Character of the Auguste clown
The Auguste clown is in a class by himself. The least intelligent (although that’s not saying much : ) of the clowns, he is also perhaps the most beloved. With the most exaggerated make-up and movements, this is the zaniest of the clowns. Famous Auguste clowns include Cooky, Coco, Albert Fratellini, Grock, Lou Jacobs, and Leon “Buttons” McBryde.
Make up of the Auguste clown
The make up of the auguste starts, not with the classic white base, but more of a flesh tone, as can be seen from the illustrations on this page. Like the comedy (grotesque) whiteface, the make-up is exaggerated. Note the large mouth and eyes of Lou Jacobs on this page, or Cooky’s eyes. As always, the object is to enhance the natural features of the face, never to hide them. The clown takes his or her natural facial features and exaggerates; also, don’t forget that many in your audience (in a walkaround, for example) may be further away — this is why the features are ‘outlined’ — study the eyes and mouths of Lou Jacobs and Cooky for examples. For more detail on make-up, I recommend Strutter’s Complete Guide to Clown Make-up.
Costume of the Auguste clown
There is no hard and fast ‘rule’ to the Auguste’s costuming. As with most things clown, contrast and comparison are the key. Remember that the Auguste’s costume is the first visual cue to the audience of who and what he is, possibly more so than the facial make-up. Exaggeration is key here; note Lou Jacobs’ tiny hat, over-sized coat, and extremely wide lapels on the shirt & coat. The audience needs several visual cues to the character of the character before he says or does anything. For a more contemporary example, picture Steve Urkel from TV’s Family Matters — with his colorful clothes, prominent suspenders, short pants and large glasses, his costume said ‘clown’ before his character had a chance.
History of the Auguste clown
In the 20th century, the two clowns who had the most impact on the development of the Auguste were probably Albert Fratellini and Lou Jacobs. Albert Fratellini, as one of the famous Fratellini Brothers, created a character who served as an in-between from one brother’s classic whiteface and another brother’s tramp character. He also introduced the red nose, which has since become synonymous with clowns. Lou Jacobs, over a lifetime spent with Ringling Brothers circus developed and fine-tuned both his own clown character, and much of the ‘character’ of the Auguste. It is to these two that we owe the foundation of the modern Auguste.
There is a widely told legend about the origins of the Auguste clown. According to the legend, an American acrobat named Tom Belling was performing with a circus in Germany in 1869. Confined to his dressing room as punishment for missing his cues, he entertained his friends by putting on misfitting clothes to perform his impression of the show’s manager. The manager suddenly entered the room. Belling took off running, ending up in the circus arena where he fell over the ring curb. In his embarrassment and haste to escape, he fell over the ring curb again on his way out. The audience yelled, “Auguste!” which is German for fool. The manager commanded that Belling continue appearing as the Auguste.
Most serious historians doubt that the legend is true. For one thing, the word Auguste did not exist in the German language until after the character became popular. One of the theories of the actual origin is that Belling copied the character from the R’izhii (Red Haired) clowns he saw when he toured Russia with a circus.
Characters like the Auguste certainly existed previously. Whether or not he was the first, Belling was not very successful as an Auguste and soon left clowning to perform as a magician.
There exists a European variation of the Auguste, which is more of an “Everyman” character — who might wander onto the stage or into the ring. Rollie McBain is an example of this character, as is the inebriate played by Charlie Chaplin.