Peggy Williams, while a speech pathology major at theUniversity of Wisconsin where her focus was on working in deaf education, thought clowning might sharpen her nonverbal communication skills. She became interested in Clown College and became the first female graduate of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circuses Clown College in 1970. Following completion of the program of study, she went on the road with The Greatest Show on Earth, distinguishing herself during her nine years of travel with the circus. In 1973, she was asked to join the teaching staff at Clown College where she assisted students in nurturing the relationship between performers and the public. (more…)
Duane “Uncle Soapy” Thorpe (1924 – 1995)
Inducted into the 2000 Clown Hall of Fame. Duane “Uncle Soapy” Thorpe is one of the few clowns to have had a successful career while working for only one circus. (Although Duane was in his fair share of soap gags through the years, his moniker was actually based on a family nickname.) A professional dancer, Duane sought a job with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey for the fresh air and good food. He was given a job in the wardrobe department. Before long, he was learning to be a web sitter for the aerial ballet. In 1950 he made it to Clown Alley and stayed there until 1986. Duane’s list of accomplishments is quite lengthy. A prolific producing clown, he created ring gags, track gags, and numerous walkarounds. (more…)
Steve “T.J. Tatters” Smith (1951 – )
Steve Smith is best known as the director of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey‘s Clown College. He was a graduate of the college (1971) and a performer and goodwill ambassador with the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey show’s blue unit for the next six years. He moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he received his bachelor’s degree in acting from the Goodman School of Drama. At Clown College, Steve not only served in an administrative capacity, but also taught several classes and conducted nationwide auditions for new students. Steve’s energy and enthusiasm has made him a popular teacher and lecturer on clowning throughout the U.S. He was appointed director for the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus in 1992. (more…)
Oleg Popov (1930 – 2016)
Oleg Popov was inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame in 1993
Born July 31, 1930 in Vyrubovo, Russia, Oleg Popov became the top clown with the Moscow State Circus. Known as the “Sunshine Clown,” Popov’s character is considered gentle and poetic. He graduated from the Moscow circus school in 1949 and was made assistant to the great Karandash, who taught Popov the nuances of clowning. Popov is talented on the slack-wire and has a repertoire of over 80 clown sketches. This gentle satirist has taken his expertness at wire walking and juggling, and incorporated these skills with traditional gags and soft humor. (more…)
Paul Jung (1901 – April 21, 1965)
Inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame in 1992. Paul Jung way born in Dayton, Ohio in 1901 to Paul and Mary Young, who were themselves professional entertainers. As a youngster, Paul Jung first performed in a vaudeville acrobatic act with his brothers, but in 1917 at the age of 16 he joined the Ringling Brothers circus, left in 1924 to work in vaudeville, and rejoined the circus in 1934, by which time it had become Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. (more…)
Annie Fratellini (1932 – 1997)
Inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame in1994 — the first woman to be inducted.
French clown Annie Fratellini is the granddaughter of Paul Fratellini. She carried on the tradition of the famous Fratellini brothers, adapting their routines to her impish feminine character. Each year, on her birthday, her father gave her a different musical instrument: concertina, vibraphone, violin, clarinet, piano, etc. She learned to play them all and used them years later in her clowning.
She believed she had escaped her destiny as a child of the circus by making her career in singing and films. But her marriage in 1969 to Pierre Etaix, film director, actor, and a fanatical lover of the circus, allowed her to rejoin the circus world; in 1974, together they set up the Annie Fratellini Circus School where she was its artistic director. The Fratellini Circus School was the first circus school in her native France, and has trained hundreds of performers worldwide, as well as inspiring numerous other circus schools (more…)
Gene “Cousin Otto” Lee (1920 – 2016)
Inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame in 1992, Wisconsin’s first Hall of Fame inductee, who was born in Milwaukee, logged his 50th year in clowning in 1991. Gene Lee’s clowning career included early stints in Cole Bros., Cole Bros.- Clyde Beatty and Ringling Bros. Circuses. His mentor, the famous Otto Griebling, helped give Lee his clown name, “Cousin Otto“, because he seemed like one of the family. Known as “America’s Favorite Relative“, (more…)
“Yankee Dan” Rice
Dan Rice (1823-1901) – President Lincoln’s Court Jester
Inducted into the 1991 Clown Hall of Fame The American Grimaldi – Dan Rice was the first truly great American clown, as well as the first clown star of the circus. Dan Rice was born in New York City in 1823. Dan Rice’s first appearance as a circus clown was in Galena, Illinois, in 1844 at $15 a week. Gradually his popularity as a wise-cracking, aphoristic, cracker-barrel philosopher, a forerunner of Will Rogers, became so great that he was able to buy his own shows, both wagon and riverboat.
By 1862 he was earning $1000.00 a week, twice as much as President Lincoln. He and President Lincoln were good friends, as were Dan and Jefferson Davis. He was called the President’s court jester. Yankee Dan Rice
was well-known for his Shakespearean quips, as well as for a biting tongue. A philanthropist he gave generously to many charities and erected the first monument to soldiers killed during the Civil War.
Leon McBryde, aka. “Buttons” (1943 – )
Inducted into the 1990 Clown Hall of Fame
In 1969, he got that opportunity when “Buttons” was accepted into the Ringling Brothers Clown College; a year later, he was touring with the Blue Unit of Ringling as a professional clown, and the following year working as Ringling’s Good Will Ambassador — as well as teaching at their Clown College. He spent the next six years traveling coast to coast, performing at schools and hospitals. (more…)