Circus clowns

Face of Leon McBryde as Buttons

Leon McBryde, aka. “Buttons” biography

Leon McBryde, aka. “Buttons” (1943 – )

Inducted into the 1990 Clown Hall of Fame

Buttons, Leon McBrydeGrowing up in Texas, at the age of 7 young Leon McBryde watched Lou Jacobs perform in the Ringling Brothers circus, and thought that it would be wonderful to do that when he grew up.

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…)

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Lou Jacobs listening

Lou Jacobs biography – Auguste circus clown

Lou Jacobs (January 1, 1903 – September 13, 1992)

Lou Jacobs listeningInducted into the 1989 Clown Hall of Fame

Lou Jacobs is a legend among clowns. Nearly a decade after his death, he is still immediately recognizable to millions of people, with his bulbous nose, cone-head topped by a tiny fedora hat with a shock of bright red hair around his ears and the ever-present oversize plaid coat, Lou Jacobs personified clowning for Children of All Ages. He entertained audiences at Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey for more than 60 years before retiring from performing at age 84. (more…)

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Otto Griebling and baby

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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Bobby Kaye

Bobby Kaye – inducted into the 1991 Clown Hall of Fame

Robert Smiley, aka. Bobby Kaye (1908 – 1983)

Bobby Kaye - 1991 Clown Hall of FameBobby Kaye was inducted into the 1991 Clown Hall of Fame.  He was born on May 29, 1908 in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, USA as Robert Smiley.

Originally, Robert Smiley ran away from his home in Lewistown, Pennsylvania to join the circus at the age of 16.   His father, a country doctor, convinced him to first try at least one year of college.   Robert did so, and then left school to join the circus again. Entertaining must run in the family, as his brother Joe was a magician, and brother Walter was a musician. (more…)

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Michael Polakov - Coco

Michael Polakovs, aka Coco

clown pictures - Michael Polakov - "Coco" - 1991 Clown Hall of FameMICHAEL “Coco” POLAKOVS (1923 – 2009)

Inducted into the 1991 Clown Hall of Fame

Coco is a third generation Russian circus clown, who achieved his fame in England where the family came while he was a youth. He was associated with the Bertram Mills and Billy Smart Circuses in England, which later included tours of Europe. (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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Francesco Caroli, famous European whiteface circus clown, in costume

Francesco Caroli, European white face circus clown

 Biography of Francesco Caroli (September, 1922 – May 18, 2004)

Born in San Donna di Piave, Italy, he worked with his brothers’ equestrian act in England at the Great Carmo Circus and Blackpool Tower Circus before World War II. In 1939 they were in Germany with the Circus Jakob Busch when the clown act walked out. Busch asked the Carolis if they could fill in with a clown number. Although they were skilled in in various circus arts, none of them were professional clowns, but they agree to make the attempt. Enrico, Ernesto, and 17-year-old Francesco hastily put together a number. Francesco took the role of the elegant white-face clown in sequinned costume.  The act was a success, and the Caroli brothers began incorporating clowning into their equestrian act. Eventually, they became some of the most popular clowns in Europe. (more…)

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Mark Anthony, art by Bill Ballentine

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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clown picture - painting of Paul Alpert, aka. Prince Paul

Prince Paul, circus clown

Paul ‘Prince Paul’ Alpert (1913 – 1987)

clown picture - painting of Paul Alpert, aka. Prince Paul

Inducted into the  Clown Hall of Fame in 1992, Paul Alpert became a  famous little person, after gaining a start in clowning in 1933 with the Paul Jung troupe.  The Bangor, Maine native went on to fame as a  Ringling Bros. clown, performing for more than 50 years. He also became a frequent instructor at the circus’ Clown College in Florida.

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Felix Adler with his wife and clown partner, Amelia

Felix Adler, king of clowns

Felix Adler (June 17, 1895 – February 1, 1960) – The White House Clown, King of Clowns

Inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame in 1989.

Felix Adler grew up on a small farm outside of Clinton, Iowa, with his father Joseph and mother Nettie. Some accounts state that he left home and went to join Ringling Brothers Circus at the age of ten or thirteen (accounts differ), although his sister disputes them. (more…)

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