Friday, March 21, 2008

JOE (VANI) SHERMAN: 6/12/13 - 3/21/08

Photos courtesy of Arte Bausman and Verne Langdon; Obituary courtesy of Verne Langdon

Good morning;

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

Thanks for the thoughts, good wishes and prayers for Joe and his family.

Kindest regards;
Arte Bausman
Dayton, OH


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.


Verne Langdon said...

Pat - Thank You for running Joe's Obituary that I wrote on your fine website. Joe was a dear, lifelong friend, as was his partner Chester. They were true pioneers! Thank you also for running the photos of Joe & Co. in which I appear. Best of luck to you.

- Verne Langdon

Anonymous said...

Mr. Cashin,Thank you for the fine tribute to our dear friend Joe.
we met him and Chester in 1958 in Baltimore on the Polack Bros. We moved to Rochester,NY in 1960 and they appeared for many years on the Damascus Shrine Circus for M&M Circus Internationale.During these years I worked for Grace and Chuck and we became fast friends. We kept in touch with him by phone over the years.The last time we were with him was at the Balloon Peddelars in 2006. We miss him already.Bev & Bill Galloway

Anonymous said...

So sad to hear of this and can remember being a child and my grandma (Frieda Conley Schmidt) and I playing bingo at their apartments and him always being the parking attendant at the Clermont County Fair front gate. You had to be one special person to park in his lot. I feel priviledged to have known him and will miss him greatly.

DemandaRose said...

Joe was my great uncle and one of the funniest guys you'd ever meet... always cracking jokes. He used to tell me to just say the words and he would get me a job designing costumes for Vegas showgirls, cause he knew everyone down there! He definitely made his mark on this world, we'll all miss you Uncle Joe!

Unknown said...

I feel so lucky to have had an uncle like Joe. He was our family celebrity, and always had the best stories to tell about his adventures on the road. My children got to know him and love him, and always enjoyed sitting and talking with him when he came to town, because he was so entertaining! He wasn't just some boring old guy that you had to pay your respects to. I have to thank my sister Marleen for keeping him in our lives by bringing him to Twin Lakes at least once a year for a week or two. She and Bob and their children were devoted to Joe and went to great pains to make sure he stayed connected to our extended family. I know Joe was profoundly touched by these gestures and truly delighted in seeing all his nieces and nephews (great and great-great!) When I saw him last summer, he was still at the top of his game, telling stories about the old days, always with that deadpan humor. It's the way I always want to remember him. Thanks for the memories Joe.

Anonymous said...

Joe was my uncle and I will always remember the excitement we felt when the circus came to Chicago and we were treated royally while attending it. Uncle Joe made sure we had treats, got great seats and most importantly got to go behind the scenes when the show was over and see actual elephants walking around with their trainers! I knew no one who had a relative who was a real clown and our whole family will forever have bragging rights about our Uncle Joe and his amazing career.

Anonymous said...

I am another of Joe's nieces and I too remember fondly those annual trips to Medinah Temple in Chicago when the Shrine circus came to town. Was quite a thrill to go backstage and see the behind the scenes action. I moved out west in the late 70's and Joe and his young protege Josh visited us once when traveling through Wyoming. I remember Lucky (#7?) was getting quite old and frail and Joe treated him with loving care. After spending many years on the road with his circus family it wasn't until the 80's that we saw more of him thanks to the efforts of my sister Marleen Lorenz. Her husband and all 3 of her children were just great to Uncle Joe and I know those relationships made his final years very special.

Anonymous said...

Like Verne said Joey was a very dear friend.
Joey was truly the boy who ran away to the circus.
He was always happy to hear from folks, and was so kind. Joey would answer my many questions about his circus days with Chester with great fondness for the show and his stories about the folks he worked with and shows he was on were true history revisited.
Attending the wake and the funeral I heard many wonderful stories about Joey and it was a pleasure to have met his friends and family.
It was an honor to have been one of his 1000's of friends.
Tom Holbrook