Lou Jacobs, 89; His Face Was a Circus Symbol


Lou Jacobs, who began his extensive entertainment career as the trailing end of an alligator and ended it as a national symbol for the "Greatest Show on Earth," has died in Sarasota, Fla., winter home of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Jacobs, whose face became emblematic of the circus after it appeared on a U. S. postage stamp, was 89 when he died Sunday of what a Sarasota Memorial Hospital spokesman said were natural causes.

Jacobs, with Otto Griebling, Emmett Kelly and Felix Adler, formed the royal family of clowns. His face--with trademark oversized mouth, gaping smile and arched eyebrows framing a brilliant red balloon of a nose--was used on thousands of posters and billboards over the years to herald the coming of the circus founded by John Ringling North and others.

Perched atop that joyous countenance was a tiny hat that forever seemed ready to fall from Jacobs' pointed head.

He also was known for his fully operational 2-foot-by-3-foot car into which he managed to cram his 6-foot-1 body, afterward spending several hilarious minutes trying to extricate himself.

His other gags included zipping around the hippodrome track on water skis and riding in a motorized bathtub; chasing a cigar-smoking baby clown driving a motorized baby buggy; and portraying a big-game hunter forever failing to catch a rabbit--actually a chihuahua named Knucklehead.

Knucklehead as a rabbit had the demeanor of the mischievous Bugs Bunny. Jacobs would chase him around the tent (more recently auditorium) with an oversized club. But of course Knucklehead always eluded him.

Jacobs' reign with Ringling Bros. began in 1925 and ended with his retirement in 1985. He was honored with the postage stamp in 1966.

He was born Jacob Ludwig in Bremerhaven, Germany, and began in show business as the tail end of an alligator costume when he was 7. Four years later, he got his first clown job at a German circus.

In 1923, he immigrated to the United States, working as a tumbler and acrobat with a small troupe in New York before being hired by Ringling Bros.

In 1952, Jacobs had a cameo role in the Cecil B. De Mille movie "The Greatest Show on Earth," teaching the art of clowning to "Buttons," portrayed by Jimmy Stewart.

Jacobs was inducted into the Circus Hall of Fame and the Clown Hall of Fame in 1989. In addition, Jacobs was honored with a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Lifetime Achievement Award.

"Few people have ever lived who brought so much pleasure to so many people," Ringling Bros. President Kenneth Feld said Monday.

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