A few months ago I was contacted by a person who works behind the scenes for the tv show American Pickers. She was interested in using an image I'd posted on my ephemera site, Tattered and Lost Ephemera. I decided to repost the original post here even though I don't own an actual photo, just a magazine image.

I got an email yesterday that the show would be on tonight with the image I'd sent them. Sure enough, there it was along with a credit at the end of the show. Made me smile.

The clowns I've featured in photos have been nameless, except for Felix Adler. The reason Adler is named in the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus Magazine and Daily Review is because he was the head clown at the circus.

Click on image to see it larger.
(SOURCE: Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus Magazine and Daily Review, 1940)

First Clown to Appear on Television
Felix Adler entertained millions in his role as head clown for Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. In the hierarchy of clowns, he ranked at the top as a whiteface clown.

He performed with such famous clowns as Lou Jacobs and Emmett Kelly.

All three circus greats lived and practiced their routines in Sarasota.

Adler's costume took up a lot of space because he buttressed his posterior with a couple of basketballs hitched in place with a custom sling similar to a brassiere. He wore traditional whiteface clown makeup adding a big rhinestone on the tip of his nose.

Often the clown topped his garb with a big jello mold for a hat. Remember, the early days of television and product sponsorship? Adler had ties to Jell-O!

Piglets played integral roles in Adler's clowning. He named each one Amelia after his wife and as the piglets became full fledged pigs, he traded them in for a new piglet whom he promptly named Amelia.

The first clown to appear on television, Adler earned his title "The White House Clown" by performing for three presidents (Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin D. Roosevelt). He and his wife were the first American husband and wife clown team. (SOURCE: Squidoo/Felix Adler)
Felix Adler died on February 1, 1960. The following is his obituary from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on February 2nd.

(SOURCE: Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

Notice the handwork of the staff artist on the photo of Adler. Apparently the image was less than satisfactory for reproduction so the artist did a bit of doodling. Sort of surprised that the newspaper from the town where the circus was headquartered did not have a decent photo of the most important clown.

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Tattered and Lost: Cakes, Picnics, and Watermelon


  1. Congratulations on making it into big time media! Though that show will just add more competition for ephemera treasure hunters. Adler came from an era that remembered clown names because they made us laugh. Kids today might know just one clown, Ronald, but not because he was funny.

    1. Oh yeah, I can hear them banging on my door.

      The episode featured a fellow who collects circus stuff. All sorts of stuff including some creepy clown masks.

      It is sad to think that Ronald McDonald represents a clown these days. A corporate shill. I much prefer the time when I saw Emmett Kelly perform in Reno.

  2. Such an interesting post!

    I always think of the Three Stooges when I see the name Felix Adler. Definitely a different dude.


    1. That's really interesting. One a clown, another writing for three clowns. Must be something about the name. All Felix Adler's please step forward and tell us if you're funny.

  3. You may find this on Felix interesting: