Emmett Kelly was perhaps the most famous working clown in the history of the world. Known for his tragic hobo figure, he headlined the Ringling Brothers Circus in the 40s and 50s. He revolutionized the role of the clown, expanding it in ways we take for graned now. Before Emmett Kelly, circus clowns were white-faced gymnastic comedians. Kelly made it possible for clowns like me to be accepted. He didn’t wear white-face, his act was based on an appeal to sympathy from the audience. While he certainly brought a lot of physicality to his performances, he was probably best at bringing the audiences into his performances.
He was from Sedan, Kansas, and I visited The Emmett Kelly Museum there before our afternoon show. It was not at all what I expected. If the condition of the place had been on purpose, it would be a great tribute. However, it was readily apparent that this was not the case. Very little Emmett Kelly memorabilia was on hand (I’d say less than 30 percent of the place). It was a cuiosity shop banking on Emmett’s name to bring in wht few people are around Sedan, KS.
the one redeeming thing about the place was accidental (somehow apropriate): the volunteer(?) manning the museum as an elderly gentleman who was sprawled in his chair, mouth agape, legs spread eagled, sleeping with abandon. As we walked throug the front door, this purely Emmett moment greeted us. We laughed.
If only I’d had my camera before he woke up.