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. 

Thursday, February 4, 2010


 For me Clown Alley was not just the place where the clowns dressed. It was also the people. Each one with his own special character. We had our own community within the area hidden behind those curtained walls. 

 As a "first of may" I couldn't have a more receptive group of people. We still had a lot of the people around from the Big Top days that welcomed us and try to steer us in the right direction.
 First of all we had Lou Jacobs. He was a quiet man who would sit at his trunk with his three dogs. Knucklehead, Buffy, and PeeWee.  
You didn't hear him too much except for when he would see you having a hard time doing a gag. He was always there for advice and always would have solution to your problem. After all he had been on the show 50 years and seen everything. 

 When asked if he thought something was funny he would reply, " Did the people laugh?" If you said,"Yes." he would come back with," Well, than it's funny!" 
  If a gag had alot of  useless jumping around he referred to it as "Spaghetti." He was a master at simplifying movement so everything was clear and simple to the audience. In clowning every gag tells a story. If there's too much movement its like reading a story in a different language. You won't understand it. 
 He was doing his little car routine that year on the show. I got chosen to help take care of it. This was a real honor for me as a young clown. 
 In the movie "The Greatest Show on Earth" he worked along side Jimmy Stewart who played  the clown "Buttons." One year we played Hollywood and Mr. Stewart came into the alley. He walked over to Lous trunk and said," Hello Lou." Lou looked up from his trunk and said, "Hello Buttons."
 There was also Duane Thorpe. He was  known as "Uncle Soapy." I've heard many different stories for the name and, since I don't know the real story, I cant tell you why. He was always coming up with funny sayings such as" Who hit Nellie in the belly with a flounder!" Or, " Who hired her." These would always make us laugh and keep things happy. Towards the end of the season he would always say,"Save your money its a short season." How right he was. 
He had been a dancer on Broadway before joining the show. When we played New York he would always invite Bobby Short to the show. They knew each other from working on Broadway together . 
Afterwards we would all go out and listen to Bobby play at a club. This would be the only time I saw him take his makeup off at the building. The rest of the time he took it off at the train. I noticed he always carried a bunch of newspaper in his trunk and often wondered why. I found out my first time in New York. To take the makeup off he used baby oil. So to keep it off the floor he would spread the newspapers all around his trunk!

 Mike Padilla was Lous partner. He was a little person form Argentina that spoke very little English. Even though he didn't speak well you could tell what he meant just by his movements.  

 Every night he would rush back to the train and cook a huge steak, take it to his room, close  the door and watch tv. You would always hear him laughing inside his room. One time he forgot to close the door completely. I walked by and peeked in to see what was so funny. There was no picture, only sound. He had taken a sharpie pen and drawn stick figures on the screen and was laughing at them hysterically! 

 Frosty Little was our boss. He had come from the first Clown College in 1968. He ran a really tight ship. He would set up the alley so that everyone was next to someone they got along with. 

 Frosty had a fascination with the Vikings who referred to heaven as "Valhalla"  So where all of the veterans sat in the alley was always called " Valhalla"  
 The elephants were trained in German and the word for move was "Hatre" Frosty liked this word and had his own version. He would always say "Hotterini" He would say this when he really needed us to move. It was also used as a greeting or whatever else he wanted it to mean. Just an all around word  used within the alley.

 He was our go between management and the alley.  There were numerous times he would go to bat for us. They trusted his judgement and he would usually win out.
 Dougie Ashton was another veteran. He was from a very famous Australian circus family. Very funny man both inside and outside the ring. He wore Charlie Chaplain style makeup and was famous for a striptease routine that would have you rolling on the floor! 
 He started off the season with a brand new mirror. One day he dropped it and it shattered. He just picked up the biggest piece and continued to makeup. A few towns later he dropped that piece and broke it. Again he picked up the biggest piece. This continued to happen over and over until there were no more big pieces left. at this point he went to wardrobe and got a small  round mirror off of one of the costumes. It couldn't have been more than 1/2" in diameter. This is what he used for the rest of the season to put his makeup on. 
 These are a few of the characters I was fortunate to work with that first year. All masters and all very unique people.
 There were twenty three more of us. Eleven from my class alone. I will be writing about all of them eventually. If I do it now it would take three days to write. Keep coming back there's plenty more....     


  1. Enjoying your story...great picture!

  2. I remember after many times trying, Dougie Ashton finally got me in the face with his powder!!