Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Evetta The Only Lady Clown

Here's what my new fridge magnet says: "Evetta the Only Lady Clown with the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth." She is in white harlequin-style pantaloons and dark stockings, with tasselled ballet slippers jauntily pointing upwards, her gesticulating arms completely encased in long black gloves. She sports a tall white beehive wig (hello, Marge Simpson?) while the circus Ringmaster leers over her shoulder down into her cleavage. He holds a whip suggestively over her, in his right hand.
I snapped up this beauty at the Ringling Brothers Circus Museum complex in Sarasota this past Labor Day weekend, immediately recognizing a kindred soul. (I was voted Best Sense of Humor in the 7th grade at PS 3 in Greenwich Village, circa 1957- what's a girl gotta do when she doesn't have boobs yet? Be funny.....naturally. It's still my proudest moment.)
Evetta and I had to become better acquainted. At moments like this I drift in a trance over to my computer and am blissful for hours... It did not take more than a few moments, however, before I hit paydirt. Apparently, the women of the circus knew that they could achieve a rare kind of freedom and financial independence as clowns, lion tamers and acrobats....In a fascinating piece based on her extensive research (thank you, Mr. Google, all is forgiven), Professor Janet Davis of the University of Texas at Austin enlightened me about Evetta:
"Acrobat Josephine Matthews invaded the all-male world of clowning in 1895....She thoroughly enjoyed her life with the circus:
'I believe that a woman can do anything for a living that a man can do, and I do it just as well as a man. All of my people laughed at me when I told them I was going into the ring as a clown; but they do not laugh now when they see that I can keep an engagment all the time and earn as much money and more than they can in their branches of business. I like the work and try to put ideas into it. Every day I thnk out something new and the management usually gives me pretty wide latitude. My chief difficulty is in making myself heard, but then nobody ever listens to what a clown says; everything depends on the antics.'

from the text of "Bearded Ladies, Dainty Amazons, Hindoo Fakirs and Lady Savages: Circus Representations of Gender and Race in Victorian America," a brilliant talk by Janet M. Davis in October 2005 at the University of Virginia. Quoted here with permission from the author.
Books by Professor Davis: The Circus Age: Culture and Society Under the American Big Top (2002) and Circus Queen and Tinker Bell: The Memoir of Tiny Kline (2008).

And then- I drifted into my memories of my sweet female clients in San Francisco who ran a cafe called The Bearded Lady ....because they were. Bearded ladies, lesbians and rock musicians. More anon. Stay tuned. Everything connects.


Simona said...

Did you watch the tv-series "Carnivale"? Maybe you would like it.

// 1934, America. The Dustbowl. A fugitive named Ben Hawkins finds refuge within a traveling carnival comprised of a tarot card reader and her catatonic/telekinetic mother, a blind mentalist, a bearded lady, and conjoined twins, amongst others. The carnival is owned by the mysterious and unseen Management, who has designs on the young Hawkins, for the boy is concealing an untapped gift: he can heal the lame and raise the dead--at a price. Ben also finds himself disturbed by cryptic and prophetic dreams, which he shares with a Methodist preacher in California, Brother Justin Crowe. Brother Justin, convinced by his dreams he is following God's will, has begun to practice his own extraordinary talents, although the preacher's plans increasingly lead to disturbing and tragic consequences. In this "last great age of magic," Ben Hawkins and Justin Crowe are moving toward a great conflict between Good and Evil, although it not yet clear on which sides these men will stand
// cited from
It´s very dark and mysteriuos.

east side bride said...

This post is crying out for a photo to accompany it.