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Famous Circus Clown Emmett Kelly

Emmett Kelly

Dec. 9, 1898 - March 28, 1979

Circus Trivia, Did You Know?   Did You Know, that Emmett Kelly served as the mascot for the "Brooklyn Dodgers" during the 1956 season?


Emmett Kelly RBBB 1948
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Emmett Kelly
Ringling Brothers Barnum Bailey Circus
Los Angeles September 1948
Emmett Kelly Clown
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Emmett Kelly and Henry Fonda on the set of 'The General Electric Theater' TV series in 1955
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Emmett Kelly with Henry Fonda 1955


Emmett Kelly, was undoubtedly America's most famous and recognizable clown.

Emmett Leo Kelly was born on 9 December 1898 in Sedan, Kansas, his father, Thomas Kelly, was a railroader, with the Missouri-Pacific railroad, his mother, Mollie Schimick, ran a boarding house for the Railroad. 1905, his parents moved to a small farm in Houston, Missouri.

Kelly dreamed of becoming a professional cartoonist and one time, worked as a cartoonist for a silent film company in Kansas City, Missouri. While working for an advertising agency as a cartoonist, he created the clown character "Weary Willie" for which he would become famous.

Not being able to find work as a cartoonist, Emmett joined "Howe's Great London Circus", his first job was painting circus wagons. Kelly later began preforming on the trapeze. While as a trapeze artist on the "John Robinson Circus", Kelly met his first wife Eva Moore, also a trapeze artist. They were married on July 23, 1923, (ending in divorced 1935). The coupled performed together as the "Aerial Kellys".

In 1931 began working full time as a "white face". It was on the Hagenback-Wallace Circus in 1933 that Emmett first introduced his famous clown character "Weary Willie", which he had cartooned years earlier.

In 1938 Emmett worked in England with the Bertram Mills Circus.

In 1942 Kelly joined the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, it is here that his hobo clown fame grew, leading to roles in movies, children's books and his likeness being used in advertisement. He remain with the Ringling show for 14 seasons from 1942 until 1956 and became a featured attraction.

In 1944 Emmett is depicted in a famous photograph while in clown wardrobe during the Hartford fire, futilely fighting the flames with buckets of water.

On April 20, 1955 Kelly married Elvira Gebhardt a circus performer from Germany.

Emmett Kelly appeared in several movies and made many television appearances during his career, "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1951), "Wind Across the Everglades" (1958), "Playhouse 90" (1957), "The Jackie Gleason Show" (1957), "The Clown and the Kids" (1967).

Kelly never retired, and was still working on new routines at the time of his death.

On March 28, 1979 Emmett Kelly died of a heart attack at his home in Sarasota, FL. After his death his life long friend, comedian Red Skelton stated "I guess those in Heaven needed a laugh".


Sarasota's Circus Ring of Fame   On April 16, 1988 Emmett Kelly was inducted into the Sarasota's Circus Ring of Fame.

1989 inducted to the International Clown Hall of Fame, (Inaugural Inductee)

1994 inducted into the International Circus Hall of Fame

1996 inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians

Circus Clown Emmett Kelly
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Hartford Circus Fire Emmet Kelly
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Aftermath of the Hartford fire
Circus Clown Emmett Kelly
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