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Interview

Fred Bradna, Coco the Clown P2

Fred Bradna was born Frederick Freber in Strasbourg, Alsace, in 1871. In 1903, he and his wife Ella came to the US after Ella was offered a contract as an equestrienne at Barnum and Bailey Circus. Eventually he became equestrian director for Barnum and Bailey, and later for Ringling Brothers after they merged with Barnum and Bailey in 1919. He wrote a fascinating autobiography called Big Top, published by Hamish Hamilton, London, 1953.

Among the many interesting profiles of people in Big Top is the life story of the German clown Otto Griebling.

This clown was known for his preshow routines. He would elbow through the audience before a show started, calling out for a Mrs Schultz. Sometimes he would be dressed as a florist’s delivery boy carrying a potted plant for the fictional Mrs Schultz. As the night wore on he would get older and the plant would get taller. Finally he’d be an old man with a ten foot plant in a wheel barrow. 

Fred Bradna writes: The funniest of these turns was the iceman. On his first appearance he carries a thirty-pound cake of ice over his shoulder with a tongs. As he searches the audience for Mrs. Schultz, the ice begins to melt. Finally, his tongs hold only an ice cube.

Coco the Clown is another fascinating autobiography, by Nicolai Poliakoff, published by J.M. Dent in 1941. It tells the story of the Russian clown’s often very hard life in Europe. He eventually moved to England with his family. At one point he writes about a tiger trainer he worked with, named Togare. One day, three of Togare’s tigers escaped.

He writes: The third tiger was not so easy to capture, and they had to use a net. Afterwards I heard a funny story about this tiger. Outside, a long queue of people were waiting for the evening performance. As they stood there, this tiger padded quietly along by the queue. The people were delighted. Of course this was a tame tiger, there to amuse them while they had to wait.

“Isn’t he lovely?” they said. “Just like a great big cat.”

And some of them leant over the railing and kindly scratched the tiger’s back. This the fiercest of Togare’s tigers!.

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