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. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

" I guess you'll find out tomorrow"

After 8 weeks of intensive training the day had finaly arrived. The day we would present everything we had learned to Mr. Irvin Feld. We had learned all of the skills we needed and we were ready. Some had learned these things easier than others.

I didnt do too good in that area. I tried to juggle and got hit in the eye with a club so no more of that. Hovey decided it best I juggle scarves. Unicycle riding wasn't so good either. I fell and scraped my ankles numerous times and figured it was not for me. I left that up to my room mate. He was outstanding on a unicycle and could do about anything on it.

Instead Hovey found I was good at balancing objects. He called it vertical equilabristics. Its the art of balancing various objects on your nose, chin, etc. This ended up being my main skill.

There were some who really stood out. We had Dick Monday who had been a championship diver who did well in acrobatics and the trampoline. Steve LaPorte was a great stilt walker, along with Ruthie Chaddock. Ruthie was the first girl from Clown College to walk 6 foot stilts. 

 One day she had a nasty spill. While walking stilts backstage she fell. She went through the back curtain and cracked her head on the edge of the bandstand. She ended up with a big bruise right in the middle of her forehead the size of an orange. Despite having this happen she continued to work putting her makeup on around it. Way to go Ruthie! I never got past 4 footers myself.

  Everyone had something to offer. Some just shined a little better than others. Despite my lack of skills I did have something else. Heart and desire. With these two things and a little perserverance I knew I could acheive my goal to become a clown.

I was not too bad at sliding tables so I teamed up with Rick Davis and together this became our main gag. Besides all of the classic routines we had a lot of new ones too. Enough to fill a 2 hour show. Including Bill Irwin and Barry Lubin doing the ventriloquist, some great illusions with Dale Longmire and Bruce Guttilla, and Bill Irwins Spaghetti gag. Too many to list them all. Countdown. Makeup? check Costume? check Props? check. Everything seemed to be in order. Showtime! All the hard work had come down to this . Time to show our stuff.

The local community was invited, along with some of the students parents . Enough to fill the house. Although we all wanted contracts with Ringling there were plenty of other oppurtunities. That diploma was like gold. You also had producers from other circuses there passing out cards. If you didnt get a contract for Ringling they would tell you to call the next day and you could go to work for them. Usually for more pay. There were a lot of other shows, and they all had Clown Alleys. There was also Circus World. We just wanted to be clowns!

After the gags came the big finale. A dance number set to the tune of Sanford and Son. Its still a hard song to listen to. I didnt do everything perfect but, I knew I had given it my best.

This is how it worked for contracts. Mr Irvin Feld would meet with the staff and decide who he would give contracts to. If you got called to the arena the next morning you knew you had a contract. After the show we had a reception in the pie car in the back of the arena. I was in the corner eating and thinking about going home when I looked down and saw a pair of shoes. Nice ones too! As I looked up, standing in front of me was Mr. Irvin Feld! He asked me, " Do you like the circus?" My reply was, "Absolutley." He then asked, " Would you like to work for The Greatest Show on Earth?" I said, "Of course." The last thing he said was," I guess you'll find out tommorrow." and walked away.

What did he mean by that? It really got me thinking. I went back to the Villas and found my partner Rick Davis. Together we climbed on top of a semi trailer. It was there because of some construction that was going on at the Villas. We sat all night long talking about who we thought would get contracts and what we were going to do when we got home. I had already packed and was ready to go. As the sun came up we saw the van pull up. The driver got out I heard him calling my name and looking for me. I jumped down from that trailer and with four other people we were wisked off to the arena. I sat in the seats for what seemed like an eternity. And then I got called into the office. I was told I would be going on the new Bicentennial Show. I couldn't believe my ears! Eleven of us went to the Red Show, and I believe five went on the Blue Show. I knew from that day on I truly was a clown.


  1. Mitch- how you do bring back the memories! Mine was two years later and very similar, up to today. Never got that call to the arena. Never quite figured out why. Went home the next day, came back to Fl a month later to work for George and Vicki Hanneford. Ran ito you on Ed Migley's show in, I think, 1984? In Peurto Rico . . . then upstate New York . . .
    Love your blog. Keep the stories coming.
    Bruce the Clown

  2. Mitch,

    Thanks so much for putting your reminiscences on the blog. It serves as a permanent record of a time long gone.

    I am loving every new post.

    Very best,