These faces are the images people associate with clowns today. But it wasn't always so.
Clowns and the macabre have been on my mind for quite some time this year -- and not just because there are political campaigns going on right now! Obituaries of some famous clowns have appeared this year, the most famous of which was Larry Harmon, the man who popularized the character "Bozo." (A clown I watched a lot as a kid.) Harmon had gained notoriety in 2004 when the International Clown Hall of Fame in Milwaukee took down a plaque honoring him as Bozo. He had never credited the creators of the character, writer Alan W. Livingston and clown/actor Pinto Colvig, the first Bozo.
Harmon died on July 3.
In March, the world's oldest professional circus clown, Joe Vani, (a/k/a "Joe Sherman") passed away; he was loved and respected by other circus clowns. (Just typing that sentence made me think of the words "clown love", a phrase that has me laughing.) His obit (written by Verne Langdon) can be read here. In part, it reads, "Joe liked to recall one of their most popular acts, 'the hot doggie' - a clown steals hot dogs from a clown vendor and gobbles them down, then gets sick and has his stomach pumped by clown doctors and out comes a little dog! The audience cheers, the clowns take their bow and exit, followed by the dog walking on its hind legs."
A funny, though somewhat macabre (or at least weird) bit, but a classic!
If you'd like to buy a Vani t-shirt (one kind seen here, another here) -- send a total of $24.97 to Art Bausman, 2713 California Ave, Kettering OH 45419. All funds will go to the Shrine Hospital for Crippled Children in Tampa, FL. (That was Joe's Vani's wish.) There are only a few left and they are strictly while supplies last, so hurry. (In stock: B&W-- 2 L, 5 XL , 2XXL. Color: 10 XL.)
Finally I've been thinking of the Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey clown Harry Deems Dann. I remember seeing, as a kid, books, magazines, and circus posters with his picture on them. And I saw him at a circus performance as a child growing up in the hinterlands of Arkansas. But the celebrity memorial website Find-A-Grave will not allow a bio for Dann to be listed among bios of "famous" people, even though they do for such, uh, household names as clowns Felix B. Adler and Chester Sherman. (Dann is on the right on the book cover seen here.)
This is arbitrary, and sillier than any clown antics under a big top. One of Find-a-Grave's administrators dismissed Dann as worthy of inclusion as "famous", though Dann is mentioned at Wikipedia in three places, and at one entry, is described being among the most "august of the augustes." Also, this dissing dismissal comes in in spite of the fact that Dann is an inductee of the International Clown Hall of Fame, influenced other circus clowns, and when he was alive, was referred to by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as "America's Picture Clown," as his circus character had appeared so often in the press.
Guess the Find-A-Grave administrator is a clown, too! He is certainly behaving like a bozo.
You can read Dann's "non-famous person" obit at Find-A-Grave here. Leave a sentiment of respect, or put up a link to the entry at your own website or blog, and maybe Find-A-Grave will reconsider.
I was never afraid of clowns as a kid. I liked 'em for much the same reasons I liked monsters: they were out of the ordinary and odd looking, which of course delighted me.
I talked with former professional clown Verne Langdon about all this not long ago. Coming in Part Two.