Emmett Kelly Jr.

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Emmett Kelly Jr.
Emmett Kelly Jr.

EMMETT KELLY JR., son of the world-renowned clown was born on Friday the 13, 1924 but his life was anything but unlucky. Son of the "Aerial Kellys," the fastest double trapeze in show business, he made his first appearance the closing day of the season during a John Robinson Circus performance in Dyersburg, Tennessee.


Emmett served aboard LST-783 during WWII as a member of the United States Navy. You may read about his adventures in my book LST-783 Cruise Book, A WWII Journal. After the war, he moved from job to job, city to city before settling down in Peru, Indiana. Even then, while working on the Chesapeake Ohio Railroad, he traveled about the Midwest as a brakeman.

In 1960, Emmett made his first clown appearance during Peru, Indiana's "Circus City Festival." Soon thereafter, he left his family to travel the state fair circuit with Swenson's Thrillcade motor show. In 1964, he joined Kodak at New York's World Fair, an opportunity that spring boarded him to notoriety.


Emmett became the most photographed clown in the 1960’s during his two-year appearance at the Kodak Pavilion. After the fair, he visited hospitals across the nation as Kodak’s "Ambassador of Goodwill" for several years.


In the 1970’s he starred in The Emmett Kelly Jr. Circus. For nearly two decades, he provided entertainment with his one-ring, indoor theater circus. Emmett even performed at the White House in Washington D.C., appearing there twice.


Emmett Kelly Jr. will be remembered both good and bad throughout the circus industry. His legacy is tied to ill will and controversy over appropriating his father’s clown character. In the circus world, it is understood that a clown’s makeup, character and appearance are copyrighted, not to be copied. Emmett Kelly was the creator of Weary Willie. Emmett Kelly Jr. was the most prominent of many that copied him.


As evidenced by listings on EBay, nearly thirty years after his death, people still do not know the difference between Emmett Kelly and Emmett Kelly Jr. This confusion over identity aided my father’s advancement as well as created angst for my grandfather, his children and grandchildren alike.


My father's circus life is well documented, that part of my father's life I lived with him. It was his Navy experience during WWII that always kept my interest, now even more so with his passing. The two years spent researching my father's service during WWII was a lifetime adventure resulting in establishing friendships with my father's shipmates and a journey back in time. You may know the clown, now you can know the rest of the story via LST-783 Cruise Book, A WWII Journal  now available in Ring 1.


 Other Circus Relatives
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 Emmett Kelly     Eva Kelly Lewis        Joe Lewis     Grace, Jeanie, Mitzi

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Last modified: 06/07/12