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Beatty, Clyde Raymond (10 June 1903–19 July 1965), animal trainer and circus owner, was born in Bainbridge, Ohio, the son of James Edward Beatty and Margaret Everhart, farmers. After first trying at age thirteen to run away to join the circus, he succeeded at fifteen, following his freshman year at Bainbridge High School....

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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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Artoria Gibbons. 1920s Collection of Amelia Klem Osterud

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Gibbons, Artoria (16 July 1893–18 March 1985), tattooed lady, was born Anna Mae Burlingston in Linwood, Wisconsin, the daughter of the Norwegian immigrant and farmer Gunder Huseland, who at the time went by the name Frank Burlingston, and his wife Amma Mabel Mason. Anna was one of seven children. The farm was located on an island in the Wisconsin River that was referred to as “Treasure Island” or “Burlingston Island.” In 1907 the family moved to Colville, Washington, and shortly thereafter, Anna's father died. She and two of her sisters went to work as domestic servants in Spokane, Washington, to help support the family. She met the tattoo artist Charles “Red” Gibbons in Spokane; he was working in an arcade and had been tattooing professionally for a number of years. They married in Spokane in 1912; the couple had one daughter....

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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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Lillian Leitzel Left, helping Dolly Jahn celebrate her birthday, 1926. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106958).

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Leitzel, Lillian (1891?–15 February 1931), circus performer, was born Lillian Alize Elianore in Breslau, Germany, the daughter of Edward Elianore, a Hungarian army officer turned theatrical impresario, and Elinor Pelikan, a Bohemian circus aerialist. There is much dispute over her birth date and name. The year of her birth is variously recorded somewhere between 1891 and 1895. There are also half a dozen variations on her given names and their spelling, although Leitzel never used her father’s name for any length of time during her life. If the facts of Leitzel’s life are clouded in controversy it is because she, herself, made it a habit to change the facts of her story each time she told it to a different reporter. Being exceedingly vain, she would also have taken care to present herself as being as young as possible....

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Pastor, Tony (28 May 1832–26 August 1908), variety performer and impresario, was born Antonio Pastori in New York City, the son of Antonio Pastori, a theater violinist who also ran a fruit store and barber shop, and his wife (name unknown), who ran a perfumery and, for ten years after her husband’s death, a saloon. Pastor attended New York public schools, but by age eleven he was singing for a temperance group. At thirteen he was a blackface minstrel. In 1846 his father hoped to stop his career by sending him to live on a farm, but by the year’s end he was an “infant prodigy” at Barnum’s Museum in New York. Apprenticed to a circus, Pastor learned tumbling, riding, and mimicry; he became a clown and developed a “rube” act. From 1851 till its collapse in 1853 he was the Nathans-Sands Circus’s ringmaster....

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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....

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Will Rogers Left, with Will Hays, c. 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-83080).

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Rogers, Will (04 November 1879–15 August 1935), entertainer and social commentator, was born William Penn Adair Rogers near Oologah, Oklahoma, in what was then the Cooweescoowee District of Indian Territory, the son of Clement Vann Rogers and Mary America Schrimsher, Cherokee ranchers. Rogers County, which contains both Oologah, site of the historic Rogers home, and Claremore, site of the Will Rogers Memorial and Museum, is named after the prominent father, not the prominent son. “Uncle Clem” was a major player in Oklahoma politics before and after statehood (1907), serving as a judge, as a member of the Dawes Commission (to distribute Indian lands prior to statehood), and as the first local banker. Will’s loving wife, the former Betty Blake, whom he married in 1908, later remembered that “Will had everything he wanted. He had spending money and the best string of cow ponies in the country. No boy in Indian Territory had more than Uncle Clem’s boy.” (Yet being “Uncle Clem’s boy” could have its downside, too.)...

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Tripp, Charles B. (06 July 1855–26 January 1930), sideshow performer, known as “the Armless Wonder,” was born armless from the shoulders down in Woodstock, Canada. (No information about his parents is available, and it is not known what his middle initial stands for.) There are no verified descriptions of Tripp's early years, but the account given in his publicity literature states that he was a handsome, well-adjusted child who easily learned to use his legs and feet to do the mundane tasks other people accomplished with their arms and hands. He came from a modest background. Carpentry was his early occupation, and he supplemented his performance income with carpentry work all of his life. His father either died when Tripp was an adolescent or left the family, because from an early age Charles Tripp supported his mother and sister. He wrote by holding a pen between his toes. His penmanship was elegant, a skill he capitalized on when in later life he signed the photographs he sold in conjunction with his exhibition in the most famous sideshow venues of the world....

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Wallenda, Helen (11 December 1910–09 May 1996), trapeze artist, was born Helen Kreis in Germany to a family that operated amusement park rides (the names of her parents and her exact birthplace are unknown). At an early age she became fascinated by trapeze artists and began learning their moves and maneuvers. By the age of sixteen she had become skilled enough to join the Wallendas, a circus troupe recently formed by Karl Wallenda, five years her senior, and his brother, Herman. The Wallendas were themselves descended from many generations of circus and carnival performers....

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Zacchini, Hugo (20 October 1898–20 October 1975), circus daredevil, was born in Peru, the son of Idebrando Zacchini and Nina Dal Paos, Italian circus performers. Zacchini was born while his family was on tour, and he and his eight siblings performed in the circus, most of them, eventually, as human cannonballs. The oldest son, Edmundo, was first a famous clown, known throughout Italy and North Africa as ...