Tag Archives: circus films

Clowning Around with Water for Elephants

13 Apr

Our ongoing article series on Water for Elephants

By Ozzie20

With Water for Elephants premier drawing closer, we thought it would be interesting to look at the rival clown competition that would have existed for a real circus during the 1930’s. But first, a brief history on clowns might be useful!

Even though he never set foot inside a circus ring, in the late 1700’s, Joseph Grimaldi was the first credited person to create the modern clown persona and look we are familiar with today. He was a pantomime clown and he spent his life developing his character. He experimented with face paint and became known for his white face with red triangles painted on his cheeks and honed his comedic timing and facial expressions so well, he was considered a master. Joseph became so famous that Charles Dickens wrote his biography. Over the next fifty years other clowns copied his look and clowns nicknamed themselves “Joeys” in his honour.[1]

The first known clown to be used in a circus appeared in 1770’s, when Philip Astley (the man credited with creating the first modern circus) hired Mr. Merryman to help entertain the crowd in between acts.[2] John Bill Rickets (The man who is credited with bringing the first modern circus to America) hired the first American born clown, John Durang, in 1795.[3] John, who was a very talented man, would eventually go on to run his own circus, joining the ranks of the first early circus owners of America.[4]

So let’s go back to the 1930’s. In the Sara Gruen novel Water for Elephants, where the fierce competition between circuses is often referred too. Money was tight, as the Great Depression had set in. Once a circus closed, others would swarm in to see what they could ravish, like birds of prey to a carcass. The Benzini Brother’s (the circus where the story takes place) greatest rival was the Ringling Bro & Barnum and Bailey Circus. So I took four well known clowns who were active in the 1930’s and worked for Ringling’s at one point in their lives and were Clown Hall of Fame inductees, to see what the Benzini Bros. clowns had to compete with.[5] Continue reading

Water for Elephants:The Ultimate Escape!

16 Mar

Second in our series on Water for Elephants

By: Open Book

Have you seen many films about the circus in the last decade? Do you know how and why circus films came about in America? The film Water for Elephants, which is based on author Sara Gruen’s #1 New York Times bestselling novel of the same name, opens in theaters April 22nd. So as a tribute to Water for Elephants and old Hollywood, we’d like to revisit the genesis of the nostalgic film genre of the 1930’s and 40’s. As some of you know, Water for Elephants is a depression-era love story and the circus provides the framework.  However, what you may not know, a lot of films produced during the period were about the circus!  So we will examine why circus films were popular and why Water for Elephants is a celebration to the “Golden Age” of cinema. Continue reading