Professor Louis Sunlin: Clown and Animal Trainer


Louis Sunlin (born February 1857) was a clown and comedian who worked with a succession of trained animals, both in vaudeville and circuses. A second generation performer, he was born in Ohio and became a professional in 1880 under the employ of Sells Brothers Circus. He later worked for the Ringling Brothers and Wallace shows among others. His four footed partners included a pair of trained donkeys named “Pickles” and “Peanuts”; a troupe of trained dogs; a trained horse named Mizpah; and a singularly sagacious bull named King Bill, who could lie down, sit up, roll over, etc, just like a dog. If you’ve ever spent any time with cattle you know that they are truly dumb beasts, thus making Sunlin’s feat as a trainer all the more impressive.

At this stage there is some confusion about whether he is the same person as Lew Sunlin, who apparently had a song and dance act with his brother Charles, billed as the Sunlin Bros., and which operated its own circus “Sunlin Bros’ Great R.R. Shows” for at least one season.

In his last years he appears to have done the vaudeville world one last service by taking in the out-of-work female impersonator Mansel Vardaman as a household cook. Sunlin passed away in 1935.

For more on 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.


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 etc etc etc




  1. Long time no see! I have Louis F Sunlin’s death certificate from the State of Michigan. He passed on 12 Feb 1935 in Flint. He had acute nephritis and diabetes.


  2. Hi.

    I doubt that 1935 is the actual date of Louis F. Sunlin’s death.

    There is a death certificate on file, dated 1935, for a Louis Sunlin, but I know it’s not the same guy. My grandmother, Aline Sunlin, was carrying this child when her husband, Mark Lewis Sunlin passed away. That affected her so much that she miscarried.

    Still searching for facts on Louis F. Sunlin’s death. Really surprised that nobody wrote an obituary.

    My late father says that he may have met Louis F at some point, but at this point, it’s hard to verify.


  3. I’m afraid not, although having a clown as an ancestor explains a lot!

    BTW, I am developing a blog for the Sunlin line, and will publish everything I can find out about Louis.


    • Alas you probably know more than I do. I had a job of work learning what I did and even so there’s this confusion between “Louis” and “Lew”, circus act vs song and dance vaudeville act, etc. I tread as carefully as I could. I think the info is probably out there for some intrepid historian to dig out and nail down. Maybe they already have and can be prevailed upon to enlighten us!


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