Happy Hobo and Sad Tramp Clowns

Bert Williams

Bert Williams

Bert Williams (Egbert Austin Williams) (1874 – 1922)

Bert Williams
Bert Williams

Born in the West Indies, Bert Williams was a black entertainer appearing as a song-and-dance clown in the minstrel/tramp tradition of McIntyre and Heath. He was also an excellent pantomimist. His contemporaries considered him the greatest entertainer of his generation. Because of his talent, he broke through many racial barriers for black entertainers. His first great success came as a partner to George Walker, who was also a black entertainer. The two popularised the dance known as the Cakewalk. Early vaudeville was segregated, but Walker and Williams were able to break into big time white vaudeville as headliners.

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Harold "Happy" Kellems

Happy Kellems

Harold “Happy” Kellems (1905-1987)

Harold “Happy” Kellems
Harold “Happy” Kellems

Happy Kellems was a tramp-character clown, minstrel, and vaudeville performer. A native of Evansville, Indiana, he began his entertainment career in medicine shows, joined by longtime partner, Van Wells. Together they moved to vaudeville and burlesque and then turning to minstrel shows, which became their great love. (more…)

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Joe Jackson Sr.

Joe Jackson Sr (1873-1942)

Joe Jackson Sr.
Joe Jackson Sr.

Joe Jackson Sr. was born as Joseph Francis Jiranek in Vienna, Austria. He was Austrian bicycle champion, and a member of a world champion bicycle polo team before he became an entertainer. He started with a serious bike riding act, and then developed it into a comedy break- away bike act performed by a tramp character. (more…)

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Al Ross - shrine clown

Al Ross, famous Shrine clown

Al Ross - shrine clownAl Ross (1907 – 1981)

Born Alphonse Helwig in Cincinnati, Ohio, he took the professional name Al Ross in 1930 when he was part of the Ross acrobatic troupe. Ross, a tramp clown, provided training for fellow shrine clowns in proper clowning skills and etiquette. He would shoot long balloons into the circus crowd. When he threw away his black derby hat, it came right back to him. He rode an old bicycle that fell apart, and was adept at acrobatic balancing and tumbling. Ross was a member of the Aladdin Temple Shrine unit and was seen in many shrine and other circuses in the U.S. He was a performer with the Jack Parr Special Service Unit. During his last interview, he stated “anyone who can make people laugh has the greatest gift God can give a man.” (more…)

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Hobo Jim - Jim Howle

Jim Howle, tramp clown, artist and teacher

Jim HowleJIM HOWLE (1939 – )

Jim Howle is one of the most versatile clowns performing today. In addition to his performing skills, which are finely honed, he is also a famous artist and expert on clown make up.

Jim is a native of Darlington, South Carolina, where his mother was an artist, and Jim was pulled into clowning through art. While attending the Ringling School of Art, he learned of the creation of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Clown College. He applied, was accepted, and was graduated from the original class in 1968. (more…)

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Otto Griebling - color photo

Otto Griebling – circus tramp clown

Otto Griebling (April 28, 1896 -€“ April 19, 1972)

Inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame 1989

Otto Griebling, inducted into the Clown Hall of FameOtto Griebling, who became a fixture of the American circus as a tramp clown performing for the most famous circuses of the 20th Century, began his career not as a clown, but as a bareback rider.   And this American icon was born in Germany. (more…)

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Emmett Kelly as Weary Willie, painting by Jim Howle

Long-lasting smile – a story about Emmett Kelly Sr.

A Long-Lasting Smile—a story about Emmett Kelly Sr.

Shortly after World War II, when I was 9 or 10, my parents took me to the Ringling Brothers Circus. I loved the circus, especially the clowns. There was one clown that I knew by name.

Everyone did: Emmett Kelly.

We had some of the best seats, right on the edge of the Ring Road where the performers staged their grand entrance. As the Ringmaster introduced the performers, they stepped into the parade and greeted the audience. (more…)

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Emmett Kelly as Weary Willie

Emmett Kelly Sr. biography – world famous tramp clown

Emmett Kelly, Sr. (December 9, 1898 – March 28, 1979) – Weary Willy

Emmett Kelly as Weary WillieEmmett Kelly Sr., the most well-known of the tramp clowns of the circus. His character, Weary Willy, was the perpetual underdog, who never gave up – and, because of it, occasionally won.   He was inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame in 1989.   (more…)

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photograph of Mark Anthony in tramp clown makeup

Mark Anthony, famous tramp clown

Mark Anthony, famous circus tramp clown

Mark Anthony, introduced to the Clown Hall of Fame in 1989

Mark Anthony at the circus - color photo
Mark Anthony at the circus – color photo

Mark Anthony was born Mark Galkowski in Norwich, Connecticut in 1915. During the depression, he first joined the circus in 1937 in South Carolina. Except for a two-year stint in the Merchant Marines during World War II, he spent most of his life working with various circuses: Sells-Floto, Harris Show, Dan Rice Circus, Clyde-Beaty-Cole Bros., and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Although in early years he was seen as a whiteface, throughout the past decades he has been a unique tramp clown. He spent four years working with a circus in Australia, and 10 weeks in the Soviet Union. (more…)

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Don Burda as Homer with Dee

Homer / Don Burda – last walkaround

(from Richard Snowberg)

Dear Clown Camp Family Members,

We have lost a member of our family. With sorrow I am writing to tell you that Don Burda passed away this morning (Thursday, September 11) at 5:15 AM. I have spoken with his daughter, Denise, and she was able to share with me the arrangements that have so far been determined. Don will have a 1 PM service on October 4th at his hometown church, United Methodist Church, in Friend, Nebraska. A private family burial service will follow. A larger Celebration of Life event will take place in Los Altos, California on his birthday, November 8th. This service will take place in the Burda’s current church, Los Altos United Methodist Church, at 655 Magdalena Avenue. This 11 AM gathering, will be a casual dress event, with attendees welcomed – if they wish, to dress in their clown wardrobe. The pastor has proposed a clown processional to begin this service. Following the service, there will be a luncheon served, at which time an open mike will be available for attendees to share memories and stories of  Don’s life. The family is requesting no flowers, but is in the process of selecting memorial funds that friends can gift in Don’s memory. I will have  further information within, perhaps, a few more days. (more…)

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