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 Emmett Kelly, Sr

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Emmett Kelly, Sr

Entertainer. A World famous Circus Clown during the 1930s and 1940s, he best remembered for his sad-faced, silent "Weary Willy" hobo clown, who as the perpetual underdog never gave up, and for his comic act of sweeping the spotlight. Born in Sedan, Kansas (where a museum honors him today), his parents worked for the Missouri-Pacific Railroad, where his father, Thomas Kelly, was part of a railroad crew, and his mother, Mollie, ran a boarding house for the Railroad. About 1905, his parents moved to a farm in southern Missouri, to provide a better life for their children. For a while, Emmett worked as a cartoonist for a silent film company in Kansas City, Missouri, although he had always dreamed of joining a traveling circus. Eventually, he joined the Howe's Great London Circus, initially painting the circus wagons, and then becoming a trapeze artist. In 1922, he met and married Eva Moore, another trapeze artist. Together they worked the trapeze and high wire acts. In 1923, Eva became pregnant with their son, and Kelly tried to increase his salary by working between acts as a clown. He conceived the hobo clown "Weary Willy" but it was not accepted until the Great Depression, which made hobos, tramps and unemployed scruffy men more acceptable to the audiences. In 1933, Weary Willy made his appearance, and quickly grew to become an American icon. At the end of his performance, rather than take a break, Weary Willy would often wander into other acts, and steal the limelight with his silent parody of the other performer. Audiences loved it. While performing in London in 1942, he came to the attention of John Ringling North, who signed him to the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. He stayed with Ringling Brothers for 14 seasons, worked as the mascot for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956, and was in several movies, including "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952), and "The Clown and the Kids" (1967). His son, Emmett Jr., with the encouragement of his father, took over the "Weary Willy" costume and act in 1960, and keeps the act going today for a new generation of fans. Kelly published his autobiography, "Clown" in 1954, and died of a heart attack in 1979 in Sarasota, Florida. He was inducted into the Clown Hall of Fame in 1989.

Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 568
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Emmett Kelly, Sr (9 Dec 1898–28 Mar 1979), Find A Grave Memorial no. 568, citing Rest Haven Memorial Park, Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Indiana, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .