Saturday, January 19, 2008

CLOWN ALLEY: Dead and Alive, Ringling 1987

Video courtesy of Andrew Bedno

One of the first gags most folks were taught at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College performed by the guy who taught it to many of us, International Clown Hall of Fame inductee and former Clown College director Steve "T.J. Tatters" Smith.

Steve is assisted here by Jeffrey Steele. They are introduced by another former Clown College director, Ron Severini.

This is from the 1987 Ringling Home Video Be a Clown.

Friday, January 18, 2008

MONTE CARLO 2008: News?

Performers from the 32nd annual Festival International du Cirque de Monte-Carlo (among them International Clown Hall of Fame inductee and 2007 Lou Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Barry Lubin) which began last night January 17th and will run through January 27th.

Has anyone got any news?

LOS BRIZIOS: Ringling, 1969

Photos courtesy of Raffele de Ritis and Julie Clown

Because I just can't get enough of soap gags lately here are the Brizios on Ringling from 1969...

The host of this special was Arthur Godfrey, who tended towards "verbal diarrhea" when unchecked.

JACKO FOSSETT: Billy Smart's Circus, 1972

Jacko Fossett with "Little Billy" Merchant on Billy Smart's Circus in 1972.

The beautiful Ringmistress in this clip is the still beautiful Ms. Yasmine Smart, one of the stars of this season's Big Apple Circus.

For more information on Mr. Fossett, please click the title of this post.


Photos courtesy of Raffaele de Ritis

Illustrating a previous point about unlicensed use of American circus clowns' images on European circus posters here is Ernie "Blinko" Burch who spent many years on Ringling, the Shrine circuit and at Circus Circus in Las Vegas, NV advertising Citta di Roma...

If Ernie got a penny for every time someone used his image to advertise a show that he didn't appear on he'd have earned 100% what he ever did actually performing at the shows that he did over his long career.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

CLOWN ALLEY: Ringling, 1942

Some of the members of the 1942 Clown Alley of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Although it's a great picture, I wonder why Ringling continued to use a photo of Felix Adler that looks nothing at all like Felix's well known face?

But then again, they used photos of Lou Jacobs in whiteface well into the 1960s.

CLOWN ALLEY: Sells-Floto, 1932

This is taken from a Edward J. Kelty photo of the clowns of the Sells-Floto Circus in South Ozone Park, June 6th, 1932. If I had to take a guess, I'd say that the tall whiteface in the center is Chester "Bobo" Barnett. The person to his left and the other person to the far left of that row look to be the Hanlon brothers. Two to the right of Bobo is Otto Griebling. At the far right of that row is a clown who turns up in many Ringling photos of that era (sometimes wearing chicken feet) but I don't have his name.

Otto Griebling in an alternate makeup.

Paul Jerome in tramp makeup.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


And now for a bit of culture...the Fratellinis' theme Tango des Fratellini by Darius Milhaudas as performed by pianist Lynn Kamerlin at the Beethoven Memorial, Vienna April 19th 2007.


I really love the atmospheric qualities of many of the pre-war European circus clown photos. There such are great photographs of artists like Grock, Rivel and the Fratellinis that make wonderful use of lights, darks and shadows and that all but disappears with the post-war rush to color photography.

And as an extra added bonus, here are some program pages of Charlie from the op-art/pop-art 1960s.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

LOU JACOBS: Ringling, circa 1940s

For more information on "Papa Lou" (especially for those circus producers out there among you who might be interested in legally licensing his distinctive and copyrighted likeness from here on in), please click the title of this post.

CLOWN ALLEY: Barnum & Bailey's Tour of Europe, 1897 thru 1901

Photos courtesy of Bill Strong

PETER PITOFSKY: Underpants Dance

Yesterday almost doubled it's average number of hits from last month.

In celebration here is Peter Pitofsky (in black Chuck Taylors) and Wolfi rehearsing for a Teatro Zinzanni underwear party.

"Lederhosen, glockenspiel; lederhosen, glockenspiel... jacques chirac!!!"

When sung to the tune of Funniculi Funnicula, I really think that just about says it all.

Monday, January 14, 2008


In an effort to help dispel some of the lingering sadness over yesterday's anniversary here are Clown College graduates and former Ringling clowns Peter Pitofsky and (below) Mike Smith.

MIKE SMITH: The Big Red One

Link submitted by Joel Heidtman

The first of a trilogy.

Please click the title of this post to view the website of the Three Rivers Resort in Koosia, Idaho.

When making a reservation, remember to tell Mike and Lara that you are interested in the "Big Red One Getaway Weekend" package.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

CESLEE CONKLING: December 6, 1965 - January 13, 1994

December 6, 1965 - January 13, 1994

A Graduate of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College Class of 1991, Ceslee was a clown on the Blue Unit from 1992-1994. Loved by everyone, she died tragically when the Blue Unit circus train derailed outside of Lakeland, Florida on the morning of January 13, 1994. Always helpful and concerned for her friends, Ceslee was killed enroute through the train to alert everyone of a broken wheel on the Clown Car. Always helpful, always concerned; that was our Ceslee.

~ Joel Heidtman

Photos and comments courtesy of Greg DeSanto

Fourteen years have passed.

I get busy with life and stuff and only when I take the moment to stop and look do I see it. I dig through albums of photo's, looking for publicity pictures for the next gig. And then I see her. The memories are still very fresh, the pain just under the surface. We took everything for granted. Never think the end is near. The last thing I remember her saying to me in St. Pete on load out before the train run was to make me promise to watch her track gag in Orlando. Give her some new bits.

Then its over...

It was the defining moment for me...the one thing that changed everything
forever. Nothing would ever be the same. The show, the clowns, my life. The
whole thing about 'never growing up"...changed. We lost something. The show
continued but it never quite felt the same. People were very kind, the show
opened a day late in Orlando, and the routine began again. Props to be set,
clown alley to be spotted. The dry cleaning came back and costumes were collected.
All but one.

That was the saddest moment out of ten years of touring.

To see her costume hanging by itself on a rack backstage... knowing.

The physical hurts healed, but the emotional ones linger. What happened that January morning made me a different person, I pray a better person.

I remember with a smile a pretty clown who loved to fall...


Dear Ceslee,

I am not sure if you will receive this, as it is uncertain whether or not e-mail can reach all the way to heaven. But I'll try.

Things have changed, but probably not as much as you would think. Many of your friends are still on the Show, many have left, and many have decided that they didn't get quite enough of the life that we all so passionately love and have returned for more.

The Clowns on both shows are doing well. The Red Unit is hard at work in Winter Quarters on yet another incredible show, and the Blue Show Clowns are enjoying a rest before heading back out onto the Road. I assure you that they are up to the same old buffoonery in the Alley, and the No-Talent Talent Show and the Hot Dog Eating Contest continue to be highlights of both routes.

Technology has changed the Circus quite a bit. Most of the Clowns now have cellular phones, and I have to tell you, it is kind of strange to be in Clown Alley and hear a phone ringing! Also, Circus Management is on this computer network called the Internet, so any information regarding the Show is e-mailed to the Corporate Offices daily. Not a good idea to be late for the Show.

As you can imagine, most of the familiar things have not changed at all. Clowns still put off that makeup order, then scramble trying to find clown white. Early PR appointments still abound, and it is harder than ever to squeeze a few comps out of the Promoter. The frantic pace backstage minutes before opening night remains, and, of course, audiences around the country continue to be mesmerized by the splendor of The Greatest Show on Earth. That, dear friend, will never change.

My, how we miss you. I have seen your parents several times, and I know that they miss you more than you can possibly imagine. You name is spoken fondly, with laughter and tears, every single day. That as well, dear friend, will never change.

A few years ago I rode the Circus Train through that area of immense suffering in Lakeland. I wanted to avoid the trip altogether and drive, but I decided to take the train and find what I was seeking. Standing on the vestibule in the early morning fog, I recognized the location and returned to my room. Clutching the Bible that I have had for more than twenty years, I sat alone, overcome with emotion, in the privacy of my room as the train crawled through Lakeland. Then I found what I had so desperately needed for a long time; peace.

Gone, but not forgotten, you are loved. Rest well.

Your friend,

Joel Heidtman
December 6, 2000

For the New York Times account of the events of January 13, 1994, please click the title of this post.