Famous Clowns

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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Footit and Chocolat

Footit and Chocolat

Footit and ChocolatGeorge Footit (1864-1921) was a British equestrian, acrobat and clown who was brought into his profession at the young age of twelve. He was known for his solo performances as an acrobat and equestrian with Sanger’s Circus in England. Raphael “Chocolat” Padilla (-1917) was born in Cuba and discovered by Tony Grice. Grice hired Chocolat to be an assistant in the circus ring. Eventually, Chocolat became famous for trying to ride a wild mule which threw him out of the ring. In 1889, Footit and Chocolat teamed up to appear at the Hippodrome du Champ de Mars and at the Nouveau Cirque in Paris. (more…)

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Charlie Rivel, 1967, performing his act

Charlie Rivel

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…)

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Joe Jackson Sr.

Joe Jackson Sr (1873-1942)

Joe Jackson Sr.
Joe Jackson Sr.

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…)

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Paul Wenzel, in one of his props, seemingly pulled by a goose

Paul Wenzel

Paul Wenzel, in one of his props, seemingly pulled by a gooseProfessor Paul Wenzel was born in 1878, and performed as  a circus clown for over 60 years throughout the United States of America. Paul Wenzel appeared with large and small shows before finding a permanent home with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. (more…)

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swede_johnson_smoking

Swede Johnson


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.

Swede Johnson, famous animal trainerAfter 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.

Swede Johnson, whiteface circus clownIn 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.

Bibliography

Swede Johnson’s induction into the Clown Hall of Fame

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Glenn "Frosty" Little, inducted into the 1991 Clown Hall of Fame

Clown Quotes – Famous sayings by and about clowns

God’s children and their happiness are my reasons for being”.
Red Skelton

“I was always somewhat calloused about broadcasting, but this Circus is the doggonedest phenomenon I have ever seen. There’s always the satisfaction that you have done something for somebody that goes beyond the commercial aspects of the show. I love my work and enjoy making children laugh. Laughter cannot be imitated. It comes from the heart.”
Bob Bell, WGN’s Bozo the Clown

“Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere.”
William Shakespeare.  Twelfth Night, Act iii. Sc. 1.

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Joseph Grimaldi as Clown

Clown poster gallery

A collection of posters of clowns.   They are broken into categories, such as  Circus Clown,  Famous Clowns, and clown art  (paintings of non-specific clowns by various artists).   In addition to these, there are also collections of various film and television clowns, such as  Charlie Chaplin,  the Three Stooges,  the Marx Brothers,  Laurel and Hardy,  Lucille Ball.

(more…)

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robert-armin

Robert Armin, Shakespeare’s clown

Biography of Robert Armin (c. 1568-1612)

Robert Armin was one of the clowns that worked with William Shakespeare, and for whom Shakespeare created some of his most famous comic characters. Robert Armin was a master of extemporization, an accomplished singer, an author of several plays as well as a history of court jesters. (more…)

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