Saturday, June 16, 2007


Photo courtesy of Marcelo PEPPO Melison

A 1974 or 75 photo of some of the comedy stars of the classic JRN Ringling Alleys meeting up to talk about the old days at Emmett's house.

From left to right: Freddie Freeman, Emmett Kelly, Ernie "Blinko" Burch and Lou Jacobs

I had no idea that Freddie was still around in 1974. It does beg the question "Did Freddie retire gracefully or did the Felds just not offer him a contract after the 1968 season?" If Otto was still on the road from '68-'72, you think he'd want his pal Freddie around.

Friday, June 15, 2007

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...Part Two

So after leaving the DeSantorium at 6:15 I high-tailed it back to Chicago O'Hare, driving like a stunt man in a Burt Reynolds movie. I made it to the Enterprise car rental with plenty of time to drop off the car and take the shuttle back to the airport.

Once there I was told that my flight was jam-packed and was asked if I wouldn't mind taking the 12:00 flight which still had 25 seats available. I agreed and THAT was the moment that everything else went to hell in a handbasket.

The TSA confiscated my makeup box, which has always flown in my carry-on luggage for the last 5 years.

Why is my makeup in my carry on bag? Because ALL of my costume is in my carry on bag!

If I get to town and my prop case doesn't arrive I can always head over to Home Depot or WalMart and scare up what I need to fill out two or three ring gags and some walkaround but if the costume, shoes, wig or makeup aren't there then I'm royally screwed, so they always fly with me. Those things can't be easily replaced in Anytown, USA.

Well, the makeup box doesn't fly with me anymore. It has been thrown into the trash in the interest of National Security. It's greasepaint, neither a liquid nor a gel, and all less than three ounce maximum.

Whatever. It sucks, but whatever. I can always go out and buy another box, brushes and makeup.

The gate for my flight changed three times before we finally were allowed to board. We left the gate and then sat on the runway for the next THREE hours before the pilot told us that the flight was being cancelled due to severe storms in Newark.

No one from American Airlines could be bothered to tell us anything more than "Try again tommorow."

Nothing about how to get on another flight. Nothing about how to retrieve our luggage. Nothing about who to call at American that MIGHT be able to answer our questions. Nothing.

I quickly realized that if NO planes were leaving Chicago for Newark for the rest of the day that getting a hotel room or flight was going to get really ugly, really quick. I tried to get a rental car and simply drive home but none of the car rental agencies at O'Hare allow that sort of thing.

So I grabbed my bags (more like stole them back as I got to them before American put them in their storage room, assuming that we'd all be giving American a chance to screw us over again on Wednesday) and caught a cab for the Amtrak station downtown. About an hour and fifteen minutes away from O'Hare in busy, rush hour traffic.

I was able to buy a ticket to a NY bound train that would more or less be taking a direct route (as appossed to the first train the agent offered which went from Chicago to NY by way of Washington DC and would require me to leave my prop case to be sent later as I was only allowed two pieces of luggage) that left Chicago at 10 PM, giving me 5 HOURS to sit in the bar and play trivia games since there in NO WiFi in Chicago's Amtrak station.

Five hours later I boarded the train, plugged in my iPod and tried to catch some sleep. Fat chance. You ever try to fall asleep on a passenger train? It ain't easy, even with a handful of Xanax.

So after not sleeping the night before, I spent another sleepless night on the slowest moving train in the Amtrak fleet, one that, after CRAWLING eastward across Ohio, Pennsylvania and Upstate NY, arrived a New York's Penn Station a staggering FOUR HOURS LATE!!!

Oh, and 19 hours into my trip I discovered that the train I was on had SLEEPING cars. Of course no one had bothered to tell me that when I purchased my ticket and now an upgrade was not available.

What a suckfest!

Something like this ALWAYS happens to me after the last show of the season. One year it was a blowout in the middle of nowhere in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan, usually it's a late night speeding ticket from a hardass cop who spots my out-of-state plates. But it's always SOMETHING. I should just PLAN on a major headache following the end of a tour so that I can begin to take some level of pleasure in watching what new method fate has come up with for testing my spirit and resolve.

So to recap, 2 days of no sleep following a "nine pack" weekend. Three hours on a runway and then a slow, expensive cab ride to a slow, expensive train ride which really made me wonder if I couldn't have gotten there faster by jumping off the train and simply walking home from Chicago.

And I lost my makeup box.


1) Don't EVER fly American Airlines if you can avoid it. There is a reason they are less expensive. It's because they suck. Hard.

2) Don't fly with your makeup in your carry-on luggage. Make sure that you travel with the phone numbers of distributors you can rely on to FedEx you makeup and/or brushes overnight in the event that the airline loses your luggage.

3) Trains still have sleeper cars, remember to ask about them.

As for me, I'm going back to sleep.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

I spent last Friday, Saturday and Sunday doing the first "nine pack" that I'd done since leaving Ringling in 1999.

For those who have never worked in a circus, a "nine pack" means 3 days of 3 back-to-back shows each day. A usual weekend schedule is 2 shows Friday, 3 shows Saturday and 2 shows on Sunday. A "six pack" (3 Saturday and 3 Sunday) is unusual outside of Ringling, a "nine packs" are about as common as hen's teeth.

A "twelve pack" (3 Friday, 3 Saturday, 3 Sunday and ANOTHER 3 on a holiday Monday) NEVER happen outside of Ringling.

Anyway, I had a tough schedule but a great time working with friends who made the days breeze by. I realized that Rockford, IL was only about an hour and half from Baraboo so I contacted Greg and Karen DeSanto to see if they'd be around thinking that I'd drive up and have lunch before heading back down to Chicago on Tuesday to fly home.

Man, oh man! Do I owe Greg and Karen BIG TIME for one of the most wonderful days a clown could imagine! While Karen and Em went to baseball practice, Greg took me over to the library at the CWM and showed me some of their truly amazing collection. I'm not sure that I am at liberty to discuss some of the things that are there but suffice to say that the CWM has an absolutely AMAZING collection.

After viewing some of the artifacts we opened up the photo files and looked through 16 files of unidentified circus clowns; some just under-appreciated clowns that most people don't recognize, others strange clowns that neither of us had ever seen before.

To review, I sat in the library of the CWM with Greg DeSanto, maybe the greatest living historian of American circus clowning, and geeked out for a few hours looking at rare clown stuff! For me, there is no better activity than this on the face of the earth!!!

We then went over to the park briefly so that I could see the clown exhibits and hit the gift shop. We got back to the house. Emily went to hang with some friends while the grown-ups hit a local resturaunt known for it's "Butter Burgers". The food was uncommonly delicious in that typically Wisconsin "I-don't-give-a-good-gosh-darn-if'n-it's-good-for-me" kind of way but if I'd had the triple-thick milkshake that the girl at the counter had suggested I'm fairly certain that I'd have needed a triple bypass before dessert.

Then it was off to pick up Emily and a quick trip to the nearby Wisconsin Dells to visit Tommy Bartlett's, an aqua/variety show that has been a fixture there in the Dells since 1590. Originally the Tommy Barlett team performed various water skiing tricks, including the 10 person pyramid (who were back then pulled quickly across the lake by 3 strong men in kayaks) to the indigenous Native-Americans of the region in exchange for shiny beads and and bits of fried cheese.

The first half of Tommy Barlett's latest production features "The Pirates of Barlett Bay", a very appealing pirate-themed aqua show that makes the aqua shows that you usually see in theme parks look extremely thin by comparrision. The second half is a series of really great circus and variety acts, the highlight of which was seeing my friend T.J. Howell (visit and his young sons Hunter and Carson perform a very tightly packed powerhouse set of juggling, comedy and unicycles.

There were several other performers and circus folks in the house that night and I had a great time meeting T.J.'s mom "Meema" who used to do a hair hang "back in the day" at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City and catching up with circus fan Crash Moreau and local Eric McConnell, who is a friend from my time on Circus Royale.

Then it was back to Greg and Karen's for a tour of more of the house and more of the extensive DeSanto archives. They have an absolutely jaw-dropping collection and Greg tells that Tim Tegge has even MORE!

We sat up until 3:30 in the morning, "cutting jackpots" and laughing and when I went up to the guest room I couldn't begin to think of falling asleep. I stayed up and looked through books and photos for another hour and then caught a quick nap before getting up at 5:00 to shower, dress and meet Karen who VERY graciously got up early to make me some coffee and a bagel before seeing me off at 6:15.

This was the "Best of Times" part. Greg, Karen, Emily...thank you for an absolutely wonderful time. I cannot thank you enough for giving me the greatest possible ending to the 2007 circus season that I could have ever imagined.

Because Monday was SUCH a absolutely perfect once-in-a-lifetime amazing day, Tuesday went out of it's way to suck harder than you could ever imagine, but THAT story is going to have to wait until later today.

I have to get some sleep.



Greg & Karen,

I left your house at 6:15 AM on Tuesday morning.

It is now 12:52 AM on Thursday. I just got home. Just now.

I'll explain tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Delay Today

I'm in Chicago, stewing like a prune at O'Hare airport.

Today's post will be have to wait until I get back home this afternoon.

Sorry for the delay,

Monday, June 11, 2007

COLE BROS. CIRCUS: Otto Out of Makeup

One of the best photos that I've ever found of Cole Bros. Boss Clown, the legendary Otto Griebling out of makeup.


Another shot of Bill Strong's latest "Mystery Clown".

Anyone have any ideas?

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Bill Strong sends this photo of yet another unidentified "mystery clown".

I know that there was a West Coast clown who did a lot of movie work in the 30s and 40s who sported the washtub-and-clothesline hat (he's feaured alongside Poodles Hanneford on the cover of the VHS release of Shirley Temple's OUR LITTLE GIRL) but I don't think this is the same guy.

Anyone out there have any idea who this might be?

CLOWNALLEY.NET: Announcement Group

Just a reminder if you're not already a member: CLOWNALLEY.NET has an announcement group at YahooGroups that lets you know when the blog has been updated. If you'd like to join just click the title of this post.



A classic Kelly moment as he works the seats during the Ringling show in the 1940s.

MITCH FREDDES: One More That I Found

Another great picture of Mitch that I found online.