Harold “Happy” Kellems (1905-1987)
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…)
Irvin ‘Ricky’ Romig (1920-2010)
Irvin ‘Ricky’ Romig was born into show business and was working in the family’s acts by the age of four. An acrobatic clown skilled in comedy falls; Irv appeared with many circuses throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, including the Walter l. Main Circus, Kelly Miller Bros., and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. He also served in the military in World War II, where he also formed a clown troupe to entertain the troops – The Section 8 Gang.
In 1950, he married Rosie Dobo, who appeared with him in The Greatest Show on Earth.
Irv performed over twenty years with the Detroit Shrine Circus. From 1952 through 1964, Irv had a daily television show on WXYZ in Detroit. Five times a week, Ricky the Clown came into people’s homes and hearts. (more…)
Jackie’s parents were performers with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus when he was born. He started clowning at a very young age, and as a young man became a salaried performer in partnership with his father who was also a clown. When he was 19, Jackie became an aerialist. He soon returned to clowning but maintained his aerial skills. He doubled on the trapeze for Cornell Wilde in the film Greatest Show on Earth. After graduating from high school, Jackie took his father’s place in the show the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey sent to Havana, Cuba. During the 1950’s Jackie booked his one-man act for fairs and other circuses. In the 1960’s he once again worked with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus.(more…)
Josep Andreu i Lasserre (April 23, 1896 – July 26, 1983), best known as Charlie Rivel, was an internationally known Spanish circus clown. He was born in Cubelles (Barcelona, Spain). His parents Pere Andreu Pausas (Spanish) and Marie-Louise Lasarre (French) were circus artists as well.
Charlie Rivel was Europe’s most famous and popular clown. His costume trademark was a long red jersey that had accidentally been stretched in the laundry. A performance at the Grona Lunds Tivoli in Stockholm in 1979 marked his 80th year in show business. (more…)
CHESTER SHERMAN ( – 1976)
JOE VANI (1913 – Present)
Nineteen year old Joe Vani answered an ad looking for an experienced acrobat to fill an opening in the Kenneth Waite Trio. The other members of the trio were Kenneth Waite and Chester Sherman. As part of the trio, Joe spent 18 years watching, learning and developing his skills as a performer. When Kenneth Waite retired, Joe and Chester formed a partnership that became known as the Sherman Brothers. So closely were the men identified as brothers, that many newspaper articles identified Joe as Chester’s “baby brother”. The Sherman Brothers entertained circus audiences across the United States for over 43 years (1932-1975). (more…)
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…)
GEORGE “BUMPSY ANTHONY” HULME (1901-1989)
“Bumpsy Anthony” was born George Anthony Hulme in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Bumpsy Anthony began his career in vaudeville with a breakaway bicycle act and then moved to circuses as a clown. Bumpsy Anthony left home to join the circus at the age of 16, and for 62 years worked on various shows including Ringling Brothers (more…)
Swede Johnson was born Carl Gehlert Johansen in Ribe, Denmark in 1903. Swede was a fourth generation circus performer, and traveled with his family in their own circus throughout the Scandinavian countries while growing up. At the age of 15, he went to work in the Hagenbeck Zoo in Germany; later that year, he came to the USA from Denmark as an assistant to Alfred Court, a wild animal trainer.
After coming to the United States, Swede took the first job that he could find — as a rodeo clown, afterwards becoming a circus clown. He then had a long career in the circus, working at different times and circuses as clown, animal trainer, and other things. Some of the circuses that he performed in include the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey, Bradley & Benson Circus & Rodeo, C. R. Montgomery Circus, Elks Circus, Shrine Circus, Biller Brothers, Rogers Brothers, Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, Paul A. Miller shopping center circus.
In his personal life, he married his wife Mabel, and they had their daughter, Ann, in 1953. In 1969, he sold his trained animals, and retired. Two days later, he met with a friend at the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus — and ended his retirement. He joined Ringling in 1969 as clowning boss, and worked there until 1976.
Swede Johnson passed away the next year. He was survived by his daughter and 2 grandchildren, all of whom became circus performers in their own right.
In 2014, Swede Johnson was inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
- Ocala Style
- The Billboard
Swede Johnson’s induction into the Clown Hall of Fame
Tommy Hanneford biography (September 27, 1927 – December 5, 2005)
Thomas Robert Hanneford, “The funniest man on horseback,” nephew of Poodles Hanneford, famous circus clown and trick rider, has passed away in Sarasota, Florida, U.S.A. Tommy Hanneford was born into the circus, as part of the Royal Hanneford circus, son of George Hanneford, Sr. and Catherine Breen and nephew of the celebrated circus clown Poodles Hanneford. (more…)