Friday, December 5, 2008

Samaroff, Sonia, and Pepito the Spanish Clown

Some 15 years ago, the journey began.

On a visit to the local county museum, archivist Barb Martin unearthed a gem.

It was a single piece of paper, molded into a program for a movie premiere some 80 years ago. Contained within were the details on events surrounding an evening at a theater located 2,192 miles from my home.

The document highlighted the the Los Angeles premiere of Charlie Chaplin's The Circus. The theater - Sid Grauman's grand Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd, which had opened only a few month previous, was the setting.

The enormous lights of Otto K. Olsen's invention, pivoting from their trucks lined up in front of the theater and across the street, threw their beams skyward; other floodlights brought a day time brightness to the whole block surrounding the theater. Limousines dashed up to discharge the luminaries of the motion-picture world, producers, directors, and stars galore from every studio in Hollywood, all paying five dollars a seat to do honor to Charlie s new picture and to tell him that whatever untoward happened, he belonged in their hearts.

Charlie escorted Merna Kennedy to the first night; Maisie was there with a party. A microph
one, set up on the court with a master of ceremonies presiding, lured various stars to chirp bromides to the world waiting at the radio, the inane, "Hello, everybody. I'm so thrilled to be here and know you will be, too, when you see this wonderful picture...
At Chaplin's request, Grauman was asked to present a show as a prologue to the film. Titled Ballyhoo, Grauman presented "An Old-fashioned One Ring Circus.

The prologue to The Circus as staged by Sid Grauman, that master showman, was in itself worth the price of admission. Three rings of circus acts concentrated on the large stage gave the illusion of a full-fledged circus in action. Bare back riders, the noted Paddleford family, trapeze performers, the sawdust, the sideshows, and the barkers overflowed from the stage into the spacious front court and completed the illusion. The ornate gaudiness of the Chinese Theatre fitted the transitory atmosphere of the night.

Among the other acts performing were Russian immigrants, Donat Butowick, and his wife, the former Ella Bluhmfield. Members of the Muskegon Actors' colony, the were joined by some of the top performers from the era.

The Hanneford family riding act took part, as did Emil Pallenberg's bears, Ed and Jennie Rooney, aerialists, and several others who had been headliners with the Ringling circus and were friends of the Hannefords and Mrs. Clarke. The engagement stretched into an eight months' stint..

Another act on the bill would become even more well known years later.

An e-mail arrived the other day from Melani Carty with a subject line that immediately caught my attention. It said, "Samaroff and Sonia & Pepito the Clown"

I knew instantly the connection between the performers.

Within the body of the e-mail, Melani noted that she blogged on Pepito, and his wife, Joanne.

For those who are fans of I Love Lucy, the name Pepito may bring back memories. Jose Perez - better known as Pepito the Spanish Clown helped Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz create the act that would form the basis for the television classic.

According to the site Still in Love with Lucy

In 1950, when Lucille Ball was asked to move her successful radio series to television, she agreed on one condition: her husband, Desi Arnaz, would be cast in the role of her TV husband.

CBS executives balked, believing the American public wouldn’t accept an all-American redhead being married to a Latin bandleader. To prove the network wrong, Lucy and Desi launched a successful vaudeville tour. Their friend Jose Perez, known on the vaudeville circuit as Pepito, The Spanish Clown, developed several skits for the couple to take on the road. The most famous of these cast Lucy as “The Professor” who breaks into Desi’s performance and insists on auditioning for the band. The skit was so successful, Lucy and Desi worked it into the pilot episode of “I Love Lucy” and again in episode 6 of the show’s first season.

Within a blog entry, Carty points out that Pepito appeared in Episode 52 - "Lucy's Show Biz Swan Song"

She also shares this classic.

In 1990, Joanne became briefly famous for finding the “lost pilot” of the “I Love Lucy Show.” Twelve years after the death of her beloved husband, she was finally cleaning out his personal office at the rear of the house. While pulling things out from under his daybed where he often napped.
Check out Carty's ode to Pepito and Joanne - The Spanish Clown and the Ballet Teacher. It's a wonderful tale and the collection of entries are lovingly prepared, and peppered with numerous treasurers.

Here is a link to her entry on "Ballyhoo" which includes a Quicktime movie clip of Ballyhoo. Check out the extra's disk of the Chaplin DVD the chance to

There is even a connection to Spring Lake's own Winsor McCay.

I love the Internet!

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