Famous Clowns

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Billy Baker

Billy Baker as
Billy Baker as “Elwood Smooch”

From the foothills of the Arkansas Ozarks, Billy Baker ran away from a college scholarship to join the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Clown College class of 1970. He hit the road with the Ringling Red Show, where he rose to be a featured member of Clown Alley for 3 seasons. He also performed and was featured on the 1977 Blue Unit. While riding the rails with Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey  he started writing songs, which led to meeting and performing with many famous country music artists. Jerry Jeff Walker recorded two of his songs as album title cuts. In 1984 Baker began a 12 year association with Dolly Parton, where he became Dolly’s featured musical-comedy star attraction at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennesse. In 1996, he started his own award winning musical-comedy show on the Pigeon Forge show strip, “Elwood Smooch’s Old Smoky Hoedown”. The show had a successful run for 11 years. In 2006, he was the featured comedian at The Comedy Barn in Pigeon Forge. Baker’s physical comedy has been featured in over 125 television commercials, including one that won an Emmy award. In 1992 he became a featured comedy ensemble member of the Hee Haw tv show the last two seasons it was on the air. In 2008, he premiered “Elwood Smooch’s Choo Choo Cha Boogie Show” at the world famous Chattanooga Choo Choo in Chattanooga, Tennesse. Besides performing a revolving door of comedy characters, he is also well-known as a baritone singer.

Billy Baker was inducted into the 2001 Clown Hall of Fame.

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Umberto "Antonet" Guillaume

Umberto “Antonet” Guillaume (1872-1935)

Umberto "Antonet" GuillaumeBorn in Brescia, Italy, Antonet was the son of a famous family of Italian clowns. He followed in Footit’s tradition as an “authoritarian” whiteface clown. George Speaight credits Antonet with introducing the loose spangled dress, with calf-length trousers that became associated with the European whiteface clown. Antonet first became famous working straight to Little Walter. The duo created clown entrees called The Clarinet, The Bullfight, The Nightingale, and a Hamlet parody that became standard circus clown acts. According to John Towsen, (more…)

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Jimmy Williams - circus photo

Jimmy “Happy” Williams (1942 – 2015)

Jimmy “Happy” Williams was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1961, he landed his first job in clowning when he was hired to perform at Mayfair Mall in Milwaukee. He took his name “Happy” from his respect for tramp clown Happy Kellums. Chappie Fox went to Milwaukee to take a look at Jimmy. Impressed by his interaction with children, Chappie brought Jimmy to the Circus World Museum in 1962. After his first season at Baraboo, Jimmy spent two year stints with the Kelly-Miller and Famous Cole Circuses before joining the U.S. Army.

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Bill "Boom-Boom" Baily

Bill “Boom-Boom” Baily (1917 – 1990)

Bill "Boom-Boom" BailyBill began clowning while still in high school. For over seven years he appeared in his tramp character on the Sealtest Big Top and Mark’s Magic Midwest television shows, broadcast by local stations in New Jersey. He appeared on live television programs on CBS, NBC, and ABC including guest appearances on the Mike Douglas Show and Pixanna Show. Bill was an original member of Clowns of America when it was founded in 1967 and held membership number 81. He was named the U.S. Chairman of National Clown Week. (more…)

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Earl Chaney - Mr. Clown

Earl Chaney – Mr. Clown

Earl Chaney (March 6, 1945 – )

Earl Chaney – Mr. Clown – has been making children of all ages laugh for over twenty years.

He perfected his clowning talent in Clown College.  Earl Chaney went on to become one of the best-loved clown characters with the Ringling Brothers Circus from 1972 through 1975.

After leaving the circus to pursue his own business interests in the clowning field, he played throughout the United States from 1975 through 1984 with Buttons’ Clown Alley and American Contemporary Clowns.   During this same time, Earl Chaney was the original Ronald McDonald.  He was seen on many McDonald television ads, for over 20 years. He has also conducted clowning lectures for such prestigious organisations as Clowns of America, The World Clown Association, The Shriners, and others from coast to coast. Spreading his knowledge through joy-filled lectures continues to be a big part of his business. (more…)

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Nino Zoppé with child

Giovanni Zoppé – “Nino”

Sixth-generation circus performer Giovanni Zoppé has nothing against the modern lions-and-tigers-and-bears spectacle of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, or the Vegas-style slickness of Cirque du Soleil. He just doesn’t think high-concept shows like those capture the essence of the circus. “If somebody came to see our show, they would see what the circus was like a hundred years ago”, says Zoppé, a part-time Pilsen resident and performer in his family’s theatrical circus. Though he only recently returned to Chicago, Zoppé’s roots tie him to the Midwest – he was born in the parking lot of WGN studios following a family appearance on Bozo the Clown in 1966. (more…)

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Frank "Slivers" Oakley in his baseball skit

Frank “Slivers” Oakley

Frank Oakley, aka. Slivers, 1871-1916

Frank Oakley, also known as Slivers (1871 – 1916) was the most popular circus clown of his generation. Born in Sweden, both of Oakley’s parents were concert singers. At the age of 14 he began to practice as a contortionist and at 16 he joined his first circus. His parents convinced him to enroll at the University of Michigan but two years later Oakley was back under the big top.

His first show was Andrew MacDonald’s Circus, but in 1897 he joined the Ringling Bros. Circus. Before the turn of the century, Oakley performed with the Barnum & Bailey Circus, followed by three seasons with the Adam Forepaugh & Sells Bros. Circus (1900–02). Oakley returned to the Barnum & Bailey Circus for four seasons (1903–07), where he reportedly earned up to $1,000 a week. (more…)

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Curly Robbins

Curly Robbins

W.D. Robbins – Curly Robbins – 1928 – 2002

Curly Robbins
Curly Robbins

Curly Robbins began his clown career in 1959. He volunteered to be a clown at a underprivileged children’s Christmas party and found he had a passion for it. In 1962, a booking agent for Clyde Beatty – Cole Bros asked him if he’d like to appear with the circus. Curly is known for his many appearances with the Shrine Circuses. (more…)

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Bill Irwin - International Clown Hall of Fame 1999 Inductee

Bill Irwin

Bill Irwin (April 11, 1950 – present)

Bill Irwin - International Clown Hall of Fame 1999 Inductee
Bill Irwin – International Clown Hall of Fame 1999 Inductee

Bill Irwin graduated from the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Clown College in 1974, and the next year he became an original cast member of San Francisco’s Pickle Family Circus. He continued his work with the Pickle Family Circus until 1979 when he left to pursue his own unique vision for theatrical clowning. Bill’s own original clown show Largely/New York was seen at City Center and the Kennedy Center, ran on Broadway, and received five Tony Award nominations. He was also granted the Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle, and the New York Dance and Performance Award. He also appeared in Fool Moon, a two-man show developed with clown David Shiner, on Broadway, at the Doolittle Theater in Los Angeles, and in Vienna and Munich. (more…)

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Barry Lubin as Grandma the Clown

Barry Lubin – Grandma

Barry Lubin as Grandma
Barry Lubin as Grandma

Biography of Barry Lubin – “Grandma”

(July 3, 1952 – )

A member of the 1974 class of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, he performed for 5 years with the Greatest Show on Earth. He also performed at the prestigious International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo in 1977. Since 1982, Barry has been featured in 15 productions of the Big Apple Circus and has become that show’s Director of Clowning conceiving, co-writing and starring in the Big Apple Circus’ production Grandma Goes to Hollywood. He performed at the 6th International Circus Festival of Budapest in January, 2006 where he was awarded the Special Prize from the Director of The Great Moscow Circus. (more…)

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