Famous Clowns

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.

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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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William Kempe, Elizabethan clown, dancing a jig

William Kempe, Shakespeare’s clown

William Kempe, Shakespeare’s clown

William Kempe, Elizabethan clown, dancing a jigWilliam Kempe was one of the main actors of Shakespeare’s early plays, and one of the original shareholders in the Globe theatre. A friend and student of Richard Tarleton, his predecessor in Shakespeare’s company as clown, Kemp’s parts likely included Peter in “Romeo and Juliet” and Dogberry in “Much Ado About Nothing.” William Kempe left the company in 1599, possibly because of a dispute with Shakespeare. (more…)

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Richard Tarleton

Richard Tarlton, Queen Elizabeth’s jester and Shakespeare’s clown

Richard Tarlton (born unknown date – died  September 3, 1588)

Richard Tarleton was a clown, actor in William Shakespeare’s company, ballad writer, favorite jester of Queen Elizabeth I, and the most popular comedian of his time. Very little is know of his early life, although it is known that he was born hump-backed. The first historical note is about a ballad that he wrote on a recent flood. In 1576 he wrote a book, now lost, titled “Tarltons Toyes”.  By the 1570’s he was a well-known actor and Queen Elizabeth’s favorite jester.  He was the only one permitted to tell the Queen her faults. (more…)

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