George H. Adams: King of Stilts

George H. Adams (1853-1935) was widely regarded as America’s 2nd greatest pantomime clown after George Fox. (A little known fact — the panto tradition we associate with the U.S. was a thing in the U.S. for a couple of decades in the 19th century).

Though Adams is to our mind such a thoroughly American name, this one was born in London. Adams was a fourth generation clown, who began performing professionally at the age of five. He toured Europe with the troupe of a juggler named Hubert Meers, then joined his father, a successful clown named Charles H. Adams in the U.S. Throughout the remained of his life he was based in Brooklyn and that is where he gave some of his first American performances as a “man monkey” circa 1870. He was skilled at juggling, could leap over as many as eight horses, and was also billed as “King of Stilts” for his skill as a stilt walker. He toured for a time with Stone and Murray’s Circus. But what he was best known for was his clowning in productions of the pantomime Humpty Dumpty throughout the 1880s, at one point heading his own troupe managed by Adam Forepaugh. He served as director of clowning at Barnum and Bailey for two weeks, but quit after butting heads with the equestrian director. From 1909 through 1916 he played pantomime roles at New York’s Hippodrome Theatre. At the time of his death almost two decades later, he was living at Brooklyn’s St. George Hotel. His wife, Minnie French Adams, is probably a different Minnie French from the one who belonged to the French Twin Sisters.

For more on entertainment history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on clown and slapstick comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.