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June 30, 1976 - Image 4

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1976-06-30

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The world's greatest clown

Pl1ILADFELPI IA - The lithe, little man in blue
jeans and a work shirt crouched easily next to the
chimpanzee wearing a gold jumpsuit. Slinging an arm
over the chimp's shoulder, the man leaned in close
and smacked hin right on the mouth. Click, click,
went the photographer.
"Talk, Kelly, talk," shrieked the aging blonde whose
short-shorts showed thighs with lumps of fat. Kelly the
chimp flapped his jaws, and the man grinned. Click,
click, went the photographer.
A few more smacks on the mouth from the man
and some more jawing from the chimp, and the news-
paper photographer had clicked through his roll of
film. The man bounced up off his toes and took the
chimp's hand. Together they walked down the steps
of the high platform overlooking the Delaware River.
The pavement was hot under the afternoon sun, and
the chimp hung back, walking gingerly on his heels.
The pair walked past the striped circus tent that
made a cool, dark shelter. It was empty. When they
reached a group of trailers, some with men and wo-
men lounging on the outside steps, the chimp disap-
peared into one trailer and the man into another.
THE PHOTOGRAPHER stepped into his car and
drove back to The Philadelphia Bulletin at 30th
and Market Streets where he told the editor he'd gotten
"some nice shots of that chimp and his trainer." The
picture was planned for page one of the evening's
edition as an advance for the coming circus at the
Delaware waterfront.
When the pictures were developed - in color that
highlighted the gold-suited chimp - the photographer
turned them over to the editor who, jumping from his
chair in recognition, shouted, "That's no trainer, idiot!
Don't you know Weary Willie, the clown?!"
The chip named Kelly had stolen center stage from
another, more famous Kelly - the one named Emmett
Kelly, Jr., world famous as Weary Willie the clown.
Emmett Kelly, Jr., has had too many interviews and
television specials in his 16 years as a clown to mind
if a chimp gets a little recognition.
The red-haired press agent with mirrored sunglass-
es, who was named Red, introduced me to Emmett at
the screen door of the clown's trailer. "And now Em-
mett," he tries to joke, "For your first interview."
Emmett smiles - just a little.
BUT INSIDE his trailer, which is cool as a shaded
porch, Emmett says, "I'm always gracious with
the press." lie swings open the refrigerator door and
asks, "Want something to drink?" He calls out the
choices, "Orange juice, tomato juice, Dr. Pepper,
Coke." I ask for tomato juice, and he pours a small

can into a tall, green plastic glass. He pours himself
a mug of coffee from the percolator sitting by the sink
and sits down across from me at the formica table.
Dangling over our heads are a painted, plastic
parrot and one of Emmett's tattered, plaid ties clip-
ped to the ceiling swith a clothespin. The back of the
trailer is all bed - bedacovered with fake black fur.
The trailer also has a stereo, a tape deck, a TV, and
air conditioning.
Emmett likes to drop names, especially when the
celebrities say nice things about him. He's proud that
actor Tony Curtis once told him he had the expressive
eyes and gestures of a natural actor. "Said most
actors have to go to school to learn what I do natur-
ally," Emmett boasts.
"Next stop for Emmett and his one-
ring circus of clowns, acrobats,
chimps, and elephants is Caracas,
Venezuela. If you tell Emmett you're
the kind who likes to put down roots,
he shakes his head; 'Just travel with
me once, and you won't be able to stay
still again.'"'
There are deep lines creasing Emmett's hollowed
out cheeks and tracking the skin under those famous
green eyes. Long-haired and lean, he looks, at 55,
more like an aging rock star than a famous clown. As
he springs nimbly about his trailer showing off cos-
tumes and pictures, he has all the energy of, well, of a
kid at his first circus. And he talks young: "I couldn't
cut a 9-5 job. I'd go stir-crazy. Only two jobs I've ever
loved: clowning and railroading." Emmett wants me
to know just how much he loves trains: "Every time
I hear that Frankford Elevated train going by (across
Delaware Ave.), I gotta run out and watch." And
when he and his fiance Nancy took a ride on the old-
time New Hope Ivyland train through the farmland of
Bucks County last week, Emmett was so entranced
with the engine's sweet sound that he says he's going
back with a tape recorder next time.
IT'S THE TRAVELING that clowns and railroad men
do that Kelly loves. In Philadelphia only two
weeks, Emmett's already got what he calls "white
line fever." He wants to be back on the road, watch-

ing the line etched forever along the highway, but
he's stuck in this bicentennial city for three hot
months. And while he says he's got to have red, white,
and blue costumes in his show, he rolls his eyes and
calls the Bicentennial a "rip-off."
Next stop for Emmett and his one-ring circus of
clowns, acrobats, chimps, and elephants is Caracas,
Venezuela. If you tell Emmett you're the kind who
likes to put down roots, he shakes his head; "Just
travel with me once, and you won't be able to stall
still again. My fiance - she was an Indiana farm girl
- travelled with me just once and now she'll never
go back."
Emmett adds, "We get along fine; I was raised on
a farm, too."
Then Emmett pops up to rummage through a cabi-
net. Out comes a handful of color instamatic photos,
which he tosses on the table. "That's my fiance, Nan-
cy. Look at those eyes," he says. Red, the press agent,
has walked into the trailer and seats himself on the
blue-carpeted step leading from the kitchen to the bed-
room. He picks up the photos and studies Nancy's
curves closely. He agrees that she does indeed have
"real pretty eyes." They are beautiful.
PUT HER on a plane this morning to Indiana so
she could get her divorce," Emmett says, turning
back to us. "We're getting married this summer." Red
wants to know where, but Emmett's not telling.
Seated at the table again, Emmett asks, "Want a
roll?" He tears open a plastic bag of iced cinnamon
rolls and hungrily bites down with silvered teeth. Other
circus people stop at the screen door. One man wants
a wrench and another asks, "You being interviewed,
"Yeah, why?" Emmett calls out.
"Oh, I just stopped by to talk. I'll come back later."
The screen door of the trailer across the way opens
to reveal a young woman who looks just like the
beautiful trapeze stars kids worship. The thick air
hits her, and she leans lazily against the door.
I look at my watch; I've spent half the afternoon
being charmed by Emmett Kelly, Jr. When I say I've
got a deadline, Red jumps up, loads his camera, and
says, "I want a picture of the two of you - your first
interview in Philadelphia, Emmett."
The lithe, little man stands shoulder to shoulder
with me, slings an arm around my waist, and leans
in close. Click, click.
I say goodbye to Emmett and hail a cab back to
The Bulletin. For a few moments there I wanted to
run away to the circus.
Sara Riner, former executive editor of the Daily,
is an intern with the Philadelphia Bulletin.

The Michigan Daily
Edited and managed by Students at the
University of Michigan
Wednesday, June 30, 1976
News Phone: 764-0552
Carter's religious screen
WE HAVE POKED occasional fun at Jimmy Carter for
his much-discussed brand of evangelical Southern
Baptism, but we notice as the public focuses increasing
attention on the Georgian that his religion has received
undue scrutiny.
Over and over again the national newsmagazines-
chiefly Time and Newsweek -- have mentioned and dis-
cussed at length Carter's religious affiliations, and it is
apparent that many voters as well as sizing up his can-
didacy in terms of his church.
This is foolish. Certainly Carter's deep religious be-
liefs influence his character and thus deserve some at-
tention, but carrying the matter too far obscures the
more practical issues of Carter's candidacy. Carter at
last is beginning to emerge with more details of his posi-
tions, but consistent coverage of the religion issue makes
him look as vague as ever.
Where is Carter's stand on tax and governmental
reform and foreign policy? Why must the voters read
instead of his new life n Jesus Chrst? Which will affect
the voters own lives more profoundly?

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