Under the Big Top: the Circus in America

Clown Lineup

A Circus in America

Clowns were America's first stand-up comedians in the days of one-ring circuses. When the tents were expanded to three or more rings, clowns became speechless characters with exaggerated makeup and gags.

Each and every clown is unique in both makeup and costume, because clowns consider their performing characters to be extensions of their personalities, a window to their soul. They fall into one of the following clown categories:

Harlequin: Ever a thief, ever in love, ever in trouble, ever slipping out of trouble! The shrewd harlequin wore a tight-legged, full-sleeved, diamond-patterned costume with a black mask and white ruffled shirt.

White-faced Clown: Descended from early Greek theaters, this classic clown performed with a white-painted face to be better seen in dim light. Today's white-faced clowns sport pompons, great baggy trousers and pointed hats.

Auguste: The German term for "fool," this clown type is the least intelligent but possible the most beloved! Using a flesh tone base with highly exaggerated facial features, the August is the most zany and flamboyant.

Character or Sad Tramp/Happy Hobo: Assuming false airs, this clown soon loses his dignity. Scruffy and red-nosed from whiskey, he clumsily tries to help himself but inevitably gets into more and more trouble!

Fun Facts
  • "Allez" ("go") shouted early French ringmasters to cue the clowns into action. Through the years, their dressing and gathering area on the back lot became known as Clown Alley.
  • The Ringling Bros. Clown College in Florida is dedicated to the ancient art of clowning. The comic curriculum offers study in mime, improvisation, character development, dance, juggling, acrobatics, makeup, props, costuming, stilt-walking, plate-spinning, pie-throwing and water-spitting!
  • Clown George Fox (1825-1877) contracted lead poisoning from his lead-based white makeup and this led tragically to insanity and death.
  • a size 26EEEE is the size of an average clown shoe.

 

return to Under the Big Top index page Return to Under the Big Top main index page
return to Hoover Museum main page Return to Hoover Library-Museum virtual exhibits page
return to Hoover Museum main page Return to Hoover Library-Museum main index page