I have just received a phone call from Mike Lorenz, Joe's Great Nephew. Uncle Joe passed away quietly this morning at around 1:45 AM at Meadowbrook Nursing home in Montgomery Ohio.
Joseph Robert Vani was born June 12, 1913. he is survived by one brother, Frank Vani in Florida and a Niece, Marlene Lorenz, of Twin Lakes Wisconsin. There will be memorial service Sunday, March 30th in Twin Lakes. Burial will be in Twin Lakes Wisconsin.
Questions, condolences may be expressed to Mike Lorenz at email@example.com
Thanks for the thoughts, good wishes and prayers for Joe and his family.
WORLD'S OLDEST PROFESSIONAL CIRCUS CLOWN DIES
JOE VANI b. June 12, 1913, d. March 21, 2008
America's oldest living circus clown has passed away, far from the big top, in an Ohio convalescent hospice.
Famed veteran circus clown Joe Vani passed away at 1:45 AM March 21 while a patient at Meadowbrook Care Center in Cincinnatti, Ohio. He was 94 years of age (June 12 he would have turned 95).
Referring to his own advancing years in the business as a professional circus clown, Vani once confided to a friend "I'm so old I entertained God while he made the earth! "
Actually, Joseph Robert Vani made his earthly debut on June 12, 1913, into a Chicago, Illinois family of three other boys. Joe's Dad was a fireman who was trampled to death by runaway horses en-route to a burning building.
Joe's Mother was unable to care for the boys alone, and Joe was sent to an orphanage until the 6th grade.
He applied himself diligently, working to help out his mother, and eventually took a job with Western Union, delivering telegrams to (among other places) the stage door of local vaudeville houses. As Joe explained, " I'd tell them the telegram had to be signed for, and that's how I got to meet a performer or go backstage."
A friend told Joe the stage door manager was skipping his tips, and, as Joe seemed interested in the entertainers and show business, he should go to work for the hotel where the performers all stayed.
Joe was hired at the hotel as a bellhop. Kenneth Waite was living at the hotel, and one of Joe's duties was to wake Kenneth every day at 3PM, and give him the daily newspapers and an ice cold bottle of Coke.
One day he noticed a 'third party needed' notice posted by Kenneth Waite on the hotel bulletin board. Joe asked Waite about it, was told it required athleticism, and Joe informed Waite he was very athletic. Kenneth Waite gave Joe an audition at the local athletic club. Chester Sherman, Waite's partner, was looking on. "How old are you?," asked Kenneth Waite. Joe told him he was 18, but Waite didn't believe him, so Joe got his mother to write a letter of confirmation.
Joe joined the act, but eventually Kenneth Waite took a hotel job, and left show business. Chester and Joe were all that remained of the Kenneth Waite Trio, so they carried on together for awhile with several partners, finally turning to clowning in 1937 as 'The Sherman Bros.' (Chester had suggested calling themselves Vani & Sherman, but Joe thought 'The Sherman Bros.' sounded better). For the length of their 38 year career, everyone believed the two were brothers. Joe recalls, "Chester was very good to me all those years. We never had a serious argument."
The Sherman Brothers appeared throughout the United States for over 38 years (1937-1975), touring with the Medina, Howard, Carden-Johnson, and Polack Bros. Circuses, as well as the Orrin Davenport and other Shrine Circuses.
In addition to their regular show obligations, the duo voluntarily visited hospitals throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, tirelessly entertaining both patients and staff.
Joe & Chester clowned with Clowndom's finest, including Emmett Kelly Sr., Otto Griebling, Felix Adler, Shorty Flemm,Harry Dann, Freddy Freeman, Paul Jung, Larry Cross, Peluza, Chester "BoBo" Barnett, and countless others, remaining active through the years until Chester Sherman's passing in 1976.
Joe continued clowning with several new protege partners until 1980, when his eyesight caused him to pack up his steamer trunk for the last time.
In 1995 the Sherman Bros. - Joe & Chester - were inducted into the International Clown Hall Of Fame. Their traditional show wardrobe and effects are prominently displayed at the museum, in all their spangleland glory.
Joe liked to recall one of their most popular acts, "the hot doggie" - a clown steals hot dogs from a clown vendor and gobbles them down, then gets sick and has his stomach pumped by clown doctors and out comes a little dog! The audience cheers, the clowns take their bow and exit, followed by the dog walking on its hind legs.
Right up until 2006 Joe made his yearly visit to the balloon vendor's convention in Las Vegas, and in his final years he hosted underprivileged children in special visits to any circus near his Tabaleen Lane apartment headquarters in Milford, Ohio.
In 2007 Joe's health began to fail, and in March 2008 he made several trips to and from care facilities until a bout with pneumonia caused yet another hospital stay. He fell and broke his hip, requiring hip replacement surgery at Bethesda North Hospital on Montgomery Rd. in Cincinatti, Ohio. In the days that followed, Joe's health declined until he eventually entered his twilight sleep.
In his heyday Joe always had a cigar nearby (the only time he wasn't smoking one was when he was clowning in the show or appearing before fans), and was always fond of telling how he began smoking cigars in the first place. Joe, Chester and Kenneth Waite were playing the State & Lake Theater in Chicago (the Waite Trio opened the show). As it happened, George Burns and Gracie Allen were on the same show.
Joe was sitting backstage when George Burns came off stage after the act, spotted Joe, and invited him to join the comic in the alley for some fresh air. The two walked a couple blocks to a cigar store. George went in, and came out with a handful of cigars and handed one to Joe, who informed the comedian "I don't smoke". Burns replied, "Go ahead and have one. You'll enjoy it." Joe did, "And that was the beginning of me smoking cigars!" In later years Joe gave up smoking, but always kept a stogie handy just for the feel of it, and the sweet aroma of the tobacco.
He reminisced often, with fond memories of shows, towns, and countless friends from years gone by. Fond memories for a wonderful man; he was a sweet, simple man who took the world easily, always added a dash of dry humor, and was dearly beloved by his many friends and countless fans.
Historically, Joe Vani was the world's oldest living professional circus clown, and, very few would argue, the last of the pioneer American Circus Clowns.
He is survived by one brother, Frank Vani in Florida and a niece, Marlene Lorenz, of Twin Lakes Wisconsin. There will be memorial service Sunday, March 30th in Twin Lakes. Burial will be in Twin Lakes Wisconsin.