Pat Valdo

Pat Valdo (1881-1970)

Pat Valdo had a long career with the American circus.  He became one of the iconic clowns, and later became director of personnel at the Ringling Brothers circus.

Pat Valdo, in whiteface clown makeup, entertaining a group of children with a toy

Patrick Fitzgerald Valdo had a lifelong association with the circus. A native of Binghamton, New York,  Pat was born on August 9, 1881.  He had an early interest in performing and dropped out of school in the tenth grade.  He got his first circus job while still in his teens with the Walter L. Main Circus as a candy butcher. A short time later he was apprenticed as a clown with the John Robinson Circus. He then joined the Ringling Brothers in 1902 (some sources say 1904) and gained notoriety as a clown.

Pat Valdo, clown

As a producing clown, he thought up one of the best-known clown acts—the midget fire brigade that rushes in and swarms over the burning building. In the first few years of his clowning, he devised a red wig that; when a string in his pocket was pulled, stood up and spun like a whirligig.

He performed in a variety of roles at the circus: wire walker, juggler, clown, assistant ringmaster, and eventually ringmaster.  He had a new role in 1914 (possibly 1911) when he became husband to another circus performer, Laura Meers.

Pat Valdo's famous whiteface clown on a Ringling Brothers poster

Pat Valdo’s face could often be seen in white face makeup on circus posters of the era. Pat Valdo worked for several major circus shows including Barnum and Bailey and Hagenbeck-Wallace.  But had his longest association was with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  It was a relationship that lasted until his death in 1970.

Pat Valdo, director

In 1923, Valdo was appointed the assistant director of performance, assisting Fred. Bradna, the ringmaster.  In 1929, John Ringling made him director of personnel, and in 1932, he made his first foreign scouting tour.  On that and subsequent European visits, Valdo brought to the United States many notable circus artists:

  • The Cristianis
  • the Walkmirs
  • the Four Polis
  • the Antelaks
  • the Willos

At the opening of the 1969 season at the Circus’s Florida winter quarters Valdo was named Director Emeritus of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, a title never before bestowed by the circus.

Pat Valdo died in November, 1970.  On November 11th, 1970 – A requiem mass was, offered in St. Martha’s Roman Catholic Church.

Pat Valdo had several quotes about clowning and the circus:

“The clowns are the pins that, [hold] the performance together. They can always stall until things are straightened out.”

“Oh, yes, the circus is a wonderful life! There’s nothing like it! You meet all sorts of people you’d never meet any other way — and I like people! Then, it keeps you out of doors and is about as healthy as any life could be!” source: Mixer and Server, volume 30

“It’s one big family of children. We take care of them, I listen to their gripes, calm down their artistic outbursts, feed them, help them save their money, take care of their insurance and doctor’s bills, send their children to school. We’re a league of nations, learn each other’s language. And when we retire, we still don’t leave the circus entirely; we go to. Sarasota. That is the goal of the whole family, a cottage at. Sarasota where we can settle down, gossip with other old circus people and watch the show go through its winter reorganization and training.”

And, in conclusion, a memorial quote from Irvin Feld (then-owner of the Ringling Brothers circus):

“Pat Valdo probably knew more about the circus business than any other man in the world. He was a living legend in the circus world, and we will all miss him very much.”


New York Times (1970 obituary)
New Yorker – “The Boss of the Kinkers”
LIFE Apr 30, 1965

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