It is my last night in Barcelona and Jango Edwards brought together for dinner all of the clown / circus /variety historians he could muster in the person of Raffaele De Ritis, whose blog, Novelties and Wonders, is indeed full of wonders; Pat Cashin, whose Clown Alley blog is the place to go for all things clown; Greg DeSanto, director of the International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center; and yours truly. Or to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, there hasn't been a greater concentration of clown knowledge at one table since Tristan Rémy dined alone.
This being Catalonia, the meandering conversation had to come around to its most famous clown, Charlie Rivel (1896 –1983). In fact, in Barcelona's Joan Brossa Gardens you will find a statue (photo, below) of Rivel , and there is even a Charlie Rivel Museum in his birthplace, the village of Cubelles, half way down the coast between here and Tarragona.
Born Josep Andreu Lasserre, his father was a Catalan trapeze artist and his mother a French acrobat. By age two he was performing in his father's risley act. Thus was launched an eight-decade performing career that brought him the kind of superstar status in Europe only enjoyed by clowns like Grock and the Fratellini.
It's been decades since I read Rivel's autobiography, Poor Clown so I won't pretend to be an expert on his life. Instead I will turn you right back over to Raffaele De Ritis, whose article on Rivel on Circopedia is the best starting point. Once you promise me you've read that, I'll share a few video highlights with you.
Okay, did you really read it? Alrighty then, let's get started...
Because many of the clips we have of Rivel are from late in his long performing career, his early days as an acrobat and an acrobatic clown tend to be overlooked. But you already knew that, right? Here are two shots of him as the topmounter in an unconventional two-high, courtesy of circus practitioner, teacher, and historian Hovey Burgess:
According to the Circopedia bio, one of the tricks he and his brothers became known for was "The Little Bridge." Though I don't have any footage of this, again with the help of Hovey Burgess I was able to identify the trick and with the help of Nicanor Cancellieri track down what seems to be a more recent version of it as performed by The Three Rebertis.
And as an aside, here's a third photo supplied by Hovey of Los Yacopis, with this commentary: Note the hands-to-shoulders element (not head-to-head, not, at least, in the moment of this photograph). Irving Pond mentions the Yacopi troupe in Big Top Rhythms (1937) RE: their teeterboard four-person high column. This photograph is from: Julio Revollendo Cardenas CIRCO EN MÉXICO (2004), page 71.
Update from Hovey: I herewith submit two (2) photographs from Fernand Rausser (photographer) Le Cirque (1975) [Toole Stott No. 13,465] which purportedly depict the 1975 Circus Knie revival of the unconventional two-high (page 148) and the "bridge" (page 149) by Rolfe Knie Junior, Juanito Rivel and José Bétrix. If we are to judge from the photograph, and perhaps we should not so judge, the latter seems not quite up to snuff somehow. That is hardly a free head-to-head element that is shown. Hmmm!
Update courtesy of Pat Cashin (3-21-10):
Mystery solved! Here's our bridge, performed nonchalantly by Rivel and company during a 1937 hospital visit. Click on image.
Hovey Burgess comments: "That is it. But with a couple of twists.This 1937 Viennese version clip is also a five-person bridge akin to the Yacopis photograph. Five people are also hinted at in the somewhat inconclusive 1975 Swiss revival version photograph. Unlike the Rebertis clip, however, the non-feet-to-shoulders link is NOT a straight head-to-head at ANY point shown in the clip, but is reinforced with a Yacopi-like hands-to-shoulders [throughout]. With the Rebertis it is a straight head-to-head ("no hands!") all the way, both ascending and descending. Mystery solved? Yes, but we would still like to see and know more."
And now back to our regularly scheduled program:
Since his father was a trapeze artist, it's not surprising that comedy trapeze became one of Rivel's signature acts. Here he is from 1943, when he would have already been 46 or 47.
Later in his career Rivel became more of a minimalist, extracting a lot of clown gold from a chair and a guitar. Here he is on this youTube piece posted by none other than Pat Cashin. Small world, eh?
And here he is on Eurovision Song Contest:
This is the Rivel segment from Fellini's movie, I Clowns; I'll try to replace it with a version with English subtitles sometime soon!
And to be thorough, here are Rivel's sons, the Charlivels, performing their popular night club act, which included singing and acrobatics.
Like I said, check back soon for additional material.