- Tina Margolis
Jackson, Joe (1880?–14 May 1942), pantomimist, was born Josef Francis Jiranek in Vienna, Austria, the son of a grocer. His parents’ names are unknown. As a boy he was an avid cyclist and became a champion racer and virtuoso rider in his country. As a teenager he joined a bicycle polo team that toured Europe. Around the turn of the century, Jackson’s team met with financial difficulties in London and disbanded. Jackson then landed a job in a circus as a dashing trick rider, but his “straight” act was not particularly popular. The circus was booked into London’s Crystal Palace when one of the clowns suggested that Jackson enliven his act by adding makeup. He painted Jackson as a clown, and that was the genesis of Jackson’s persona as a bicycle tramp. Jackson was not an immediate favorite, however. Publicity stories have it that Jackson’s comic material was introduced by accident one night when the handlebars came off his bike and he waved them in wild despair at the audience, creating a roar of laughter. On closer examination, however, it appears that Jackson, an expert trick rider with a brain for inventions and later several patents to his credit, was more calculating than that. Evidence suggests that he slowly began testing and accruing comic elements in his act, until his mere appearance made the audience convulse, and he became one of the most renowned figures on the vaudeville circuit worldwide....