EMMETT KELLY Biography - Other artists & entretainers


Biography » other artists entretainers » emmett kelly


Emmett Kelly (December 9, 1898 - March 28, 1979), a native of Sedan, Kansas, was           
an American circus performer, who created the memorable clown figure "Weary                 
Willie," based on the hobos of the Depression era. Kelly began his career as a             
trapeze artist. By 1923, Emmett Kelly was working his trapeze act with John                 
Robinson's circus when he met and married Eva Moore, another circus trapeze                 
artist. They later performed together as the "Aerial Kellys" with Emmett still             
performing occasionally as a white face clown.                                             
He started working as a clown full-time in 1931, and it was only after years of             
attempting to persuade the management that he was able to switch from a white               
face clown to the hobo clown that he had sketched ten years earlier while                   
working at an art firm. "Weary Willie" was a tragic figure: a clown, who could             
usually be seen sweeping up the circus rings after the other performers. He                 
tried but failed to sweep up the pool of light of a spotlight. His routine was             
revolutionary at the time: traditionally, clowns wore white face and performed             
slapstick stunts intended to make people laugh. Kelly did perform stunts too—one         
of his most famous acts was trying to crack a peanut with a sledgehammer—but as           
a tramp, he also appealed to the sympathy of his audience.                                 
From 1942 - 1956 Kelly performed with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey           
Circus, where he was a major attraction, though he took the 1956 season off to             
perform as the mascot for the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. He also landed a             
number of Broadway and film roles, including the role of "Willie" in Cecil B.               
DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). He also appeared in the Bertram               
Mills Circus.                                                                               
Kelly is depicted in a famous photograph, still in full clown make-up and                   
costume, trying to extinguish the flames of the devastating Hartford Circus Fire           
that struck the Circus on July 6th 1944, and killed 167 people during the                   
afternoon performance in Hartford, Connecticut.                                             
Emmett Kelly died at the age of 80 of a heart attack on March 28, 1979, at his             
home in Sarasota, Florida. Emmett Kelly is buried in the Rest Haven Memorial               
Park, in Lafayette, Indiana.                                                               
The Emmett Kelly Museum is located in Sedan, Kansas.                                       
His son, Emmett Kelly, Jr., did a similar "Weary Willie" character; the two were           
estranged for many years,as a result. Kelly, Jr. claimed that his version of               
Willie was "less sad", but they seemed quite similar to most observers. Emmett             
Kelly, Jr. died November 29, 2006, in Sierra Vista, Arizona, at age 83. He had             
been a resident of Tombstone, Arizona.