as I write. He
and his wife Claudi (more formally Claudette) have 2
sons - Charles and Alexander - who have little or no
interest in show business.

I know that a grandchild of Filip Cairoli was living
in the US some 10 years ago.

That tells you something about the man and his
colleagues. In due course, I'll tell you something
about his work.

John Cooper.


Robert "Onionhead" Dunn who has been touring with the UniverSoul Circus since 1996.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sunday Night at the Movies: Chaplin's THE CIRCUS 1928

If The Circus is one of Charlie Chaplin's lesser-known films, it's only because of bad timing. Made right after The Gold Rush and just before City Lights, this unjustly underrated silent tends to get neglected out of deference to the two other films. While it may not be a cinematic masterpiece, nevertheless, it's a beautiful film and perhaps more personal that anyone might have suspected at the time and is one of the funniest, most purely entertaining of Chaplin's features.

The film opens on a circus where the ringmaster is an abusive bully, the clowns are desperately unfunny, and the audiences are growing smaller and smaller. As act after act bombs inside, the Little Tramp is outside, blithely enjoying the boardwalk until a cop mistakes him for a pickpocket and gives chase. When the Little Tramp runs into the circus' center ring, he quickly has the audience in stitches with his efforts to ditch the cop. Knowing a good thing when he sees one, the ringmaster offers the Tramp a job, only to discover that he's only funny when he isn't trying.

This is merely the film's setup, encompassing the first 20 minutes or so, and already it includes some moments of Chaplin genius: a chase through the fun house, the Tramp's first moments in front of an audience, the absolutely hilarious audition sequence where the Tramp reinterprets some classic clown routines. Still to come is the romance with the ringmaster's daughter, and the rivalry between the tightrope walker and the monkeys in the scene above.

The trick comes when the ringmaster (Allan Garcia) decides to keep Charlie on as a prop master, but without letting him know that he's actually the star of the show. Eventually he discovers his stardom and must appear "funny" on purpose. But when a new tightrope walker (Harry Crocker) joins the show and the girl falls in love with him, a heartbroken Charlie finds that he can't make the audience laugh anymore.

These three stages may represent for Chaplin some kind of comedy evolution. At first he makes the audience laugh without trying, then he must try, then he turns serious. Certainly every film he made after The Circus had some kind of serious element to it, even if he never again made an all-out drama like A Woman of Paris (1923).

Chaplin's film shoots were never easy, but The Circus was particularly plagued by problems. The first 19 days of shooting were destroyed in a lab accident; it rained incessantly; the main set burned to the ground; Rudolph Valentino died; and Chaplin's 18-year-old wife sued him for divorce, forcing the entire film to be put on hold for eight months.

While waiting for the set to be reconstructed after the fire, Chaplin kept working, quickly devising a sequence when the Little Tramp goes out for dinner. Although he shot hundreds of takes, Chaplin would never bother to edit them into a scene for the final movie. Presented on the recent DVD reissue as a collection of unedited takes, "The Unused Footage" gives us a rare opportunity to watch Chaplin at work. Banging his cane on the floor instead of yelling "cut," Chaplin does take after take, slowly exploring the comic possibilities and making things up as he goes along. It's surprising to realize how much of Chaplin's humor was created on-set and the fact he hates to leave the center of the screen.

For hard-core Chaplin fans, the production lasted 637 days and they only actually shot film on 170 of those.

Largely free of the pathos and overwrought melodramatics that contemporary audiences have a hard time accepting, The Circus is simply about being funny. Of course, since it's Charlie Chaplin, it's brilliantly funny. At the first Academy Awards in 1928, Chaplin received a special Oscar for "versatility and genius in writing, acting, directing and producing The Circus." That may be one of the best decisions the Academy has ever made.

Edited from D.R. Jones review found on and Jeffrey M. Anderson's on

Sunday Morning Art Gallery w/ Cowboy Mike Keever

"Extreme Closeup" a self-portrait by Mike Keever

"My Friend Jummy Graham is Heaven Sent" a portrait of Jimmy Graham by Mike Keever