Archive for clown

On the Great Grimaldi

Posted in Clown, Comedy with tags , , , , , on December 18, 2013 by travsd

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All honor and reverence to the spirit of Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) on this his birthday. Grimaldi expanded the part of “Clown” from the harlequinade portion of British pantomimes into a starring role. Indeed, he made be said to be the reason we call all clowns “clowns” today. Prior to him, the role was a character rather than an entire mode of performance. Some are said to still refer to clowns as “Joeys” today, although I’ve never heard anyone do that. Grimaldi was the biggest star of the London stage of his day, a sort of national treasure. Chaplin aspired to something like his eminence and respect when he himself became a famous clown (he may be said to have exceeded it).

As its Christmas season, expect to be hearing more about the British pantomimes hereabouts in the near future.

For more slapstick and clown history don’t  miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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For more on the variety theateconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. 

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Emmett Kelly (a.k.a. Weary Willie)

Posted in Acrobats and Daredevils, Circus, Clown, Irish with tags , , , , on December 9, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Emmett Kelly (1898-1979), whose Weary Willie character was probably the best known (or best recognized) circus clown of the 20th century. Kelly started out as a trapeze artist with the John Robinson circus in 1923; by 1931 he was a full time clown. He b egan as a white face clown, but gradually developed his familiar hobo character Weary Willie over time, a Chaplinesque creation that spoke to the mood of the nation during the Depression.

From 1942 to 1956 he was the star clown of Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. He was one of the few sawdust clowns to be so popular with audiences that he broke through to other media: he was in Cecil B. Demille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), he was mascot for the Brooklyn Dodgers (1956), and he did lots of television and this is how he became a household word. Everyone remembers his favorite bit of sweeping up after the show (and stubbornly trying to sweep up the pool of light from a spotlight). And think about it: how many circus clowns were ever on the Carol Burnett Show?

For more on clown and slapstick history don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To find out more about show biz past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Stars of Slapstick #4: Toto

Posted in Clown, Comedy, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick with tags , , on October 2, 2013 by travsd

Neither the small Scotty dog from The Wizard of Oz, nor the rather embarrassing 70s’ rock band, nor the later Italian movie star, this Toto was a successful clown who conquered many kinds of stages, often performing with a dog named Whiskey. Born in 1888 in Switzerland, he came to the States during the First World War . He achieved the highest fame possible in his line during that era. 1918 was the peak for him in the U.S. — in that year he first played the Palace and began making comedy shorts for Hal Roach. The Roach shorts didn’t work out. Toto left the studio the following year, leaving a void that was filled by Stan Laurel. But he continued to play the Palace many times until its switch to feature films in 1932. In 1938, it was erroneously reported that he had died. He wrote the newspaper to complain. The following day he was dead. Never jump to conclusions!

To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Oscar Willis, a.k.a. “Willio”

Posted in African American Interest, Blackface & Minstrelsy, Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Clown with tags , , , , on July 14, 2013 by travsd

Today is the birthday of Oscar Willis (Oscar Henry McLain, 1843-1881). Interestingly, though the above photograph of him is in wide circulation (and for good reason, it’s rather disturbing) the only place I was able to find any biographical information on him was in An Authentic History of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. B.P.O.E., indeed.

His father was an Irish immigrant who made a pile of money for himself as a hat manufacturer in Pittsburg. Oscar went against dad’s wishes to join a minstrel show at age 12 as a banjo player and “Ethopian Comedian.” Like most in his line he performed with dozens of outfits, including many which bore his own name: Willis and McAndrews’ Minstrels; Schoolcraft, Coe and Willis Minstrels; Duprez and Benedict’s Minstrels; Cairncross and Dixey’s Minstrels; and Haverly’s Mastodon Minstrels. At one point he performed at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum, which is where this photo comes from. He died of T.B. whilst managing the Bismark Opera House in Bismark, Dakota Territory.

To find out more about  the history of show businessconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Red Bastard Returns Tomorrow

Posted in BROOKLYN, Clown, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS with tags , , on July 8, 2013 by travsd

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Yea, verily the Redness of the Bastard is like unto the Whiteness of the White, White Whale.

Red Bastard (learn all about him here) used to breathe the soot of New York City along with the rest of the drudges. Now he traipses the globe with something called “Surk Doo Solay” so we scarcely get to see him work his weirdness any more. Fortunately he can be caught (though I doubt he can be kept) tomorrow Tuesday, July 9 at 8pm at Cloud City, 85 N. 1st Street in Williamsburg Brooklyn. More deets below:

RED BASTARD
1 night only
Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/414253

Could this 5-star, Dangerous, Seductive, Comedy-Monster literally change your life? Experience the madness of this outrageous, award-winning knockout. “Something interesting must happen every 10 seconds,” and it will as Red Bastard lures his “students” into raw conversation, traps, rewards, and catch 22s in this absurdly sadistic masterclass. His mission: Charm/disarm, Shock-and-seduce. His Target: you!

Best Theater: 2012 Hollywood Fringe
Most Outrageous Show: 2012 Hollywood Fringe
Footlight Community Commitment Award: 2012
www.redbastard.com

“Any art that is worth existing tries to accomplish what this confrontational monster succeeds in doing. This volcanic tour de force forces people to reevaluate how they live their lives. …this marvel is the single most courageous effort I’ve witnessed inside the walls of a theatre.” LA THEATRE REVIEW

“VERY VERY FUNNY”- NY TIMES

Very, Very Funny- NYTIMES

Created under the direction of Sue Morrison with continued direction by Deanna Fleysher.
written by Eric Davis
with Deanna Fleysher and Sue Morrison

Felix Adler: The King of Clowns

Posted in Circus, Clown with tags , , , , on June 17, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Felix Adler (Frank Bartlet Adler, 1895-1960). One of the twentieth century’s greatest circus clowns, he was with the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1914 through 1958, with brief interludes when he stayed away to serve in World War One, and to strike for better conditions. Distinguishing characteristics included a BIG butt (created with a couple of beach balls), a shiny rhinestone on his red clown nose, and an omnipresent piglet (which he would periodically replace as the circus toured through farm communities by trading them for younger ones when his current one got too large). Adler was known as the “King of Clowns”, played for many U.S. Presidents, and was the first American circus clown to appear on television. He also appeared in Cecil B. Demille’s 1952 film The Greatest Show on Earth. 

To find out about  the history of the variety artsconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Stars of Slapstick # 113: Poodles Hanneford

Posted in Acrobats and Daredevils, Animal Acts, Circus, Clown, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on June 14, 2013 by travsd

Poodles was the greatest comic trick rider of the century, and possibly of all time. He is credited with having done more to advance the art of trick riding than anyone since Philip Astley, the inventor of the circus.

Born in Barnsley, England in 1891, Poodles was the rare vaudevillian who was actually a member of a show business dynasty. The Hannefords are a performing family that can trace their roots at least as far back to 1778 (when one of them juggled for George III) and continue to perform to this day. As you would imagine, the Hannefords are principally circus folk, though Poodles was so successful he made frequent forays into vaudeville, musicals, films, and television.

An aunt dubbed him Poodles, claiming he looked like one (which he did — except for the lack of kinky hair, a long snout, or dog ears). His parents were superb equestrians, and Poodles, who was far from shy, was part of the act from early childhood. His comic talents emerged when Poodles had just executed an absurdly hard routine involving acrobatics on the back of a moving horse (somersaults, handsprings, balancing a table) but the audience somehow managed to remain unimpressed. Apparently Poodles was so good, he made it look like anyone could do it. To remind them that it was hard, he put on clown get up, and began to make his act a bit hair-raising, constantly leaving the audience in doubt as to whether he was about to fall off the horse or not as he careened round the ring. This is showmanship akin to that of Houdini, who stretched out his escapes to far longer than they actually required, or the juggler who always drops a ball for the greater applause he gets when he finally gets them all up in the air. Ironic, but true—audiences are more impressed by men than supermen.

The Hanneford act was soon in demand. Poodles went on to create many of equestrian tricks that still have the power to astound. For example, from a standing position, he was able to do a backflip from one running horse to another following behind it. He was the only rider who could step off the side of a running horse. He got into the Guinness Book of World Records for performing a running leap onto a horse at full gallop then stepping off again…26 times in succession.

On top of this, he was funny, so that he was soon getting offers in other media. He played in vaudeville many times, but there were few venues large enough to accommodate him. The Hippodrome in New York was one to which he frequently returned. Poodles made 42 two-reel shorts, many directed by Fatty Arbuckle. He worked in films through the 1950s, mostly in bit parts and specialties, notably with Shirley Temple in Our Little Girl (1935) and both the stage (1935) and screen (1962) productions of Billy Rose’s Jumbo. As late as the 1960s, he could be seen on the Ed Sullivan Show and similar TV programs.

Poodles worked the horse act until his sixties, when he began to fall back on his second specialty—bullwhip cracking. In his last years, he and some of his family worked in New York’s fabled and short lived amusement park Frontierland, where he toiled until passing away in 1967. Members of his family continue to perform at circuses throughout the world to this day. In 1995, he became the only comedy rider ever inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame.

To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Burlesque Clown Out-Takes!

Posted in Burlesk, Clown, Contemporary Variety with tags , , , , , , on April 9, 2013 by travsd

I recently wrote an article for the next issue of The Berlesker that talks about four performing artists with a connection both to clowning and to burlesque (Dottie Lux, Melissa Roth a.k.a Foxxx Trot, Kenywn Dapo a.k.a Mistress B. and Kyla Webb a.k.a Sammy Tramp.)

Like one does when one is baking a pie, I had to trim off some of the dough and it seems too good to waste. My interview with Sammy was excellently thorough, but strayed too far from burlesque for me to be able to include all of it in The Berlesker piece. I publish it in its entirety below. Likewise, I didn’t hear about Tigger’s clown character Tiggo the Clown until too close to my deadline. So I include something about him below, as well.

Photo by Kim Kristikov

Photo by Kim Kristikov

SAMMY TRAMP

TRAV: What’s the connection between clown and burlesque?

SAMMY: Well fundamentally and simply the word burlesque in itself means joke, satire, comedy, caricature, ludicrous treatment of the subject at hand. I think that pretty much sums up what clowning means as well. Before strip teasing was even involved, burlesque meant to satire something. In a more modern context (late 19th century up until now) we saw strip tease, or scantily clad ladies dancing added to that mix. Inherently burlesque and clowning are two types of physical performance often meant to evoke humor or satire, not always, but often. Burlesque clowns and burlesque dancers were in variety burlesque shows together. There were more burlesque clowns than there were burlesque dancers for a long time. That idea has changed drastically, I suppose, since about the 1950′s up until now. I mean burlesque shows were really just seedy non family friendly maybe less talented vaudeville shows in the rougher part of towns.

TRAV: How did you become interested in each?

SAMMY: I’ve been interested in clowns, specifically silent clowns, since I was a child. My dad had me watching silent movies when I was a baby. It was something that was ingrained into me. I started doing theater when I was in high school, and went to college for it, but I never really enjoyed the “text” aspect of theater. I felt like there was too much focus on the writer and the words and the way the words were said. I enjoyed being funny, I enjoyed improv, I enjoyed using my body, and of course, my inherent love of silent film comedies eventually led me to “clowning.” As far as the burlesque element, well I love beautiful women. Hah! I’m kidding, slightly. I had been doing theater for years and I felt bored, it felt stagnant and unenergized. A performance artist friend of mine invited me to a burlesque show in a basement in Chicago. That was pretty much the first I had ever heard of it. The show was terrible, but there was still something about it that made me feel so excited and so energized. The rawness of it, the variety of it, the fact that the audience was yelling and screaming during the show. I remember thinking, “man if this could be harnessed, produced well, and invigorated with better performers this would be phenomenal and untouchable.”

TRAV: Do you consider them separate? Or merge them? Or every possible permutation?

SAMMY: When it comes to shows, production and direction I merge burlesque dancers and clowns all the time. When it comes to my performance style I am much more of a clown first. I consider myself a silent storyteller, but sometimes I do burlesque burlesque dancers.

TRAV: Which is more important to you? (ie, are you more of a clown with some aspects of burlesque; or more of a burlesque dancer with some aspects of clown?)

SAMMY: I am much more of a clown.

TRAV: Why?

SAMMY: I feel like my real goal and m.o. is to keep the art of silent slapstick comedy and pantomime storytelling alive. There are plenty of lovely women doing classic strip teases. That’s not my thing or my passion. I’ll leave that to them. I would be doing what I’m doing even if it wasn’t in a “burlesque” show.

TRAV: Please give me some specifics about your work. Who do you perform for? Where do you perform? Describe your costume, make-up and act.

SAMMY: I travel and perform regularly all over the country and will be heading to New Zealand in a few months. I’m one of the co-heads of VanElla Productions founded by burlesque queen Lola van Ella. We produce in St. Louis a lot, but we also produce and run some of our own tours and other out of town dates. I’m also the artistic director and creator of The Beggar’s Carnivale, which is a very large scale vaudeville, circus, burlesque, live action silent film variety show. My costume is very Chaplinesque. A traditional tramp costume, baggy pants, patched coat, vest, floppy shoes, bowler, and cane. I also keep it in a black and white aesthetic so it really looks like a live action silent film. I wear white face with black accents. I do a lot of traditional acts, flea circus, a silly bad magic act, cane and hat tricks, but I also like to add an element of in your face punk rock modernized style to it. I don’t want to just re-create old clowning I want to modernize it and make it relevant to a new generation without losing the basic elements of what I love.

TRAV: What are you the reactions you hope to get?

SAMMY: I just want to entertain people, make them smile, and make them laugh.

TRAV: How do audiences typically react?

SAMMY: Great! I have been very fortunate. Audiences have really embraced me with open arms. People generally really love the tramp. People really latch on to the Tramp. Almost everyone can relate to the tramp. The idea of the charming down on their luck common man who gets one over on the “bad” guy…timeless. Always.

Photo by Ben Trivett

Photo by Ben Trivett

Sez Tigger: “My Tiggo the Traumatized Clown character was developed for a couple of art shows in 2001 or so. From there he went on to do weird method go-go gigs & then I developed an act for him. He went on to host burlesque shows & somehow appeared in a German art magazine. In 2007 Jonny Porkpie wrote him into one of his Pinchbottom plays, Pretençión”

Which we just saw and reviewed right here just a few days ago. Check it out!

 

 

 

 

Jack LeClair

Posted in Circus, Clown, Comedy Teams, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on March 14, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Jack LeClair (1890-1971). He started out in vaudeville in 1912 with a comedy acrobatic act called the LeClair Trio with Al Stern and Tad Tosky. Most of his career was spent as a circus clown, though, first wirth Rentz Brothers, then Campbell Brothers, and finally Ringling Brothers, which he stayed with for 31 years. He became a friend and frequent collaborator of the famous Ringling Bros. clown Felix Adler work. During the winter layovers, they would work in vaudeville together as Adler and LeClair, the Odd Pair”, doing comedy crosstalk and dancing. LeClair is credited with inventing many classic circus clown gags, some still in use today, such as “Blowing Up the Fat Man.” In the 40s he groomed his son Jackie (b. 1927)  to take over the family business, and he himself retired from full time travelling to the Milwaukee area, although he continued to perform occasionally. As far as I can tell, Jackie is still with us. See his web site: http://jackieleclaire.com/

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Grock in Action

Posted in Circus, Clown, Vaudeville etc. with tags , on January 10, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Star of Vaudeville #421: Grock (for more on the international clown star and his vaudeville connection go here). You can see him in action here in this 1931 clip:

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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