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Clark, Bobby (16 June 1888–12 February 1960), clown, was born Robert Edwin Clark in a church rectory (his grandfather was the church sexton) in Springfield, Ohio, the son of Victor Brown Clark, a railroad conductor, and Alice Marilla Sneed. His father died when Bobby was six. As a young boy Clark sang in the church choir and played the bugle. His fascination with outlandish costumes, which became one of his theatrical trademarks, was apparent at an early age. When he was in the fourth grade Bobby met Paul McCullough, four years his senior, and a close friendship was formed that lasted over thirty-five years. The two boys soon put together a bugling and tumbling act that they performed at the local YMCA. Clark and McCullough’s act was received so favorably by the residents of the area that, at the ages of seventeen and twenty-one, respectively, they decided to embark upon a career in show business. They began to place advertisements in various theatrical publications. The response was favorable and Clark and McCullough, as they now called themselves, were hired by a minstrel troupe as tumblers, buglers, and handymen, with a combined weekly salary of twenty-five dollars. They were on their way....

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Hart, Tony (25 July 1855–04 November 1891), actor and singer, was born Anthony Cannon in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Anthony Cannon and Mary Sweeney, both of whom had emigrated from Ireland. He put on amateur performances as a child, but a pattern of delinquency began with disruptions at school and culminated in the near murder of a rival during a performance; his parents placed him in the Lyman School (a state reformatory at Westborough, outside Worcester) in 1865. He escaped several months later and traveled to Boston, where he supported himself as a singer, a bootblack, and a newsboy, and then to Providence, where he sang and danced in saloons and was dubbed Master Antonio by a saloon keeper. He joined a touring circus, and then Billy Arlington’s Minstrels; in 1870, at age fifteen, he joined Madame Rentz’s Female Minstrels. Dressed as a little girl, he evoked tears with a sentimental song, “Put Me in My Little Bed.”...

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Charles W. Carey Jr.

Kelly, Emmett (09 December 1898–28 March 1979), clown, was born Emmett Leo Kelly in Sedan, Kansas, the son of Thomas Kelly, a railroad section foreman, and Mollie Schimick. His family bought a farm near Houston, Missouri, while he was still a little boy, and he received his entire formal education in that town’s one-room schoolhouse. He dropped out of the eighth grade to help on the farm and, having been encouraged to make the most of his artistic abilities by both his mother and a former teacher, enrolled in a correspondence course offered by the Landon School of Cartooning in Cleveland, Ohio....

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Max Patkin With Bob Nieman of the St. Louis Browns, c. 1951. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Patkin, Max (10 January 1920–30 October 1999), baseball clown, was born in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel H. Patkin, a delicatessen operator and later a repairman, and Rebecca Patkin (maiden name unknown); both parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants. He graduated from West Philadelphia High School; two years at Brown Prep confirmed his lack of academic promise. Since seeing ...

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Rice, Dan (23 January 1823–22 February 1900), clown and circus owner, was born in New York City, the son of Daniel McLaren, a grocer, and Elizabeth Crum, a Methodist minister’s daughter. After Elizabeth’s parents had the runaway marriage annulled, “Rice” (there are conflicting theories on the choice of name) remained in New York, attending school until his debut, at age nine, as a jockey. After 1837 Rice worked his way west to Pittsburgh and south to Kentucky as stable driver, jockey, hackney coachman, and riverboat gambler....