Robert Smiley, aka. Bobby Kaye (1908 – 1983)
Bobby Kaye, born Robert Smiley, was inducted into the 1991 Clown Hall of Fame
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.
Beginning with the Downey Bros. Circus in 1923, Bobby Kaye became a famous whiteface circus clown who toured with a number of shows, including the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. In addition to his Ringling Brothers circus appearances, he served as goodwill ambassador for the circus, traveling in advance of the show some seasons. He joined the Ringling Brothers Clown College staff in 1971 and four years later had charge of all make-up classes. Bobby Kaye was one of only four individuals to share the title of “Master Clown” at Ringling.
As an expert in magic, Bobby Kaye provided large illusions for the Ringling Clown Alleys, including a version of the long shirt gag which ended in the cloth tube unfolding into an American flag large enough to cover the ring and requiring 10 clowns to support it.
Bobby Kaye passed away from cancer in Long Beach, Florida, USA – read about Bobby Kaye’s memorial service online. You can find interviews with and several anecdotes about Bobby Kaye in the book The World of Clowns