Saturday, February 03, 2007

Monday & Lubin: Disneyland Circus Fantasy

Former Clown College Director and NY Goofs co-founder Dick Monday with longtime friend (and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College class of '74 classmate) Barry "Grandma" Lubin, star of the Big Apple Circus.

They are seen here performing together at Disneyland's Circus Fantasy in the mid- 80s.

Circus Herman Renz

Another saw playing clown, this one from Circus Herman Renz.

More of The Nitwits

The Nitwits on Hollywood Palace 9/19/67.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Grandma in Budapest

My very favorite contemporary American circus clown in a gag that showcases his unique approach and style. Barry Lubin, performing as "Grandma", at the 6th annual Circus Festival of Budapest in January, 2006.

Barry Lubin

Barry Lubin, recently inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame, is an inventive, creative clown most familiar to American circus audiences as "Grandma", the eager and adored star of the Big Apple Circus.

A member of the 1974 class of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, he performed for 5 years with the Greatest Show on Earth. He also performed at the prestigious International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo in 1977. Since 1982, Barry has been featured in 15 productions of the Big Apple Circus and has become that show's Director of Clowning conceiving, co-writing and starring in the Big Apple Circus' production Grandma Goes to Hollywood.

Outside the ring he has appeared (sans makeup) 4 times on the Late Show with David Letterman. His directorial credits include comedy segments for music videos on MTV, Snappy Dance Company in Boston and CBS's Circus of the Stars. He was a creative consultant for NBC's Cheers, and served as Executive Producer, Creator, and Writer of two pilots for Nickelodeon Networks along with partner Yvette Kaplan, for which he also starred. He directed Cousin Grumpy's comedy pig act, Carlos Swenson's comedy horse act, and his cat, Romeo, making him America's Foremost Animal Comedy Director.

His proudest achievements, besides doing a headstand onto a whoopee cushion at Carnegie Hall, are his two daughters, Danielle and Emily.

~ Wikipedia Entry on Barry Lubin

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Beatty-Cole Alley: Man On the Flying Trapeze (1971)

The classic Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Clown Alley of the late 60s and early 70s (featuring such luminaries as Jimmy James, Kenny Dodd, Lou Nagy, Shorty Hinkle and my pal, Bernie Kallman) in scenes from George Plimpton's 1971 television special THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE.

Look for Jimmy James performing the same cigar box gag that George Carl did on Hollywood Palace, Bernie Kallman's binoculars walkaround (created by Bernie and built by Elsie Jung's Gag Factory) the blowoff to the Levitation Gag, Lou Nagy, Jimmy James and Kenny Dodd applying their makeup and a performance of Paul Jung's Atom Smasher gag with Shorty Hinkle as the blowoff.

Coco and Minnie

Mike "Coco" Poliakovs, one of the great clowns of the American circus, with Minnie Pearl, one of the great clowns of stage and television, as she practices her whistle blowing in preparation for acting as Guest Ringmaster of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the late 60s.

Tommy Hanneford on Hollywood Palace (1967)

Tommy Hanneford was known as "The Riding Fool" and "The Funniest Man on Horseback" and with his sister, mother and father presented what was considered one of the greatest and most entertaining bareback act in circus history.

From his birth, September 27, 1927, until his death, Tommy was the consumate performer and circus producer. He once said; “As many times as I have heard the announcement (“And now the Riding Hannefords featuring Tommy Hanneford”) in my lifetime, I have never gotten over the thrill associated with them. The smells, sights and sounds of the circus, the applause, the thrill of a standing ovation -- circus is my life, not a way of life. Struppi says I truly have sawdust in my veins”

Tommy is recorded as a circus performer as early as April of 1933 with the Downie Brothers Circus. At the time, he was a clown and only 5 years old.

Born into the circus, from the famous Hanneford family who have been associated with the circus for close to three centuries, Tommy was the son of George Hanneford, Sr. and Catherine Breen, and was the nephew of the famous “Poodles” Hanneford. Tommy learned to ride as soon as he could walk and for years was the:”Riding Fool” of the family act, the King of the comedy riding act.

Upon Tommy's retirement from performing the "Riding Fool act was performed by Mark Karoly, trained by Tommy to continue in the Hanneford clowning tradition of expert horsemanship. The son of Evy Karoly, another bareback and dressage rider, Mark had a daring routine, including a horse-to-horse somersault with a full twist, which gives a good indication of the demands made on the great riding clowns of the past. In one hilarious routine that always brings roars of laughter, he is energetically propelled by a companion head-first into the south end of a very tolerant and large horse. Mark himself retired from performing in 2005.

When his performing career was over, Tommy became the producer of “The Royal Hanneford Circus”, one of the outstanding circuses in the United States, at times having as many as five shows going at the same time. For many years he produced the circus for the Great Circus Parade in Milwaukee, and for the major shrine and fair dates, including the “Big E,” the gigantic Eastern States Exposition.

He also was a technical advisor for many tv productions, as well as the motion picture “Barnum” starring Burt Lancaster.

He once said: “ For me there is no life without the circus, circus is my life! As long as I have a breath of life, I will do my utmost to bring to you only the best of the circus. for alas, in my heart, I am just like the rest of you, a circus fan to the end.”

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Happy National Gorilla Suit Day!

Shane Cashin, age 4, prepares for the National Gorilla Suit Day festivities at his school.

Shane Cashin (still age 4) explains the wonders of National Gorilla Suit Day to Ms. Diana's pre-school class at Seashore School in Long Branch, NJ.

From Wayne Sidley: Ringling Blue 112th

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey 112th edition Blue Unit Clown Alley

For more on Pastor Wayne Sidley and what he's been up to since leaving the circus, please click on the title of this post.

From Wayne Sidley: Ringling Red 1983

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Red Unit Clown Alley 1983

From Wayne Sidley: Ringling Red 1984

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Red Unit Clown Alley 1984

From Wayne Sidley: Circus World

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus World Clown Alley (undated)

For more information of Circus World, click the title of this post.

George Hanneford Jr, Ringling/Barnum 1965


George Hanneford Jr., the eldest son of William George Sanger Hanneford, nephew of the famous Poodles, was born in 1923. Until the age of about 14 he spent most of the time in school - spending his summers, along with his brother Tommy, working the circus with his family (including the Tom Mix Circus, Downey Bros., and the Hamid-Morton Circus).

When he was old enough he joined in the riding act until he was drafted in the army at age 18. During this period he worked the army shows doing his riding act on a horse used to pull the manure wagon. After a stint overseas with the 24th Infantry Division in Mindanao he was discharged and returned to work with the family riding act - George eventually taking over his fathers routines as straight man stunt rider to his brother Tommy's comedy routines, with their sister Kay (modeled on the original Poodles/George Hanneford riding act).

In 1950 George met Mary Victoria George and the two married in 1952. Vicki started working as a performer at the age of 10 with the Hamid-Morton Circus as an aerialist. Though not from a circus family she soon fell in love with it when her dancing school was hired to work with a Shrine Circus show for a season in her home town of Atlanta, Georgia. The producer of the aerial ballet and showgirl routines, Peaches O'Neill, took a shine to the young Vicki and eventually invited her on the tour with the show after getting permission from her parents. She then joined the Berosini high wire act, left to try modeling, but returned to join the "Simru Sky Review-Dancing in the Sky" act of 12 girls, then joined the famous Wallenda's high wire act.

After they were married they decided to start their own act together. George had hurt his knee during a trampoline act and needed to find something new. He started practicing balancing a high pole, called a perch, and Vicki, already a trapeze artist, was able to climb up and do her trapeze act atop the pole rig. Then they added George's sister Kay to the act and "The Georgians" were born.

After they split from the main family, and went out on their own, they formed their own riding act and were booked on the Ringling show, from '61 to '65, doing both perch and riding acts with Vicki also doing a single trapeze in the aerial ballet. They continued their two main acts, with other performers joining in at different times, until they decided to take out their own show - after the birth of their two children, Cathy and George III - in the 70's.

With their own show in the making they had to buy their own elephants which they got from Bangkok, Thailand. While George took out the show, Vicki was left to raise both them and her two children plus try to run the business end of the circus. It was a difficult time but Vicki is not a person to give up easily. The Hanneford Family Circus toured successfully around much of the U.S.A. until they signed a contract to do a couple of weeks in December 1979 at the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop. The show was so successful that the contract was extended through the winter season, then renewed again for the summer. That two week contract expanded to 16 years and, for a time, was seen live on the internet.

Victoria is also able to boast one other accomplishment in her long varied career. She is the premier expert on raising elephants. During the long period when the Hanneford elephants were growing up, Vicki was trained by the then expert, Mrs. Goebels. Vicki was taught all the intricate details of elephant idiosyncrasies and how to avoid and overcome problems that arise when raising a baby elephant - things that nobody else in the United States is aware of, or, at least, not aware of. Since Mrs. Goebels died, and Vicki was the only person she confided her knowledge to, Victoria Hanneford can safely say, "If you want to raise a baby elephant, ask me."

During their careers they have been actively involved in shaping the modern circus, from tent show to indoor circus productions, and, along with their family, are an integral part of the history, and the future, of the circus in America.

~From the Hanneford Family Circus website

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

NGSD is Tomorrow!

You don't have to be named Norbu, Natal or be one of the Gutis to join in the fun. Just grab your gorilla suit out of the closet and head out the door...

Boxing Gag: Hamid-Morton 50s

Photos courtesy of Bill Strong

Here's Dime Wilson and Shorty Sylvester doing the boxing Gag on Hamid-Morton in the mid '50's. SaSo is the ref, with Bumpsy Anthony, Ed Raymond,(?), & Connie Wilson looking on.

Mike Klucker, aka Toe-Toe. Later, as Hamid ringmaster, he went by Earl Michaels.

Visit Bill Strong's circus blog YESTERDAY'S TOWNS by clicking the title to this post.

Poodles Hanneford: The Circus Kid (1928)

"The only trained acrobat I ever saw who could take a fall and make it look funny was Poodles Hanneford, the great circus clown." ~ Buster Keaton

Mrs. Hanneford ("Nana") and her three children, George, Elizabeth, and Edwin ("Poodles"), arrived from Ireland via the Blackpool Tower Circus in England in 1915. George soon established his own separate riding act with his children, and Poodles became the great riding clown who set the whole tone for the popularity of modern equestrian comedy. He remained an active performer for fifty years, right up to two years before his death in 1967. His comic ways of somersaulting off a horse and his challenging "awkward" mounts without a "cushion" were both demanding and outlandishly funny. He also worked with his sister, Elizabeth, his daughter, Gracie, and his wife, Grace White.

Meanwhile, his brother George and his nephews, George, Jr. and Tommy, were performing similar comedy in their act, but they also mixed in difficult straight horse-to-horse somersaulting. Following their father's death, George, Jr. went off to develop his own Cossack act; he would eventually start the Hanneford Family Circus, working with such future stars as Timi Loyal and James Zoppe.

His brother Tommy's current Royal Hanneford Circus was built from their father's original act, and Tommy called himself "the Riding Fool," modelling his character on his Uncle Poodles' influential style. In recent years the show included the marvelous Mark Karoly, trained by Tommy to coninue in the Hanneford clowning tradition of expert horsemanship. The son of Evy Karoly, another bareback and dressage rider, Mark has a daring routine, including a horse-to-horse somersault with a full twist, which gives a good indication of the demands made on the great riding clowns of the past. In one hilarious routine that always brings roars of laughter, he is energetically propelled by a companion head-first into the south end of a very tolerant and large horse. And what he can do with a coat and hat while standing on horseback at full gallop is impressive indeed.

~LaVah Ho, Step Right Up! The Circus in America

Monday, January 29, 2007

National Gorilla Suit Day!

National Gorilla Suit Day, which mysteriously falls on January 31 of each year, is perhaps the important holiday of the year. Every National Gorilla Suit Day, people of all shapes and colors around the world get their gorilla suits out of the closet, put them on and go door-to-door.

That's really all there is to it. You don't have to buy gifts. You don't have to fast, although some Orthodox Gorilla Suiters do. If you want to have a parade, fine. Just make sure all the marchers are wearing gorilla suits and that all the balloons are giant, inflatable gorillas.

National Gorilla Suit Day was invented by "Mad's Maddest Artist" (i.e., the weirdest of all the cartoonists in Mad Magazine), Don Martin...and maybe also by E. Solomon Rosenblum, a writer who collaborated with him on the 1964 paperback book, Don Martin Bounces Back! The book was reissued several times and was among the best-selling of the Mad paperback series.

In its lead story, the irascible Fester Bestertester sits in his breakfast room, explaining the concept of National Gorilla Suit Day to his friend, Karbunkle. Fester finds the whole holiday repulsive and as he discusses it with Karbunkle, a number of gorilla-suiters come to his door and proceed to pummel, bash and otherwise maim him. At one point, three men arrive from the Senate Anti-Trust Committee, inviting him to testify against the leading manufacturers of gorilla suits...

And then they, like all the other gorilla-suiters and even a few Abominable Snowmen, beat the crap out of him. It's a very funny story and no one who's read it will ever forget it. Unfortunately, the book is long out of print. Moreover, Mr. Martin was not on good terms with Mad Magazine when he died and since the copyright on the book is a joint one, it may be some time before there's ever a deal to reprint it. It does, however, turn up fairly often on eBay and rarely goes for more than a few dollars.

Martin's other Mad paperbacks are pretty good, too. So were his cartoons for Mad and later, after he departed on the aforementioned not-good terms, for Cracked. He really was a very funny man. So this year, as you traipse about the neighborhood in your gorilla suit, pause for a moment and remember Don Martin...the man who made it all happen.

~Mark Evanier

Mr. Clown

A trailer for the upcoming film MR.CLOWN, a documentary about Earl "Mr. Clown" Chaney.

Of course, it HAS to address the "scary clown" thing. What film could POSSIBLY discuss clowns and clowning without touching upon the "scary clown" thing...oh yeah, every single American film prior to 1978 and any one made overseas.

Still, it's worth it to see Earl, Jim Howle, Trish Bothun, Joe Barney and some other folks to a soundtrack of the Rolling Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knockin" from their Sticky Fingers album. I bet your not going to see THAT anywhere else.

Paul Jung On the Cover of This Week

Wildly inventive producing clown Paul Jung earns the cover of the weekend newspaper supplement This Week.

Olsen & Johnson: Crazy House (1943)

Olsen and Johnson's followup to their zany, iconoclastic Hellzapoppin' was the more conventional Crazy House. The premise: Having nearly laid waste to Universal while filming Hellzapoppin', O & J are thrown out of the studio when they arrive with plans for a new picture.

Only momentarily daunted, our heroes decide to produce the film themselves, renting a studio and hiring carhop Margie (Martha O'Driscoll) as their leading lady. The success of this plan hinges upon an "angel", self-proclaimed millionaire Col. Merriweather (Percy Kilbride), who promises to advance the money for the new film.

Things get sticky when the Colonel turns out to be a balmy eccentric with nary a cent to his name. After a wild courtroom trial presided over by ever-scowling Edgar Kennedy, it is decided that Olsen and Johnson will be permitted to screen their new film before a gathering of Hollywood studio executives, with distribution rights going to the highest bidder. The finale devolves into frantic slapstick when the last reel of the film turns up missing (a plot device later utilized in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie).

Though Crazy House gets off to a suitably wacky start-when word arrives at Universal that Olsen and Johnson are coming, barricades are set up and armed guards posted, while every studio contractee from Leo Carrillo to "Sherlock Holmes" (Basil Rathbone) and "Dr. Watson" (Nigel Bruce) brace themselves for the comedians' invasion-the film quickly settles into a standard musical-comedy groove, complete with such guest stars as Allan Jones, Count Basie, the Delta Rhythm Boys and the Glenn Miller Singers.

Still, there are plenty of hilarious moments along the way, most of them handled by raucous comedienne Cass Daley, playing a dual role. And there's seldom been a more satisfying movie finale than the last gag of Crazy House, which literally disposes of tiresome romantic leads Martha O'Driscoll and Patric Knowles.

~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Olsen and Johnson
The Zaniest of the Zanies
by Charles Stumpf

Although they are all but forgotten today, the zany comedy team of Olsen and Johnson were a big part of the entertainment scene for nearly half a century.

John Sigvard Olsen was born in Peru, Indiana on November 6, 1892. Of Swedish descent, he became known as "Ole." Olsen earned his way through Northwestern University by playing violin in a dance band. Later he sang with a quartet, appearing in rathskellers throughout the Chicago area.

Harold Ogden Johnson, also of Swedish descent, was born in Chicago on March 15, 1891. He, too, had attended Northwestern University but dropped out to enter show business as a ragtime pianist.

The pair met when they were hired as musicians in the same band. When the band broke up "Ole" Olsen and "Chic" Johnson formed a comedy team. They really did not have a set act but found themselves booked into a small Chicago nightclub as part of "Mike Fritzol’s Frolics." When it came time for their turn in the show, unannounced and not particularly welcome, the brave pair pushed a piano onstage. Johnson seated himself at the keyboard and began to plunk out a ragtime tune. Olsen joined in with his violin and started singing, making up comical lyrics, as he went along. The pair began to exchange "patter," mostly insults—and the soon-to-be-famous "Olsen and Johnson" team emerged.

By some miracle, audiences found them very amusing, and it wasn’t long before the pair was appearing on the Pantages vaudeville circuit. As their popularity gained, their salaries rose to $250 a week between them. "Not bad," they thought, and they continued to beat their fertile brains out—anything to please the audience!

Their efforts paid off, and they reached the apex of the vaudeville world when they were signed to the Keith-Orpheum circuit. Billed as "Two Likable Lads - Loaded with Laughs" their salary reached four figures. In a 25-year career as vaudeville headliners, Olsen and Johnson made appearances in nearly every town on the circuit.

In 1930 Warner Bros. signed them for their film debut. They appeared as a pair of American sailors on the lookout for the crook who had robbed a Navy storehouse—who happened to have a wooden leg. The pair’s zany method of detecting was to aim pea-shooters at the legs of anyone they suspected. The film featured the pair’s famous "Laughing Song." They also appeared in some comedy shorts for Vitaphone.

In 1931 they made a second feature for Warners, Gold Dust Gertie. For the first and only time in his long film career, Ole Olsen wore a moustache. This time around, the duo portrayed bathing suit salesmen. Both at one time had been married to the same woman, "Gold Dust Gertie," played by winsome Winnie Lightner. During their travels, they kept bumping into her, and each time gave her the slip to avoid alimony.

Also that year Warners starred the comedians in a lavish Technicolor production, Fifty Million Frenchmen. There wasn’t much of a plot but plenty of laughs. To add to the fun, Bela Lugosi was featured as a mysterious Fakir.

While making films on the West Coast, they appeared in another zany revue, Monkey Business. The pair relied a great deal on "sight gags" and combined elements of slapstick comedy also used by The Keystone Kops, Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, and the Ritz, as well as the Marx Brothers.

Ole and Chic also tried their hand at radio—making an early appearance on Rudy Vallee’s program. There was a studio audience on hand so the sight gags got plenty of laughs on the air. Other radio guest appearances followed.

For a time they settled in Chicago where they appeared in the stage revue Take a Chance (1933) in which they replaced Jack Haley and Sid Silvers. The pair’s rambunctious, nonsensical buffoonery had audiences falling out of their seats. When the revue closed, Olsen and Johnson returned to vaudeville. They toured England and Australia in the revues Tip Toes and Tell Me More.

Back home Republic Pictures signed them to a picture deal resulting in Country Gentlemen (1936) and All Over Town (1937).

The best was yet to come. The masters of "anything-goes-mayhem" created their most chaotic conglomeration of comedy routines for the stage smash Hellzapoppin, which opened at New York’s 46th Street Theater on September 22, 1938.

Broadway critic Brooks Atkinson wrote: "Folks, it’s going to be a little difficult to describe this one. Anything goes in Hellzapoppin -- noise, vulgarity, and practical joking. Olsen and Johnson make their entrance in a clownish automobile, and the uproar begins. There is no relief, even during the intermission, when a clown roams the aisles. You can hear some lymphatic fiddling by rotund Shirley Wayne who looks as though she has just finished frying a mess of doughnuts. It is mainly a helter-skelter assembly of low comedy gags to an ear-splitting sound accompaniment. If you can imagine a demented vaudeville brawl without the Marx brothers, Hellzapoppin is it ... and a good part of it is loud, low, and funny!"

The show consisted of two acts with 25 scenes, during which the audience was bombarded with eggs and bananas. Then when the lights went out, the audience was besieged with rubber snakes and spiders. A woman ran up and down the aisles shouting out in a loud tenement voice for "Oscar! Oscar!" Meanwhile, a ticket salesman began to hawk tickets for a rival show (I Married an Angel). The Broadway madness ran for a record breaking 1,404 performances.

In 1938 when Warner Bros. were casting the roles of two screenwriters for Boy Meets Girl, they wanted Olsen and Johnson, but the pair was tied up solidly in Hellzapoppin. The roles went to James Cagney and Pat O’Brien.

With the huge success of Hellzapoppin, Olsen and Johnson decided to produce another Broadway show. In association with the Messrs. Shubert, they produced the revue Streets of Paris. It featured comedian Bobby Clark and introduced some new names, as well. The biggest draw was "The Brazilian Bombshell," Carmen Miranda. Colorful Carmen wowed audiences at the end of the first act with her sensational rendition of "The South American Way." Miranda became a new sensation and was promptly signed by 20th Century-Fox for a series of Technicolor musicals. Also appearing in Streets of Paris was the comedy team of Abbott and Costello who kept the audiences in hysterics.

When Olsen and Johnson opened in their next starring show, Sons O’ Fun at the Winter Garden on December 1, 1941, Carmen Miranda was once again featured. This time she was given three show-stopping numbers beginning with "Thank you, North America," at the end of Act One. Later in the show she sang renditions of "Manuelo" and "Tete a Tete." The lady in the tutti-fruit hat also joined Olsen and Johnson for the finale. Also in the stellar cast was comedian Joe Besser and singing Scottish lass Ella Logan.

Olsen and Johnson returned to the Broadway stage in Laffing Room Only which opened at the Winter Garden on December 23, 1944. The show brought Betty Garrett to Broadway and ran through July 14, 1945.

The zany pair tried again to repeat the mammoth success of the record breaking hit Hellzapoppin but without success. In 1949 they gave it one last try with Funzapoppin which has long been forgotten.

In 1941 Universal Pictures presented Olsen and Johnson in a screen version of Hellzapoppin Although some of the finest comedy talent on the screen were added to the cast, the film was just a lot of weird happenings, a romantic triangle, and a mish-mash of musical numbers which resulted in a misfire. In 1943 the studio tried to resurrect Olsen and Johnson on screen in Crazy House which had an inept script about a comedy team making a Hollywood film. The studio once again added some sure-fire talent to the production, but the likes of Cass Daley, Edgar Kennedy, Percy Kilbride, and Franklin Pangborn, and at least a dozen top musical acts, couldn’t get a spark going. It was another dud.

The studio reshuffled plans and tired again with Ghost Catchers (1944), adding the gimmick of a spooky old mansion, creaking doors, fog, as well as the musical talents of Gloria Jean, Morton Downey, and Mel Torme. They also threw in a lot of comedy favorites such as Andy Devine, Leo Carillo, Walter Catlett, and the lovable "drunk," Jack Norton. For some creepy chills Lon Chaney, Jr. was also added to the cast. None of these extra elements helped much. Olsen and Johnson’s stage successes had relied largely on the fact that their comedy material was unrehearsed and spontaneous—for the screen, this wasn’t possible.

Practically desperate, Universal was brave enough to attempt to milk the formula for one last time. See My Lawyer (1945) had a plodding plot that might have been lifted out of the comic team’s own lives. It dealt with the trials and tribulations of an over-worked pair of comedians and their frenzied attempts to get themselves released from an unwanted nightclub commitment. Despite the presence of about three dozen "screen names," all of whom added drawing power, it wasn’t enough to satisfy demanding audiences, and See My Lawyer marked Olsen and Johnson’s final film.

Olsen and Johnson had enjoyed much success of varying degree in most phases of show business—small nightclubs, vaudeville, radio, Broadway, and motion pictures. There weren’t many other fields to conquer.

After a few guest spots on variety and comedy telecasts, Olsen and Johnson’s big break came from NBC-TV in 1949. When Milton Berle took a summer break for the Texaco Star Theater, the network offered Olsen and Johnson a full hour in which they could reacquaint audiences with their "anything goes" comedy style. Fireball Fun For All premiered on Tuesday, June 28, 1949. The zesty comics loaded their tv show with sight gags, gimmick props, clowns running through the audience, leggy show girls, seltzer water and pies in the face. At first many of the gags took place in the audience. The show broke for a brief summer vacation, and when it returned there were a number of changes. Airdate was moved to Thursday at a later time, 9 to 10 PM. Regulars included singer Bill Hayes and comedian Marty May, as well as two newcomers to show business, June Johnson, daughter of Chic Johnson, and J. C. Olsen, son of Ole Olsen.

The telecasts originated in New York’s large Center Theater before an enthusiastic studio audience, some of whom were old enough to remember Hellzapoppin. What they saw in the tv’s studio didn’t quite measure up. Many of the jokes were old and no longer funny. After faltering for nearly four months, Fireball Fun For All fizzled out on October 27, 1949.

The zaniest of the zany comedy acts had passed their peak. There were some bookings in small night clubs and some minor stage appearances. Then a new phase of show business presented opportunities --- the glitzy gambling casinos of Las Vegas where the antiquated antics of Olsen and Johnson were still welcome. But both men were tired, growing old, and suffering serious health problems.

"Chic" Johnson died of kidney ailment at the age of 71 on February 28, 1962. His comedy partner, "Ole" Olsen followed on January 26, 1963. Their lives had shared many similarities. Both were born less than a year apart, both were of Swedish ancestry, both attended Northwestern University, both entered show business as musicians. They both suffered from kidney problems and died at the age of 71, less than a year apart. And there was still one more ironic similarity—both are buried in the same cemetery in Las Vegas.

In their prime, their comedy was greeted with thunderous applause. Though forgotten by most people now, Olsen and Johnson are still remembered by film buffs as the zaniest of the zanies.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Reducing Machine: Beatty-Cole 1980

"The Reducing Machine" presented by the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros, Circus Clown Alley on their 1980 indoor tour.

The gag was produced by Dean "Elmo Gibb" Chambers and was announced by longtime Beatty-Cole ringmaster (and former Beatty-Cole clown), Mr. Jimmy James.

Lou and Harold

Lou Jacobs with Ringmaster Harold Ronk, 1957

Chaz Chase, "The Unique Comedian"

French clown Chaz Chase's unusual stage act was an inspired unfurling of comic business that had audiences in disbelief as he ate a steady string of stuff (everything from paper to an entire book of lit matches) including the string itself while dancing inside a hugely oversized and disheveled suit.

During his long career he appeared in circus, vaudeville and on Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1925 and in Sugar Babies in the 1980's.