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Otto Griebling – circus tramp clown

Otto Griebling (April 28, 1896 – April 19, 1972)

Inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame 1989

Otto Griebling, inducted into the Clown Hall of FameOtto Griebling, who became a fixture of the American circus as a tramp clown performing for the most famous circuses of the 20th Century, began his career not as a clown, but as a bareback rider.   And this American icon was born in Germany.

Otto Griebling was born on April 28, 1896, in Koblenz, Germany.  He came to this country at the age of 14. Otto started his circus career in Baraboo, Wisconsin, apprenticing with Albert Hodgini and later joining his riding act. He was an excellent bareback comedy rider, who later worked for Sells Floto Circus, among others. He toyed with his audiences emotions, sometimes being sassy, crazy and quite eccentric.

Otto Griebling - color photoIn 1930, Otto Griebling injuring his back after a fall, and moved from comedy horse riding to being a clown — a silent tramp clown.   Routines for which he was famous were juggling metal pie plates.  And, attempts to deliver a block of ice, or a plant, or a package at different points throughout the show. The running gag would be the change over time …  For instance, the block of ice would become progressively smaller with each appearance, ending as an ice cube or a puddle of water.

Later life of Otto Griebling

Otto GrieblingOtto Griebling always performed a silent clown act. In 1970 his larynx was removed due to cancer.  And pantomime became a way of life both in and out of make-up. His pantomime skills served him well as one of the early tramp clowns in the circus, also known as a carpet clown. He became a circus clown with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus in 1932, the Cole Brothers Circus starting in 1935, and found his permanent circus home with the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus, until his death in 1972, following a stroke. Otto was one of the instructors at Irvin Feld’s Ringling Brothers Clown College.  He was also one of only four people to earn the title of “Master Clown”.

Otto Griebling was laid to rest in the Sarasota Memorial Park in Sarasota, Florida, USA.   Otto Griebling was posthumously into the International Circus Hall of Fame in 1973, and the International Clown Hall of Fame in 1989.

You may be interested in this photo gallery of Otto Griebling


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