Saturday, November 11, 2006

Blinko and the 2 Stooges

Early sixties home movie footage of Moe Howard and Curly Joe DeRita of The Three Stooges being met at Toronto airport by Ernie "Blinko" Burch and Norbu, probably for a Shrine Circus appearance.

Lunch at Phillipe's

Photo courtesy of Ron Jarvis

A group of ex-Ringling clowns from throughout the Clown College-era have been meeting regularly for some time in a Los Angeles eatery called Phillipe's Famous French Dip Restaurant. Here's a photo taken there at a get-together last April.

Out of makeup (and after a few years off the road) just how many of these former Matchless Merry Madcap Masters of Mirth and Captivating Captains of Caprice can you identify?

Cairoli of Battle Creek, MI

John Cooper's Halloween costume for next year.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Al Bruce

Photos courtesy of Bill Strong

Bill Strong tells me:

"Trudy & I were cleaning out my old trunk so it can go to the Brandon Library for a Circus display, I found a page from the magazine section from an old Sunday paper, (which I will send with your next shipment), these two pictures I couldn't wait, I haven't seen or heard of Al Bruce for years."

" I did a little work on them hiding some creases but couldn't get them any sharper. There is some other stuff you might be interested in, but for now I left on the back porch to air out. Not sure how these will come out."

Paul Wenzel

Photo courtesy of the Pfening Circus Archives

Today we look at Paul Wenzel.

Wenzel was born in 1878, clowned for over 60 years all over the country with shows large and small before finally finding a permanent home with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

He was tall (6'4"), thin and easily identifiable in his yellow plaid clown suits and his fright wig. He seemed to prefer working with geese and excelled at the eccentric art of crafting elaborate props and costumes made of piano wire an silk.

He even created huge silk and wire costumes for the Ringling elephants, transforming them into such things as enormous clowns and butterflies over the years.

His props and costumes can be seen in Cecil B. DeMille's THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH.

Paul Wenzel: Letterhead

A recent eBay find, Paul Wenzel's early letterhead. We see several of his early century walkarounds as well as the Skeleton Chase No one seems sure of the creator of the this venerable old warhorse of circus comedy. Did Wenzel create it?

Interesting also is that Wenzel's makeup is different in the small walkaround pictures than it is depicted at the top of the page. The makeup at top looks to be inspired by Fred Stone's Scarecrow in the popular Broadway production of the WIZARD OF OZ.
Wenzel is also wearing slapshoes, which he isn't often seen wearing later in his career.

Paul Wenzel: A Man and His Goose

Whether working with live ones or skillfully made imitations, Paul Wenzel was a clown who enjoyed working with geese.

Several of his walk arounds gave the illusion of him being pulled around the track by geese, either by the use of fake legs, wagons, or dogsleds.

According to Bill Ballantine, Paul's favorite goose was his 1946-48 pet which he named "Anatole Prance".

129th Edition Red Unit Director of Clowning Robert Shields (of Shields and Yarnell) could only remember having ever seen one circus clown in his entire childhood. From his description of "a strange man walking with a duck" I always assumed he was referring to Wenzel.

Paul Wenzel: Silk and Wire

An autographed photo of Paul Wenzel from my personal collection

Paul Wenzel was a clown for almost 70 years and was most famous for creating elaborate collapsible props from silk and piano wire. Frosty Little's book CIRCUS STORIES describes Paul's fishing gag where he would enter with a 2" thick green box that would instantly expand to 36" by 36". Once expanded, Paul would beginning fishing in it with an enormous 20' bamboo fishing pole and would hook a beautifully painted 15' collapsible green fish made with the same silk and wire method as the box. Frosty describes it as an impressive sight to see 6'4" Wenzel waving a 20' pole with a 15' fish hanging from it.

The gag was revived on the Red Unit in the 90s by John Lynch and is the inspiration behind a come-in gag currently being performed by Mitch Freddes on the Gold.

According to Frosty, Paul's original fish was discovered in 1987 in a clown storage facility at the Venice Arena winter quarters, little more than a pile of wires and shredded cloth. They had it refurbished and it now resides in the Feld Entertainment head offices in Vienna, VA.

Paul Wenzel by Bill Ballantine

Paul Wenzel by artist and former Dean of Clown College, Bill Ballantine

Frosty Little tells a story in his book CIRCUS STORIES of how thrifty Mr. Wenzel had become after years of trouping. The Ringling Pay Master had to ask him to cash some of his paychecks. He had over six months worth of them in his trunk!

Paul Wenzel: The Stack

Photo courtesy of the Pfening Circus Archives

A time-tested and oft-posed circus picture, the stack of clowns:

No matter how many times Greg DeSanto tells me the name of the50s era clown on top I can never find it when I need it.
Below him is our hero, Mr. Wenzel. Next we have Gene Lewis and I'm not sure of the name of the little clown at the bottom. Probably taken between 1947 and 1955 on the Ringling show.

Paul Wenzel: Program Photo

By the 1960s Paul Wenzel was regularly listed in a place of honor alongside the acknowledged giants of the Alley in the annual Ringling programs. He continued to tour with the show until his retirement in 1968 at the age of 90. He passed away in 1972.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hello? Do You Have Prince Paul Albert In a Can?

Photo courtesy of Sue Lenz

One for Richard Fick, here he is...Prince Paul Albert.

Who's a Pepper?

Photo courtesy of Bill Strong.

Here's Billie Burke again, this time with Gene Randow, Harold Simmons, & actor Bob Cummings. This was taken at the Gil Gray produced Dr. Pepper Circus, that had at least a 20 year run at The Texas State Fair.

Sent to Bill by Jackie Wong, of the Jim Wong Troupe.

David Shiner

David Shiner picking the first volunteer during a production of FOOL MOON, his show with Bill Irwin and the Red Clay Ramblers.

American clown David Shiner, seen performing his Silent Movie gag at Circus Roncalli in Germany. Most of his work is done in Europe and I believe he is the Director of a variety theater in Berlin.

Whenever I meet someone who has been around the circus industry for awhile I always ask the same two questions:

"Who is the best clown that you ever saw?"

"What's the best clown gag that you ever saw?"

The answer from most folks is always one of the same three: Otto, Lou or Bobo Barnett.

Those who were only around the Ringling show always choose between Otto or Lou (Lou's daughter Lou Ann even chose Otto as her favorite after "Papa" with his Delivery Man bit in the seats being her favorite) while those who spent time on the Shrine circuit always choose either Otto and Bobo.

It would be hard for me to pick a best clown, I've seen a lot of really excellent circus clowning in my lifetime.

I will say that among the ones that make me laugh the loudest are Barry Lubin, Karen DeSanto, Tom Dougherty and David Shiner.

Best clown gag? I would have to say that David Shiner's Silent Movie gag is probably the best circus comedy that I've ever seen.

The gag is genius in it's conception and execution and Shiner is absolutely brilliant in the way that he works with the audience volunteers.

My father-in-law was chosen as "The Clapboard Guy" during the last Broadway run of FOOL MOON, he had the time of his life and still asks "When are they doing that again? We GOTTA go see that again!"

If you've never seen the gag, it is available on the VHS and DVD of Cirque du Soleil's NOUVELLE EXPERIENCE.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Michu Alert!

Photo courtesy of Sue Lenz

Everyone's favorite, Michu, being held aloft by "brother" Tomi Leibel who can still be found working in and around Wisconsin in the summertime.

Rex "Boxcar" Young

Photo courtesy of the CFA website

Ever the consummate producing clown, Rex "Boxcar" Young with a classic comedy car gag.

Notice the "Hotel de Boxcar" of in the distance.

I've been told Rex is still living around the Detroit area. Has anyone spoken to him lately?

Van Dyke? Possibly. Dick? Definitely!

The clown on the right is Chuck Sidlow. I'm not positive about the ID of the other three. Maybe Greg can ID them before I embarrass myself with a guess based on program pictures.

The gentleman in the center is Dick Van Dyke. After reading his less-than-flattering assesment of the art of circus clowning in Diane Keaton's recent book CLOWN PAINTINGS I set aside my feelings about his television and film work in the 1960s and now feel that Mr. Van Dyke has become nothing less than a complete and total Dick.

I'm amazed that someone could insult the work that professional circus clowns do after turning in the putrid performances he did in the CBS Television CLOWN COLLEGE 20TH ANNIVERSARY Special.

Yes sir, quite the Dick.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Photo courtesy of Robin Estes

Two of the greats: Ringmaster Harold Ronk and Master Clown Otto Griebling.

This photo was recently purchased from the estate of Mr. Ronk himself!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Video of Ringling Clowns 1979!

Exactly what I've hoped this blog would be able to do, SHOW MORE THAN JUST PHOTOS!

This comes to us from Polidor1, Sandy Weber...

I have some footage I shot back in 1979 of the clowns performing on the Ringling show at the International Amphitheater in Chicago (don't remember if it was Blue or Red unit). I've put a small Quicktime movie up on my web space:
Please feel free to mention it on your blog, or, if you want you can copy it and put the movie up yourself (it's about 20MB), whichever...

Some of the footage is blurry and I missed some of the action at times (I was using a bad 16mm camera), but it is still fun to watch.



This is Ringling clowning the way I remember it being done when I was a kid.

Thanks for the memories!

Once again, that link is...

Somebody Get these Ringling Clowns Out This Ringling Train!

Photo courtesy of Bill Strong

The Ringling show became a truck show for the 1957 season when it moved indoors but returned to rail transportation just a few seasons later and, while the Gold Unit is a 100% truck show, the Red and Blue Units are still moved by rail.

Here the Ringling clowns celebtrate the return of the train. I'm not sure who the first three are but left to right we have in window #2, Dennis Stevens and in window #3 Chuck Burnes, Albert White and Gene Lewis.

Billie Burke in a Lone Star State of Mind

Photo courtesy of Bill Strong

Senor Billie Burke (an excellent clown as well as a whiz at painting props and equipment) as a bandito in front of a Texas bandwagon (TEXAS BANDWAGON?!? Wha????) on, I am guessing, the Texas Shrine dates.


Visit Bill Strong's circus blog at:

Monday, November 06, 2006

On the Train

Photo courtesy of Sue Lenz

Sue Lenz, her dog, one of her chimps and Leon "Buttons" McBryde.

Coco's Crazy Colorists

"Coco's Crazy Colorists", Michael "Coco" Polakov's classic soap gag, the soap gag by which all other American soap gags are measured.

Coco in a gag session with the Janus brothers in a very realistic Shellenberger horse costume.

Look At the Size (and Quality) of That Alley!

Photo courtesy of Sue Lenz

The Alley of the 1975 Ringling Red Unit Bicentennial Tour.

Among the stars it's easy to pick out Doug Ashton, Duane "Uncle Soapy" Thorpe, Glen "Frosty" Little, Bobby Kay, Kochmanski and Lou Jacobs but how many of the others can you name?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sunday Night at the Movies: DUCK SOUP

The Mirror Gag, a classic entree that goes back through burlesque, vaudeville and music hall to the European circus ring and most likely all the way back to Commedia.

It's been done recently in the ring by the Chickys, to much acclaim. It's been done on TV by Lucille Ball and Harpo Marx. Here it is done by the Marx Brothers in the 1933 film DUCK SOUP directed by longtime Hal Roach writer, director and gag man, Leo McCarey.

Sunday Morning Art Gallery w/ Mike Keever: Special Edition

I am speechless.

What an honor. What a generous gift.

Thank you Mike.

For more on Mike and his art please visit...

Sunday Morning Art Gallery: SVU

A portrait of me done yesterday at a benefit held at the Galleria in Red Bank, NJ by an artist named Pinky who sketches in the style of Picasso.

Felix Adler 1930

Here's an extra picture of yesterday's featured act, Felix Adler as a thank you to everyone for us posting such great numbers recently. Fridays and Saturdays are usually our worst two days, hit-wise, but we received the highest ever number of hits for a Friday and Saturday this weekend so I thought you all deserved an extra post.