Monday, October 29, 2007

CLOWN ALLEY: Clyde Beatty-Russel Bros. 1944

The other day I received very nice messages from the grandson and daughter of longtime circus clown Dick "Rocco" Lewis. His daughter Kathleen was kind enough to help correct some misinformation here about her Dad so I thought that I'd dig around the web and see what else I could find about him.

Below you'll find the clown-relevant snippets from a great article that I found on the Circus Historical Society website about the Clyde Beatty-Russell Bros. Circus tour of 1944 where "Rocco" was prominently featured...


Clyde Beatty and Russell Bros. Combined Circus, Season of 1944
By Chang Reynolds. Bandwagon, Vol. 13, No. 3 (May-Jun), 1969, pp. 10-19.

...The clowns handled their trunks and props and put up the clown dressing tent and tore it down.

..."It went along like this until we got to Pasadena," related Matthie, "when the clowns went on strike. We went to Jack Joyce and told him that we wouldn't move the trunks or put up the dressing top and tear it down anymore. He gave us a hard look and said it didn't make any difference whether we were on the show or not. So we went back to hauling the trunks and putting up the tent and tearing it down."

...In addition to the above, Matthie's work consisted of setting up the bandstand, calliope and its motor and compressor, the P.A. system (this included tw 6 ft. stakes), ticket sales downtown, cigars, candy, and cigarettes, work the matinee and night show, and then tear down and load all of the above. He was paid separately for all of those jobs. Putting up and tearing down the clown tent and handling the clown props was part of the clown act and was included in his pay for clowning.

Clown alley in San Diego. Dick Lewis is in the center with Walt Matthie at the upper left. Alva Evans is at the right front. Doc Hayden photo
(*I would add that it looks like Dennis Stevens kneeling to the right of Dick Lewis with Art Cooksey standing above him. ~PC)

...The clowns were introduced in Display No. 3. The Official Route Book for the season lists eighteen clowns, nine of whom were on the show for the road tour after the show left Los Angeles. The others were present only for the big 24-day stand; and one joined in Kansas to finish the tour. The nine who toured were Brownie Gudath, Rene Thezan, Dick Lewis, Walt Matthie, Alva Evans, Alex Lowande, Gus Lind, George Perkins (who left in Idaho), and Hughie Kyle.

...Following the web act, Albert Fleet presented Clyde Beatty's two chimpanzees, "Mickey" and "Minnie." "Mickey," the male, was a powerful ape who hated clowns and often went into a rage at the sight of anyone wearing white clothing. This even included Beatty who always wore a white uniform when working. Since the clown fire-house number frequently followed Fleet's act, "Mickey" had a great opportunity to unleash his vengeance upon the men in white-face. Chairs, props, and an occasional axle flew through the air as the men in white entered, and the chimps left, the arena. Alva Evans wore a white clown suit and a monkey mask in one number and "Mickey" seized the bars of his cage and rocked it furiously every time he spotted the clown in this attire. To show that he was truly impartial, he bit off the end of Albert Fleet's thumb during the Los Angeles stand.

...The Wild West concert was introduced and then Dick Lewis played the part of the frantic bride in the burning house. Brownie Gudath was inside with the fire pot and the rest of the poeys tried to put out the fire and catch the rather weighty Lewis as he leaped to safety. The fire pot, manned by Gudath, was constructed from a coffee pot which burned gasoline. Clouds of smoke were created by blowing through the tubing into the pot. Later, at Anacortes, Washington, the long grass inside the house caught fire from the torch and the clowns outside threw quantities of water into the enclosure to save Lewis and Gudath from being toasted. Upon emerging, these two smoked-up clowns berated the others for getting them wet!


Anonymous said...

I hired Dick to be our resident clown at the Circus World Museum the season of his tragic fall in San Antonio in the Fall on the beginning of the Texas Dates.

He proved to be just great in Baraboo and his circus clown persona proved to be a perfect mix of bringing circus history to life. He became quite popular with all the museum employees and so poular with the public and especially the kids. He would go out on the courtyard each day before our small daily street parade and soon he would cross the bridge in top hat and cane marching as the pied piper with the kids and family behind. He did a fine come in and nice gags in the performance with his delightful Irish lilt personality shining thru. He endearned himself with the local people when being up town. Everything was positive and naturally we invited him back for "next year", so it was a great shock for all of us when I received the phone call of his fall from the "table rock". I recall when he got the contract and the table rock was in it and he said how rusty he would be,[he didn't do it in Baraboo].

I had worked with Dick previous to Baraboo and spent time in "clown Alley" cutting up "jackpots" and it was a joy with Otto, Landon, Joe and Chester, Happy Kellums, Ernie, Grover, Smiley, Randow and all the others, with Dick being one of the ring leaders in all the BS. This before the Shrine Clowns appeared on the scene. What a great time it was and Dick was a big part of the whole thing. I will always remember him.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone info on or pics of Dick's Table Rock?
Has anyone info on where he was trooping in 1949?
Please let Pat or I know thank you,

Patricia Donaldson said...

My name is Patricia Feldman-Donaldson. My mother, Willa Mae Rissell, her sister Pauline and husband Claude Webb were the owners of Russell Brothers Circus, although my mother was on the flying trapeze. I have newspaper clippings from in the day.