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Posts Tagged ‘circus history

The best-laid plans…

 

Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s design for the U.S. Capital

Be they company towns, aimed at keeping workers close to their jobs, or national capitals, designed as civic monuments, planned cities are just that: laid out in advance and constructed from scratch.  Wired‘s collection of “Planned Cities Seen From Space” offers a glimpse of how 10 of these purpose-built cities turned out…

Walter Burley Griffin’s design for Canberra

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As we argue with our architects, we might send silly birthday greetings to Joseph Grimaldi; he was born on this date in 1778.  The most popular English entertainer of his day, Grimaldi was an actor, comedian and dancer who effectively invented the character of The Clown as today we know it.  He became so dominant on the London comic stage that harlequinade Clowns became known as “Joey”; both that nickname and the trademark whiteface make-up that Grimaldi created were, and still are, used widely by all types of clowns.  His catchphrases “Shall I?” and “Here we are again!” still get laughs in pantomimes.

Grimaldi’s memoir, edited by his fan Charles Dickens (who had, as a child, seen Grimaldi perform), was a best-seller.  The annual memorial service held for him (in February at Holy Trinity Church in the London Borough of Hackney) is attended by hundreds of clown performers from all over the world– who attend in full make-up and costume.

Grimaldi, au naturel

Grimaldi, in character

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Written by LW

December 18, 2012 at 1:01 am

Stocking Stuffers for the Sagacious…

 

In the same spirit as the afore-featured Literary Action Figures, and just in time for the Holidays, The Unemployed Philosophers Guild (“The unexamined gift is not worth giving”) offers finger puppets of the world’s greatest philosophers, authors, artists, leaders, and thinkers…

Mark Twain

Immanuel Kant

Virginia Woolf

Mahatma Gandhi

Marie Curie

Louis Armstrong

Find these and 100 more, from Hannah Arendt and the Buddha to Ulysses S. Grant and Zora Neale Hurston, at The Unemployed Philosophers Guild.

[TotH to Brain Pickings]

 

As we muse on the money we’ll save on manicures, we might send poignantly amusing birthday wishes to Emmett Kelly, the best-known circus clown of the Twentieth Century; he was born on this date in 1898.

Kelly began his career under the big top in the early 1920s as a trapeze artist; but in 1931, he switched to clowning.  In a move that was revolutionary at the time, Kelly eschewed traditional white-face, darkening his face to become “Weary Willie,” a character based on the hobos of the time.  While he did do gags (famously, “opening” a peanut with a sledgehammer), his act was largely mimed sketches in which his bedraggled character is yet again out of luck.  (Perhaps his best-known bit derived from his regular appearance after other acts, sweeping up:  toward the end of the show he tries– and of course fails– to sweep up the pool of light cast by a spotlight.)

Kelly worked at a number of different circuses through the 20s and 30s until he settled, in 1942, at Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey.  He performed there (with a short break to play “Willie” in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952) until 1956, when he served a year as the mascot of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He was an inaugural inductee into the International Clown Hall of Fame and into the International Circus Hall of Fame. And though he was born in Sedan, Kansas, Kelly was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians; a bronze bust depicting him is on permanent display in the rotunda of the Missouri State Capitol.

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Written by LW

December 9, 2011 at 1:01 am

Mown down…

George C Ballas, Sr, the Houston, Texas, dance studio owner who changed the way America cut its grass when he invented the Weed Eater aka the weed whacker, died [late last month] of natural causes. He was 85. Ballas (seen here with an early prototype) got the idea for the mower while sitting in a car wash wondering if those spinning bristles could be modified to trim grass and weeds in areas a lawnmower couldn’t reach. Turns out they could. He founded his Weed Eater company in 1971, made a bundle, and later sold the invention to Emerson Electric for an undisclosed sum. “A Weed Eater comes along once in a lifetime,” he said. Although he’s known as the Weed King, Ballas’ life was dance. He was an Arthur Murray dance instructor and his own Dance Studio USA was the world’s largest (43,000 square feet); his wife was a noted flamenco dancer; his son Corky is a champion ballroom dancer; and his grandson Mark is a professional dancer, a regular partner on Dancing With the Stars. (AP photo)

Via World of Wonder.

As we dance our way under those inconvenient hedges and into those pesky corners, we might wish a spectacularly happy birthday to Phineas Taylor (“P.T.”) Barnum; he was born on this date in 1810.  Barnum founded and ran a small business, then a weekly newspaper in his native Connecticut before leaving for New York City and the entertainment business.  He parlayed a variety troop and a “curiosities” museum (featuring the ‘”Feejee” mermaid’ and “General Tom Thumb”) into a fortune…  which he lost in a series of legal setbacks.  He replenished his stores by touring as a temperance speaker, then served as a Connecticut State legislator and as Mayor of Bridgeport (a role in which he introduced gas lighting and founded the Bridgeport hospital)… It wasn’t until after his 60th birthday that he turned to endeavor for which he’s best remembered– the circus.

“I am a showman by profession…and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.”

source: Library of Congress

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