Saturday, October 11, 2008

CLOWN ALLEY:Ringling, 1988

Clockwise from the top: Casey Carle, Mary Hildermann, Greg DeSanto, Ted Ferlo and Huel Speight.

DeSanto looks rather fetching in his white Lou Jacobs-inspired shirt, yellow vest, plaid pants and orange yak bald top Bob Kelly wig. If he just had a bigger ProKnows (say the Circus Pro XL) he'd really be onto something there.

Why, he could even be used to promote Chinese clown festivals he's not appearing in.

CLOWN ALLEY: Ringling, Clown College Reunion?

Future International Clown Hall of Fame inductees Glen "Frosty" Little and Leon "Buttons" McBryde at what looks like the Clown College 20th Anniversary Reunion.

DICK "ROCKO" LEWIS: Circus World, circa 1960

CLOWN ALLEY: Gentry Bros. Circus, 1921

Breckenridge, TX, 1921 by Basil Clemons

Friday, October 10, 2008

NEWSFLASH: Ringling PRs This Weekend!

I'll be performing with Dan Berkley and Gautham Prasad tomorrow at the Newark Museum at 49 Washington St. in Newark, NJ publicizing Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's first visit to that city in over 50 years.

Sunday I'll be in Bridgeport, CT for Ringling with Shane and the Comedy Car taking part in the Columbus Day Parade.


Photos courtesy of Trick Kelly

Mr. Rocco Paris

Karen and Greg DeSanto

Karen Bell and Robin Eurich

KELLY-MILLER CIRCUS: Big Announcement!

Big news from "America's One Ring Wonder": Mr. John Ringling North II has retained the services of Casey McCoy Cainin to return and work the big cats for the 2009 season of the Kelly-Miller Circus! 

Having Casey, Natalie (with her extraordinary dog act) and Georgia return for another go round only serves to reinforce my perception that Mr. North is doing things the right way; rewarding hard work, respecting his talent and creating a family environment like nowhere else in the American circus.

Hopefully there will soon be an announcement about the clowning for the 2009 season (hint, hint)!


Coco Kramer, from Argentina; a fixture on Dick Garden's shows for many years.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Thanks to Mark Evanier for informing me of Mr. Runyon's passing

Charles Runyon 
-- a.k.a. Chucko the Birthday Clown on L.A. TV -- dies at 86

As Chucko the Birthday Clown, Runyon hosted kids' TV shows in L.A. in the 1950s and '60s. He also opened TV coverage of the Santa Claus Lane Parade in Hollywood.

By Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer 
October 9, 2008

Charles M. Runyon, who as Chucko the Birthday Clown was a popular Los Angeles children's TV show host in the 1950s and '60s, has died. He was 86.

Runyon died Saturday of respiratory failure in an assisted-living facility in Grants Pass, Ore., said his son, Randy Runyon.

On KABC-TV Channel 7 from 1955 to 1963 and on KTTV Channel 11 from 1963 to 1964, Runyon's Chucko the Clown was a familiar -- and welcome -- sight to thousands of young Southern California viewers.

The jovial and genteel clown wore a spinning merry-go-round hat with his name on it, a half red and half red-and-white-striped clown suit with a fluffy Elizabethan-style collar and cuffs, and white gloves; and he had arching blue eyebrows on a white face with a rhinestone-tipped nose and an upturned red smile.

His live, hourlong show included cartoons, special guests and games with his studio audience, which consisted of two children celebrating their birthdays and their young friends.

At the end of the show, the camera would show a large birthday cake, and Chucko would sing: "Here's a hap, hap, happy birthday from me (that's me), to you (that's you). . . ."

During his heyday, Runyon's Chucko would open the television coverage of the annual Santa Claus Lane Parade by jumping through a bass drum head.

"They'd say, 'And now from Hollywood, the Santa Claus Lane Parade' -- and BOOM! -- he'd bust through the drum and usually bow and salute," recalled Randy Runyon, who said his father spent most of his time during the parade outside the car that was provided for him and danced along with the marching bands.

Chucko also made countless personal appearances at supermarkets and shopping centers. "He'd pull into, say, the Topanga Plaza or whatever and there'd be thousands of people as far as you could see," his son said. 

For his personal appearances, Runyon created a circus wagon -- a converted delivery truck with a stage on top.

"He'd go up through a hole in the roof and do the show from there," his son recalled, "and then we'd give out the goodies out the back door." The "goodies" were samples of the Chucko show's sponsors' products such as Barbara Ann bread and Flex Straws.

Chucko also made personal appearances as the star attraction of a mini circus called Chucko's Big Top.

Randy Runyon said his father loved being a clown. "It was a combination of enjoying the kids and comedy," he said. "One of his favorite sayings was: 'If you can see life through the eyes of a child, they'll allow you into their world. And through the clown, you can do that.' "

Runyon was born in San Diego on Aug. 10, 1922. He worked at Hughes Aircraft before World War II and was serving in the Army Reserve. He was called up for active duty and was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed by the Japanese, his son said.

Runyon returned to Hughes after the war, and in the early 1950s, he and his wife, Millie, launched a home birthday party business in Long Beach with a mobile merry-go-round that Runyon had built in his basement and that they towed behind their car.

After one birthday party, a parent casually made the fateful remark, "All you need is a clown."

"As the story goes," Randy Runyon said, when his parents returned home, Millie went into the bathroom and told Chuck to come in and sit down. "So he did, and between lipstick and mascara and different things she had there, they created the beginning of Chucko the Clown."

In honor of legendary clown Joseph "Joey" Grimaldi, who is considered to be the father of modern clowning, they borrowed the "o" from Joey and added it to Chuck's name. 

The idea behind Chucko, as Millie Runyon once put it, was "if Christmas has Santa Claus, and Halloween has a witch, and Easter a bunny, why shouldn't kids' birthdays have a clown?"

Runyon, whose mother sewed all of Chucko's costumes, was among 28 clowns who auditioned for a children's show on Channel 7 in the mid-'50s and, to his surprise, he landed the job.

A year after his show moved from Channel 7 to Channel 11, Runyon was asked to stop doing his live show and become a videotaped cartoon host. 

"It was going to be like an emcee between cartoons with no kids," said Randy Runyon. "That's where he said, 'No kids, no clown.' "

After leaving television, Runyon opened Chucko's Party House at Jungleland in Thousand Oaks, where he hosted three or four birthday party groups at a time on weekends until 1969, when the wild animal park closed.

Runyon and his family then moved to Oregon, where he portrayed Chucko for a closed-circuit educational TV channel for a few years in the early '70s.

Randy Runyon, who as a boy dressed in a replica of his father's clown costume and rode in the Santa Claus Lane Parade as Chucko Jr., took over as Chucko the Birthday Clown in the early '80s. He retired from clowning in 1995.

Millie Runyon, who wrote the 1994 biography of her husband "Are Clowns Hatched?," died in 2000.

In addition to Randy, Runyon is survived by another son, Dan; six grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. No service is planned.

STORIA DEL CIRCO: Raffaele De Ritis' New Book

Dagli acrobati egizi al Cirque du Soleil

Bulzoni Editore

580 pages – More than 300 b/w illustrations - 36 colour plates
Chronological tables – index of 1400 performers and circuses
Hundreds of notes and bibliographical guide

The text is in Italian language
Price: 47 Euro Isbn : 978-88-7870-317-9

The most detailed existing study on the world circus history

From the oriental traditions to the Renaissance fairs; from the early equestrian pioneers to the golden age of the circus buildings; from the cultural influence of the American circus to the great European big tops; from the origins of the Soviet circus to Cirque du Soleil and the avant-gardes…

This italian work, after five years of research, considers all the major circus studies of the recent years and from the past, attempting a complete survey of "the greatest show on earth". The book considers the artistic and social aspects; details the developments of the circus techniques; the birth of the great circuses around the world; the economic and industrial issues; the development of the space, from the circus building to the modern big top; details the intricacy of the legendary dinasties; the relationship of the circus with the other art forms throrough the centuries. Every aspect is detailed with hundreds of bibliographical notes from international resources, books and magazine. Fully illustrated, the book is published by the prestigious Bulzoni from Rome, Italy's leading house for theatrical and movie studies. 

Even for the foreign reader, a reference book and an invaluable instrument of research in circus history. 

Raffaele De Ritis is a writer and director. He created projects with Cirque du Soleil, Soviet State Circus in Moscow, Togni family, the Circo Price in Madrid, La Biennale di Venezia, Spoleto Festival and Monte Carlo Princess Grace Theatre. He directed Barnum's Kaleidoscape for Ringling Bros. and Carnevale! For The Big Apple Circus. De Ritis is the consultant of Rai state TV in Italy for circus projects, and was member of the Circus Commission at Italy's Ministry of Culture. Former editor of italian circus magazine "Circo", he is author of hundreds of international articles about circus, theatre and movies. As teacher, he give courses for the University La Sapienza in Rome, the Accademia del Circo, the European Federation of Circus Schools. His previous book is Illusionismi (2004), an history of theatrical conjuring.

SHANE CASHIN: The Salty French Fry

Here is a photo of Shane taken just moments ago as he demonstrates the dance that he created last night when we had dinner at Johnny Rockets in the mall.

It's called "The Salty French Fry" and it's done by bending your elbows, pumping your arms back and forth and moving your hands open and closed as though you were working two puppet mouths. While doing this you have to loudly exclaim either "Salty", "Salty French Fry" or "Salty French Fry, Baby" in a funky voice reminiscent of P-Funk's Bootsy Collins or Digital Underground's Humpty Hump.

I was sitting right across from him when he invented it. James Brown's "I Feel Good" was playing and Shane started to sing along and bop. Suddenly he found his groove, started his dance, shook his head from side-to-side like the funkiest funkster to ever funked a funk and shouted "Salty French Fry, Babies!"

It's going to sweep the nation. You saw it here first. I hope to have video available soon.



Jeff "Le Clown Gordoon" Gordon with one of my very favorite presentations of a "multi-leg" gag.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

STEVE COPELAND:Explosive Diarrhea Inducing Warpaint

Photos courtesy of Steve Copeland

Sweet merciful crap on a crap cracker dipped in crap! Proving once again that you can't leave anything out in the alley with "thievin' gypsies" all around you, here Steve Copeland tries on my wig and nose while I'm out of the room and takes the opportunity to channel his inner Chesty Mortimer.

I'm thinking that Jerry Bangs has some competition here at the end of the month...

BILLY VAUGHN AND JACK COOK: Garden Bros. Circus, 1991

We are privileged to present more from Billy's video archives...

CLOWN CONC: Dancing Plates

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

CLOWN ALLEY: Ringling, 1970s

Photos courtesy of Lee Jarrett

Steve "T.J. Tatters" Smith

The lovely Ms. Janice Gillespie

Lazlo Donnert, Dougie Ashton and Prince Paul performing Paul Jung's Camera Gag


Billy Vaughn has begun posting videos from his long and varied career. This is the first of what I sincerely hope is a long, long series of YouTube postings to come.