Friday, 6 April 2012

Grock - The King of Clowns

 Grock (January 10, 1880 – July 14, 1959), born Charles (Karl) Adrien Wettach, was a Swiss clown, composer and musician. Called "the king of clowns" and "the greatest of Europe's clowns", Grock was once the most highly paid entertainer in the world.

Grock described his secret of clowning as follows: "The genius of clowning is transforming the little, everyday annoyances, not only overcoming, but actually transforming them into something strange and terrific… it is the power to extract mirth for millions out of nothing and less than nothing."  (Wiki)

In 1903, Wettach took the stage name "Grock," under which he became one of the most famous clowns in Europe. "My birth name doesn't mean anything. I am Grock. The first is the name of the dark years," he said. As a clown, his life became a quest for perfecting the synthesis of the man, with his hidden human face, and the clown, the mask occluding the man beneath the greasepaint. This synthesis was "Grock," a figure intended to entertain while remaining forever mysterious, a beloved figure who never could be fully understood by the audience, hidden as he was by his mask, hidden as the man Karl was by the mask Grock. (imdb)

During the turbulent years of fascist Italy and World War II, Grock never let his mask slip, never overtly dabbled in politics. Though he attracted the admiration of leading Italian fascists, the King of Italy, European royalty and even Hitler, all of whom claimed to be a friend of his, he never publicly confirmed those bonds. The man behind the mask of Grock never declared any allegiance to anyone or anything but his art. (imdb)

The clip below is a full clown show, an evening with Grock. The film is a French production from 1931. It starts slow with quite a bit of French talking. If you don't understand French skip ahead it is worth sitting through.

At around 27 minutes he does a routine with a violin borrowed from one of the musicians in the orchestra pit. The superb physical comedy, pushing his legs and changing his postures with the violin bow, with its fantastic prat fall finale is gorgeous. 

"Wave upon wave of applause filled a circus tent in Hamburg last week as a preposterous, shambling clown, his baggy pants secured by a huge safety pin, his crudely gloved hands the essence of misplaced elegance, finished his turn. Friends and fans had come from as far away as Italy and England to see his act. They stood on their chairs, stomping and cheering. Long after the clown himself had shuffled off, wiping a tear from his dead-white face with a floppy sleeve, the cheers ran on, until at last a loudspeaker blared: "Please, ladies and gentlemen, do not applaud any longer. Grock is not coming back. Grock is never coming back."

The audience of 3,000 found it hard to believe that The Great Grock would ever give up the limelight and the sawdust, but the fact was that at 74, Europe's greatest clown was tired."

For a very thorough discussion on Grock and his gags check this link out.
Friends of Grock Foundation.

Villa Grock, where the tire clown retired.

the Grock d'Or.

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