History of Clowns

Bozos_Circus_postcard_1960s

Different Types of Clowns

There are three basic types of clowns:

Classic Whiteface, demonstrated by Frosty Little
Auguste clown - Leon McBryde (Buttons)
Tramp clown - Emmett Kelly Sr. - painting by Jim Howle
The Whiteface clown is the oldest and most well-known of the clownsThe Auguste  clown is the least intelligent, and zaniest of the clownsThe character clown is most commonly represented by the Sad Tramp or Happy Hobo

Special thanks to Jim Howle, for the graphics of the clowns found on these pages.

Hagenbeck-Wallace circus poster, with a wide variety of clowns
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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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Clown Hall of Fame

2014 International Clown Hall of Fame inductees

2014 International Clown Hall of Fame inductees

“It is the Board of Directors great honor and privilege to announce the 2014 selections for Induction into the International Clown Hall of Fame. Chuck Burnes, Dougie Ashton, Paul Wenzel and Carl “Swede” Johnson are recognized for their contributions to the art of clowning and celebrates them as among the greatest clowns in history.The induction ceremony will take place, July 23, 2014 in Baraboo, WI, during the Circus Celebration festivities. More details to follow.On behalf of the ICHOF Board of Directors, we extend our heartiest congratulations to these clowns who have spent a lifetime performing the noble art of making others happy!” (more…)

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Lou Jacobs circus poster - Barnum and Bailey Circus

list of Famous Clowns of the circus, stage, screen and television

Famous Clowns in history



Much of the information presented herein is borrowed shamelessly from the Clown Hall of Fame.  Much thanks to them. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, drop by – you won’t be disappointed.A listing of some of the famous clowns of history. If you don’t see someone listed that you think is deserving, please add a note in the comments, or email us. (more…)

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Albert Fratellini

Clown Types – the Auguste clown

Character of the Auguste clown



The  Auguste clown is in a class by himself. The least intelligent (although that’s not saying much : ) of the clowns, he is also perhaps the most beloved. With the most exaggerated make-up and movements, this is the zaniest of the clowns. Famous Auguste clowns include  Cooky,  Coco,  Albert Fratellini,  Grock,  Lou Jacobs, and  Leon “Buttons” McBryde. (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

The whiteface clown – clown types

Character of the white face clown

The white face clown, a.k.a. the classic clown or the whiteface clown, is the clown most people first think of when they hear the word “clown.” Associated with the  circus, the whiteface clown is the most intelligent of the clowns, and is typically at the top of the pecking order.  The Whiteface clown will typically be the ringleader, who will order around the other clowns, and who has his “clownishness” revealed either by his own ineptness or by that of his underling.

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