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Emmett Kelly

Emmett Kelly (1898 - March 28, 1979), a native of Sedan, Kansas, was an American circus performer, who created the memorable clown figure "Weary Willie," based on the hobos[?] of the Depression era. Kelly began his career as a trapeze artist. He only started working as a clown in 1931, basing his character on a sketch he had made ten years earlier. "Weary Willie" was a tragic figure: a clown, who could usually be seen sweeping up the circus rings after the other performers. He tried but failed to sweep up the pool of light from a spotlight. His routine was revolutionary at the time: traditionally, clowns wore white face and performed slapstick stunts intended to make people laugh. Kelly did perform stunts too--one of his most famous acts was trying to crack a peanut with a sledgehammer—but as a tramp, he also appealed to the sympathy of his audience.

From 1942-1956 Kelly performed with the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus[?], where he was a major attraction. He also landed a number of Broadway and film roles, including the role of "Willie" in Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).

The Emmett Kelly Museum is located in Sedan.

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