The purpose of this blog is to share stories from the road of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown Alley. With this resource we can relive those days and have a better understanding of the transitions within Clown Alley over the years. I feel historically it's important to share these stories for future generations. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

More than just clowns

Besides the unbelievable staff, we also had a lot of other people around our Clown College. There was Phillipe Petit who had just made his historic walk across the World Trade Towers. He was going on the new Bicentennial show and he was there to practice. He stayed in the villas with us. Other than wire walking he was an incredible juggler, magician, and basically an all around performer. Those of us that got to know him really had a chance to  get a little different take on clowning and street performing. 

 Personally, he was the one who taught me how to do hat tricks, which became my main skill in those early days. He also taught me the trick with hat, cane and vest. I used this trick when I worked the blowoff to come in. This was a place just before the show where one clown would warm up the audience with a series of different skills. This has changed over the years , and now the blowoff involves all of the clowns in Clown Alley .

 The days of the single clown doing it any more are gone. This was a spot every clown wanted and really worked hard  to get.

 Some others that were with us were Jule New breaking in a lion act for the Blue Show, along with Mike Aria a bear trainer who was helping him. Mike was one of those special people that comes into your life. Years later he contacted Lou Gehrig disease and left us. 

When he was in Japan he became fascinated by bamboo and Japanese culture. As he slowly began to lose his motor skills he learned to paint with his mouth. He made a beautiful calendar and set of note cards that I still cherish. The above picture comes from the calendar. This fascination allowed him to become president of  The National Bamboo Society. 

He later married Janis Gillespie. They knew each other since sixth grade and never lost the love between them over all those years. She was a girl clown from an earlier Clown College, and they joined the show together. One of the funniest girl clowns I ever met. She did an Olive Oil character that was hilarious! Together they went on to have a great bear act at Circus World. Janis also did a liberty dog act with some Golden Retrievers.

 I would visit their compound years later  as the dogs were getting old. Even though they could run loose they would still run around in all of their patterns following the lead dog. They never forgot  the act! I hope your reading this Mike and, I got everything right.

 Jule rode a Harley with a lion on the backseat! Cool stuff.

 Last but not least Charlie King was there training a group of girls for a female King Charles Troupe. They were constantly fighting and arguing to the point they had to send them home. I dont know if it ever did come to be. I never saw it. Boy were we ever lucky! 


  1. Mitch-
    OH, the memories.
    Remember when one of the girl unicyclists "fell" or was pushed off the balcony of the Villas?

    She walked away without a scratch.

    It was shortly thereafter that the lovely ladies of the King Charles Troupe were sent North to the South Bronx.
    "Hell on Wheels" would have been a great name for that act.

    Remember our inhouse publicists, Charlie and Jack Briggs

  2. Janice Aria is still in love with the circus ahd I still see Olive Oyl in her today.....still one of the funniest and loveliest ladies you could ever meet.

  3. The Briggs were great fun -- our "Johnnys-on-the spot" in Venice. If we needed a photo, just call Jack and he'd get it.

    A photo I uses a lot on Facebook etc. riding one of Gunther's elephants is a Jack Briggs special.

    Jack Ryan