Bruce Johnson

Charlie The Juggling Clown

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Felix Adler

By Bruce Johnson

Frank "Felix" Adler (1895 - 1960) appeared in every performance of the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus™ from 1919-1946. He received his first contract with the show in 1914, and took a hiatus in 1918 to serve in the military. After he got out of the army, Felix rejoined the RBB&B Circus™, and toured with it until the start of the American Guild of Variety Artists strike in 1956. He returned for the 1958 season.

Felix developed a distinctive appearance, which was widely copied. He used beach balls to pad his derriere. He often carried a tiny umbrella to contrast with his padded costume. For many seasons, he embedded the appropriate birthstone each month in the end of his putty nose. Felix was billed as the King of the Clowns, and sometimes wore a small crown.

As a merchandising tie-in, he was the Jell-O Clown, and performed a walk around wearing a hat that looked like a gelatin mold.

Felix was an animal trainer. He worked with a dog, a rooster, and a mule, but became famous for working with baby pigs.

In 1921, Felix teamed with Jack LeClaire, another circus clown; to form a vaudeville act titled "Adler & Le Clair, That Odd Pair." They toured vaudeville during the winter, and traveled with the RBB&B Circus™ the rest of the year.

In 1932, Felix became the first American clown to appear on TV.

Department stores would hire circus clowns during the Christmas season. In 1946, Felix met Amelia Irwin, the credit manager of the store he was appearing in. In 1948, they were married, and Amelia became a clown performing in the RBB&B Circus™.

Felix was known for his visits to hospitalized children, and in recognition of that was invited to President Roosevelt's 1943 birthday party.

Excerpted from Clowning Through The Twentieth Century - An Exhibition of Art

© Copyright 2000 by Bruce Johnson. All rights reserved.

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