The Seven Lively Arts
by Gilbert Seldes

They Call it Dancing

(pages 265-274)

St. Simeon Stylites

(pages 275-287)


St. Burlesque, Circus, Clowns, and Acrobats

(pages 289-305)

They Call it Dancing



ONE of the most tiresome of contemporary intellectualsentimentalities is the cult of "the dance" a cult which has almost nothing in the world to do with dancing. "The dance" is "art"; dancing is a form of Popular entertainment, one of the very few which can be practised by its admirers. It is also one of the arts which can be "polite" without danger of atrophy, the danger in this case being that the technical refinement may eventually make dancing a trick, a rather graceful sort of juggling.

In any case, we shall not have in America anything corresponding to folk dances; the ritual dance, the dance as religion, simply isn't our type, and none of the tentatives in favour of that kind of dancing has made me regret our natural bent toward ballroom and stunt dancing as a mode of expression. In the rue Lappe in Paris nearly every otherhouse is a Bal Musette and in all but one of these dancehalls the floor is taken by men and women of that quarter,working men and women who come in and dance and pay afew sous for each dance. They do this every night and enjoyit; they enjoy the sometimes wheezing accordeon and the bells which, on the right ankle of the player, -accentuate the beat. They dance waltzes and polkas and, since the Java is forbidden, the mazurka. Once I saw two couples rise and dance the bourree, presumably as it was danced in their native province of Auvergne; it is possible to see other provincial dances of France, as they are re-


membered, in the Bal Musette of this district and elsewhere-- occasionally and not by pre-arrangement. The ancient dances of America haven't such roots, nor such vitality; and we may have to become much more simple, or much more sophisticated, before we will proceed naturally to buck-and-wing and cakewalk and the ordinary breakdown on the floor of the Palais Royal. There are Kentucky mountain and cowboy dances which the moving picture inadequately reconstructs, and I am afraid that even negro levee dancing has lost much of its own character in the process of influencing the steps of the ordinary American dance. Undoubtedly those who can should preserve these provincial and rooted dances; but it is idle to pretend that dancing itself can be a subject for archeology. It is essentially for action, not for speculation.I do not belittle dancing when I attempt to deprive it of the cachet of "Art." Nothing so precise, so graceful, so implicated with music, can escape being artistic; in the hands of its masters it becomes art intuitive creative process, but this happens most frequently when the dancer gives himself to the music and seldom when he tries to interpret the music.

From the waltz to the tango, from the tango to the current foxtrot or one-step, polite dancing has held more of what is essentially artistic than the art-dance, and it has had no pretensions. The old tango and the maxixe were the only ones which could not easily be



danced by those who applauded them on the stage; classic dancing, on the contrary, has always been an art of professionals-almost a contradiction in terms in this case, for it is the essence of the dance that it can be danced. It is not the essence of the dance that it can be staged, or made into a pantomime. The Russian Ballet has no reference to the subject for it is essentially the work of mimes and the dancing is either folk dance or choreography.

The reason politeness is not fatal to the dance is that there is only one standard of vulgarity in dancing, which is ugliness. Vulgarity means actively disagreeable postures and steps not exceptionally adapted to the music. The relation of the dancers to one another is the basis of their relation to the music, and that is why the shimmy has little to do with dancing, whereas the cheek-to-cheek position-the bite-noire of chaperons a few weeks, or is it years, ago? is fundamentally not objectionable, since it brings two dancers to as near a unit, with the same centre of gravity, as the dance requires. One doesn't dance the fox-trot as one danced the Virginia reel, and the question of morals has little to do with the case. The "Indecencies" of the turkey-trot, as we used to phrase it, disappeared not because we are better men and women, but because we are dancing more beautifully. Two influences have worked to accomplish this. One is that our music has become more interesting


and is written specifically to be danced, as the waltzsong always was and as our older ragtime was not. The other is the effect of the stage (through which we have, recently, learned a vast amount from negro dancing, an active influence for the last fifteen years at least, touching the dance at every point in music, and tending always to prevent the American dance from becoming cold and formal.) Dancing masters go to the stage to perform the dances they have elaborated in their studios; from the stage the dance is adapted to the floor. This is what makes it so unerving to go through a year seeing nothing but men jumping over their own ankles, or to witness Carl Randall dancing himself into his evening clothes. One doesn't know how soon one will be called upon to do the same sort of thing in the semi-privacy of the night club.

Acrobatic dancing is interesting as all acrobatics are-brutally for the stunt and aesthetically for the picture formed while doing the trick. The dancing of choruses has something of the same interest. The Tiller or Palace Girls do very little that would merit attention if done by one of them; done by sixteen, it is entertaining; so are the ranks of heads appearing over the top step of the Hippodrome or at the New Amsterdam, and the ranks of knees rhythmically bending as row follows row down the stairs. But none of these affect actual dancing appreciably.Acrobatic or stunt dancing has a tendency to cor-


rupt good exhibition dancing, the desire to do something obviously difficult displaces the more estimable desire to do something beautiful. Yet some of our best stunt dancers can and do combine all the elements and to watch them is to experience a double delight. George M. Cohan always danced interestingly; he has sardonic legs and he is, I suppose, the repository of all the knowledge we have of the 1890-1910 dance. Frisco took up the same work near the place where Cohan dropped it; he is (but where I do not know) a character dancer with a specific sense of jazz, and was, for a moment, the symbolic figure of what was coming. His eccentricities were premature, his comparative disappearance unmerited.

Eccentric also, and not chiefly dancers, are Leon Errol and Jimmy Barton. Eccentric and essentially a dancer is the fine comic Johnny Dooley. The difference is that almost all of Dooley's comedy is in his dancing, whereas the others are great comedians and their dances are also funny. It seems to be Dooley's natural mode to walk on the side of his feet and to catch a broken, wholly American rhythm in every movement-to create dances, therefore, which are untouched by the Russian Ballet and other trepaks and hazzazzas. The foreign influence has touched Carl Randall, a gain in expertness, a loss in freshness. There seems to be nothing he cannot do, nothing he doesn't do well, nothing he does superbly. The dancing team which ought to have been the


best of our time and wasn't is that of Julia Sanderson and Donald Brian.' The suppleness of Miss Sanderson's body, the breathless sway of the torso on the hips, the suggestion of languor in the most rapid of her movements, are not to be equalled; and Brian was always smart, decisive, accurate. It is difficult to define the defect which was always in their work; probably a reserve, a not giving themselves away to the music, a shade too much of the stiffness which dancing requires. Miss Sanderson gets along quite well without the lyric knees (as they were-one doesn't see them now) of Ann Pennington; nor has she the exceptional height which makes the grace of Jessica Brown so surprising and her curve of beauty so exceptional. Miss Brown, I take it, is one of the best dancers of the stage, and, unlike Charlotte Greenwood, has nothing to do with grotesque. Miss Greenwood makes a virtue of her defect-the longest limbs in the world. Miss Brown is unconscious of hers as defects at all; like most people's, her legs are long enough to reach the ground. It is marvellous to see what she can do when she lifts them off the ground. I choose these names as examples, fully aware that I may be omitting others equally famous. But what remains is deliberate: two groups of dancers who were at the very top, I think, of their profession do not know enough of Carl Hyson and Dorothy Dickson or of the Astaires to judge their place.


sion, of their art. Of Doyle and Dixon only Harland Dixon is now visible; the team is broken, but Dixon continues to be a wonderful dancer, in the tradition rather of Fred Stone, and with recent leanings toward acting. It was 1915 or so when I saw them dance Irving Berlin's Ragtime Melodrama, and although I have never seen that equalled, I havenever seen the team or Dixon alone dance anything 'unworthy of that piece. It was a beautiful duo, perfectly cadenced, creating long grateful lines aroundthe stage; it was full of tricks and fun and character. And gradually the duo resolved itself into feats of individual prowess, in which Dixon slowly surpassed his partner and became a miracle of acrobatics in rhythm. He is agile, never jerky, with a nice sense of syncopation; he requires Berlin rather than Kern for his full value. Kern gives all (and more) that Maurice can require, and whether with Florence Walton or Leonora Hughes the dancing of Maurice is always icily regular, and nearly null.

His type of mechanism is exactly wrong and he sets off in bold rellief the accuracy, the inspired rightness of Irene and Vernon, Castle. That these two, years ago, determined the course dancing should take is incontestable. Theywere decisive characters, like Boileau in French poetry and Berlin in ragtime; for they understood, absorbed, and transformed everything known of dancing up to that time and out of it made something


beautiful and new. Vernon Castle, it is possible, was the better dancer of the two; in addition to the beauty of his dancing he had inventiveness, he anticipated things of 1923 with his rigid body and his evolutions on his heel; but if he were the greater, his finest creation was Irene.

No one else has ever given exactly that sense of being freely perfect, of moving without effort and without will, in more than accord, in absolute identity with music. There was always something unimpassioned, cool not cold, in her abandon; it was certainly the least sensual dancing in the world; the whole appeal was visual. It was as if the eye following her graceful motion across a stage was gratified by its own orbit, and found a sensuous pleasure in the ease of her line, in the disembodied lightness of her footfall, in the careless slope of her lovely shoulders. It was not - it seemed not to be - intelligent dancing; however trained, it was still intuitive. She danced from her shoulders down, the straight scapular supports of her head were at the same time the balances on which her exquisitely poised body depended.

There were no steps, no tricks, no stunts. There was only dancing, and it was all that one ever dreamed of flight, with wings poised, and swooping gently down to rest. I put it in the past, I hardly know why; unless because it is too good to last.


At Simeon Stylites



THE most sophisticated of the minor arts in America is that of the colyumist. It is, except for occasional lapses into the usual journalistic disrespect for privacy, a decent art, andif it never rises to the polish and wit of such an outstanding colyumist as LaFourchardiere of 1'Euvre, it never sinks to the pretentious pseudo-intelligent vulgarity of the English counterpart. The colyumist is, to begin with, a newspaper humorist, and there are times, when questions of art and letters are discussed, when one wishes he had remained one.

Phillips, who is now with the Sun and Globe in New York, sticks to his game manfully; he tells nothing about himself, discusses no plays, and his colyum, which he illustrates with grotesque little drawings, is self-contained. You do not have to be in the secret to read him. His usual manner is to take a notable or obscure item of news and play with it, in the manner of Mark Twain. When Ambassador Harvey made a speech on the topic, "Have Women Souls"! Phillips reported the proceedings and the aftermath:"Latest bulletins from Europe and Asia on the conduct of other American diplomats follow:"Warren G. Harding,President, United States: Excellency: American ambassador here has brought about grave crisis by speech, "Are Bananas a Fruit or a Flower!" and "Can Fresh


Roasted Peanuts Think?" Understand he has stated publicly his opinion that John McCormack is greater singer than Caruso. People are near uprising. Will you recall him or shall we give him the bum's rush? KING OF ITALY.and so on.It is horseplay; but when he is in form it achieves a wild carelessness and gaiety which the intellectual colyumist entirely forswears. He has for compeer Arthur "Bugs" Baer, by all odds the funniest of the colyumists and a too-much-neglected creator of American humour. There is, also, a considerable number of colyumists of the Phillips type in other cities. I make no apology for not knowing them, for a colyum correctly conceived is written for the readers of its paper. It ought to be partly private, and wholly provincial. Even Mencken when he ran the colyum of the Baltimore Sun, and gathered much material for The American Language, and told of each new consignment of German beer after the blockade began in 1915, even he was not all things to all men.The last man who kept his colyum balanced between the high and low comic touch was Bert Leston Taylor. He was a very wise and humane person, wise and humane enough to appreciate and to publish fun of a sort differing by much from the humour he created. There was something unnervingly oblique in his vision of the world, perfectly illustrated


by the captions he wrote for clippings from rustic journals. He would take an 'item, "Our popular telegraphist Frank Dane had a son presented to himlast week. Frank says he is going to stay home nights hereafter," and write over it, "How the Days Are Drawing In."There was nothing incongruous in the appearance side by side of his own expert parodiesand the horseplay humour of some of his contributors. Taylor's touch made everything light, everything right. In his house there were indeed many mansions.

After him-before his death even-the colyumists divided and went separate ways. The Chicago Tribune continues the Field-Taylor tradition indifferently well. Riq of the Chicago Evening Post comes near the golden mean, but his own character as a colyumist is jeopardized by his contributors; when he gets a good theme- such as the necessity for keeping the seam of a stocking straight, he can be counted on. Calverley indicated his difficulty - or almost: Themes are so scarce in this world of ours. The colyumists, are sophisticated, or faux-naifs, or actually naif. Of the first, F. P. A. of the New York World is the most notable and Baird Leonard of the Morning Telegraph the best. F. P. A. has all the virtues of the colyumist in the highest degree; unfortunately he has almost all the faults, in nearly the same measure. He is a defeated Calverley, writing the best light verse in America, and the


best parodies in verse. His Persicos Odi, one of several(published in the quarterly "1910"), seems to me better than Field's-which had the lines, "And as for roses, Holy Moses, they can't be got at living prices." Adams', as I recall it, ran:The pomp of the Persian I hold in aversion; I hate all their gingerbread tricks. Their garlicky wreathings and lindeny tree-things Nix.

Boy, us for plain myrtle while under this fertile

Old grapevine myself I protrude

For your old bibacious Quintus Horatius

Stewed and his treatment of the same poem according to Service is perfect parody. Algernon St. John Brenon used to quarrel magisterially with Adams about Latin quantities, but he could never undermine Adams' feeling for the ease and urbanity of Horaceand Adams isn't in the business of preserving the tradition of dignity.His trick verse is not exceptional; he has no Dobsonian feeling for form; in prose parody he is a duffer. His own prose has the one essential quality for wititis not diffuse.'

His actual character is that of a civilized man who cannot be imposed upon by I For example: "Ours is a sincere doubt as to whether the question 'And what did You do during the Great War T might not embarrass, among others, God."


the bunk, and as he is fairly independent he recognizes fake-in the world of politics, business, and society-wherever it occurs. This is what prevents him from being a good radical (type: Heywood Broun; other things in his nature keep him from the insolence of martyrdom), and what makes his work sympathetic to mature and disillusioned minds. His exceptional good sense-he seems to have no sensibility-makes stupidity an irritation to him; he follows half of the biblical precept and does not suffer fools gladly. The habit of pontificating has grown on him, and from expressing himself with justifiable arrogance on minor matters he has proceeded to speak with assurance on manners, art, and letters. It would be more accurate to say that he speaks without the humility becoming to one who for many months boosted W. B. any rate, he has done something to destroy the tradition that what is witty is unsound. It is only when he is serious that he becomes a little ridiculous.

I quarrel as much with Baird Leonard's judgement on art and letters, but I am not irritated because Miss Leonard (who writes for a paper devoted to horse-racing and the theatre) is almost always willing to indicate the path by which she arrives at her discriminations. She hasn't F. P.

A.'s weak fear of the common, and her own mind is as far removed as his from the commonplace, it has movements of grace and lightness, and her humour is smooth and wholly urban. Too often for me she fills her column with BridgeTable Talk, a sardonic report of fake intellectualism done with vigour and ferocity, but hampered by the framework which is not adaptable. I do not, at this moment, recall a line she has written; I recall the tone of her whole work-it is unaffected, not self-conscious, brightly aware of everything, keen and curious and always on the alert. If the stage were what it seems from out in front, Miss Leonard would be well placed on a theatrical paper. She is writing for people wise enough to know the place of wit. Adams, I fear, is beginning to write for people witty enough (and no more) to despise wisdom.

The creator of an American legend-I quote from the advertisements - is certainly a wise man. Don Marquis, who now writes his colyum alone, has always had a good second-rate talent for verse, and a


good first-rate understanding of humanity. It is the second quality which makes him appreciate the memoirs of William Butler Yeats, and helps him create The Old Soak.

"Here ' s richness"! It was right for him to make an entire second act of that play an ode to hard liquor, with lyric interludes about the parrot, for he is on the side of humanity, against the devils and angels alike. Hard liquor, loafing, decency, are his gods, and he fights grimly, with a tendency to see the devil in modern art. He is against a great many American fetiches: efficiency and Y. M. C. A.

morality and getting on; and he has a strong, persistent sentiment for common and simple things. All of these together would not make him a good colyumist without some expressive gift. He has enough to Tender his most endearing qualities fully. And beyond them he has at times a bitterness which drives him to write like Swift and a fantasy which creates archy and Captain Fritz-Urse, and these also are parts of his wisdom.

Christopher Morley, like Rolla (not, however, Rollo), has come too late into a world too old, and daily dreams himself back into the time when a gentle essayist was the noblest man of letters and William McFee a great novelist.

His latest work is bound in Gissing Blue Leather, is admired by Heywood Broun, and has been compared to nearly everything except the Four Gospels. Little children should not be permitted to read his colyum in the NewYork Evening


Post, for it is a sort of literary boy-scoutisme, and very wrong! (It has recently ceased to exist.)The influence of the daily column is so great that by this time a goodly portion of t the literary criticism -or book-reviewing-appears in that form. Keith Preston is partly colyumist, partly literary critic, estimable if not always justin both departments, and a writer of excellent verse. Of the literary colyumists Broun is the most interesting case. He has a peculiar mind, apt to find a trifling detail the clue to too many great things; he has a great sense for the pompous and the pretentious; he is actually a humorist when he lets go. But a strange thing has happened to him. While he was acquiring a reputation as arbiter of taste in New York by putting down his simple feelings about books and other things, he was slowly becoming aware of the existence of the intellect. It was borne in upon him, as I believe the phrase is, that a work of art is the product of an intellect working upon materials provided by a sensibility. The discovery unnerved him-1 might almost say deflowered. For Broun has lost his native innocence; he is a little frightened by the hard young men who sudden let loose the jargon of aesthetics, of philosophy, of the intellect in general-and what is worse, he thinks that they may not be bluffing. He has gone manfully to work, but the middle distance is dangerous. It is likely to produce more dicta like his notorious dismissal of rhythmic prose by a refer-


ence to verse rhythms in prose. His characteristic statement is, however, apropos of a flying catch by Aaron Ward, of which, Broun said that no book had ever so affected him with the sense that the humanly impossible had been accomplished. He seems to wonder, now, whether discovering the mind will ever console him if he loses the catch, whether being an amiable, intelligent, courageous, radical humorist, with sufficient taste to dislike the third-rate and a jocular respect for the first rate-whether all this isn't enough. And all the while the young men of three nations are giving him to believe that the really new movement is going to be intellectual. In the moment of the situation he does one thing which may save him-slowly renouncing literature, he digs into his humour and works it hard. He or it will be exhausted presently; when that happens he will be out of the woods-on either side.

But I doubt whether Broun ever was as simple as Bugs Baer. His is called roughneck humour-for all I care. The truth is that Baer is one of the few people writing for the newspapers who have a distinct style. K. C. B. has a form which becomes a formula-it is exasperating to read it-one continues as one continues to read the Bull Durham signs along a railroad track. Baer writes like the speech of Falstaff and his companions, with a rowdy exaggeration.

His comparisons are far fetched, his conceptions utterly fantastic. His daily commentaries on sport


are concise and entertaining, his best work occurs there, but in The Family Album, a Sunday feature of the Hearst papers, he succeeds, despite the subject and the length, in communicating his peculiar quality. It is mingled with banalities like "he was hunting quail on toast up in Canada," but you also get.: So he felt better and met a friend of his and they skipped the Eighteenth. Amendment a couple of times and uncle came home and challenged pop to anything. Pop wanted to know what, and uncle said, "Anything at all. There ain't one thing that you can do that I can't do better than you." He kept up his anonymous boasting and pop said to mom, "Your escaped brother is loose again. That's him. He takes one drink of that radio liquor and he starts broadcasting." Uncle said, "I'll broadcast you for a row of weather-beaten canal boats. I'm mad and hungry. I'm as hot and hollow as a stovepipe." Mom said to pop, "Don't turn A birnelech away hungry. What does the Good Book say about--'Pop said, "Oh! That's been vetoed by the President. "There follows what he calls "another quaint tribal quarrel" in which "pop laughed a whole octave above sarcastic" and "Mom said, 'Stop that debate before I take the negative.' "Everything of Bugs Baer is foreshortened; he is elliptical, omits the middle step. His language is syncopation. His points of reference are all in the I He said of Firpo that when he came up after the sixth or seventh knock-down, his face looked like a slateful of wrong answers.


common life; I don't suppose that he has ever touched a book or a play in his column. For all that, he impresses me as a naturally subtle spirit. I may be wrong. He is certainly a joyful one.




THIS is a footnote in the interest of justice more than anything else. The general scheme of this book is that it is to be an outline, for each of its major chapters is devoted to a subject about which a book ought to be written-but not by me. In such an outline there is no specified allotment of space, and I have written most on the lively arts in which I myself take the liveliest pleasure. Burlesque is not of these-and I confess to enjoying it most in the person of those artists who come out of it into revue, or vaudeville, or any other framework with which I am familiar and which I admire. I can understand an enthusiast feeling the same way about them as I feel about revue and vaudeville players who try to enter the legitimate stage that they are corrupted by a desire to be refined. The great virtues of burlesque as I (insufficiently) know it are its complete lack of sentimentality in the treatment of emotion and its treatment of appearance. The harsh ugliness of the usual burlesque make-up is interesting- I have seen sinister, even macabre, figures upon its stage-and the dancing, which has no social refinement, occasionally develops angular positions and lines of exciting effect. I find the better part of burlesque elsewhere, notably in clowns. And instead of trying to be fair to a medium I do not know well, nor care too much about, I have put in a picture which I greatly


admire and which probably is more to the point than anything I could write. I shall try to find a picture for the circus, too. Because the circus is a mixed matter and some of it is superb. The jeux icariens I have never seen except in France: they are really exquisite. They are usually performed by a whole family. The training is exceedingly arduous, must be begun in childhood, and the art is dying out. In this act the essential thing is the use of human bodies as maniable material. The small boy I saw rolled himself into a tight round ball and was caught on the upturned feet of his father, flat on his back, and tossed to another grownup in the same position, the little rolled-up body spinning like a ball through the air. The beauty of the movements, the accuracy and the finesse of the exploitation of energy, delighted. Trained elephants, however, haven't exactly this quality; and trained seals, agreeable to watch because they are graceful and supple of body, lack something. I have seen a diabolo player who was beautiful to follow, and a juggler who placed two billiard cues end to end on his forehead, threw a ball and caught it at the top of the cues, then dislodged the ball and put it into play with three others. This extraordinary mixture of good and dull things, this lack of character, makes the circus easy to like and useless to think about. The special atmosphere of the circus, the sounds and sights, and smells, are, of course, another matter.


Cirque Medrano. By Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

Two of its actual features justify speculation: acrobats and clowns. The American vaudeville player can say nothing worse of an audience than "they like the acrobats. "When they hang by their teeth I cannot respect them; the development of any part of the human body is interesting, no doubt, and I do not wish to insist that there must be an aesthetic interest in every act. But I feel about them as the Chinese philosopher felt about horse-racing: that it is a well-established fact that one horse can beat another, and the proof is superfluous. But there are trapeze workers whose technique is a joy to see and who exploit all the possible turns, leaps, somersaults in air, so that one is pleased and dazzled. I do not wonder that painters in every age have found them lovely subject. But a lady balanced on one leg of trapeze bar, smoking a cigarette, fanning herself, not holding on to anything-means exactly nothing to me unless it is accomplished with some other quality than nerve. I am sure she will never fall and do not care to be present when she does.

Clowns are different. Even those poor nameless ones who dash in between major acts and with noise and toy balloons divert little children, have some quality. They partake of our tradition about masks, they can't help having background. Everything exaggerated and ugly in burlesque is here put to the uses of laughter; even the dullest has some gaiety in make-up, in a mechanical contrivance, ingait or ges-


ture. Marceline helping the attendants with Powers' Elephants at the Hippodrome, so busy, so in the way, so unconscious of hindering, always created a little world around himself. Grock is incredible in the faultlessness of his method; as musical-eccentric he surpasses all other clowns, and his simple attitude before chairs and pianos and the other complications of life is a study in creativeness. I have written elsewhere of Fortunello and Cirillino, also great clowns; and they complete this sketchy footnote, since for the greatest clowns I have ever seen, nothing short of a separate title will suffice.' I A footnote to a footnote is preposterous. Perhaps the very excess of its obscurity will give it prominence and render faint justice to the old NewYork Hippodrome. It is a fine example of handling of material, and of adjustment, spoiled occasionally by too much very loud singing and a bit of art. It is part of New York's small-townness; but it is so vast in its proportions that it can never acquire the personal following of a small one-ring circus like the Medrano in Paris. I adore the Hippodrome when it is a succession of acts: the trained crow and Ferry who plays music on a fence and the amazing mechanical and electrical effects. Joe Jackson, one of the greatest of clowns, played there, too, and had ample scope. I like also the complete annihilation of personality in the chorus. When you see three hundred girls doing the same thing it becomes a problem in mass-I recall one instance when it was a mass of white backs with black lines indicating the probable existence of clothes-the whole thing was quite unhuman. And one great scene in which, I believe, the whole of the personnel participated: there were, it seemed, hundreds of tumblers and scores of clowns, and a whole toyshop in excited action. Oddly enough, one finds that the weakness the Hipis in its humour; there is plenty of it, but it is not concentrated, and there is no specific Hippodrome "style." What it will become under the new Keith rigime remains to be seen.


By E. E. Cummings(Courtesy of The Dial)



CLOWNs are the most traditional of all entertainers and one of the most persistent of the traditions about the miss that those who have just died were better than those one has laughed at a moment ago. A very obvious reason is that the clowns of the recent past are the clowns of our own childhood. It is my fortunate position never to have seen a clown when I was a child, and all those I have ever laughed at are alive and funny. One of them, the superb Grock, was a failure in New York; the remarkable Fortunello and Cirillino who arrived with the Greenwich Village Follies of1922 are acrobats of an exceptional delicacy and humour;there isn't a touch of obvious refinement about them andthey are exquisite. And the real thing in knockabout grotesquerie are the three who call themselves, justifiably, the true and inimitable kings of laughter, the brothers Fratellini at the Cirque Medrano in Paris.

The Cirque Medrano is a one-ring circus in a permanent building near the Place Pigalle; ten times a week it fills the vast saucer of its seating capacity at an absurdly low price-the most expensive seats, I believe, are six francs-and presents something a little above the average European circus bill. There are more riding and a few more stunts than at others, and there are less trained animals. And ten times weekly the entire audience shouts with gratification as Francesco Fratellini steps gracefully over the ring,


hesitates, retreats, and finally sits down in a ringside seat and begins a conversation with the lady sit- ting beside him. Fratellini and makes them great is a sort of internal logic in everything they do. When the spangled figure with the white- washed face sits down by the ring and chats a moment it is Merelyn ARACD disconcerting; at once the logic appears-he is waiting for the show to begin. An attendant approaches and tells him to stop stalling, that the peopleare waiting to be amused. He replies in an odd English that he has paid his "mawney" and why doesn't the show begin.

Promptly another attendant repeats the message of the firstin English; Francesco replies in Italian. By the time theprocess has been gone through in five languages the clown has changed his tack entirely; you realize that since hedoesn't understand what all these uniformed attendants aresaying to him, he thinks that they are the show and he istrying to conceal his own irritation at being made the object


of their addresses and at the same time he is pretending tobe amused at their antics. The last time he speaks in whatseems to be gibberish (it is credibly reported to he rather fair Turkish) and the attendants fall back. From theopposite entrance to the ring arrives a figureof unparalleled grotesqueness-garments vast and loose in unexpected places, monstrous shoes,squares like windowpanes over his eyes, a glowing and preposterous nose. His gait is of theutmost dignity, he senses the sit-uation and advances to Frances-co's seat; and as a pure matterof business he delivers a terrificslap, bows nobly, and departs. Alan-w At Francesco enters the ring. the same time a third figureappears-a bald-headed man in carefully arranged clothes, amonocle, and a high hat, a stick. The three Fratellini are onthe scene (1). It is impossible to say what happens there, for theFratellini have an inexhaustible repertoire. The materialsare always of the simplest, and the effects, too; they havehardly any "props," the costumes, the smiles, themovements, the gestures, are almost exactly alike from dayto day. Much of their material

(1) I have seen them since in another entrance, the most brilliant of all. SeeAppendix.


is old, for they are the sons and grandsons of clowns as farback as their family memory can carry; I have seen themonce appear armed for a fight with inflated bladders, looking precisely like contemporary pictures in MauriceSand's book about the commedia dell'arte, and on anotheroccasion have seen them so carried away with the frenzy oftheir activity that they actually improvised and proved theirdescent from this ancient form. They do burlesquesketches-a barber shop, a bull fight, a human elephant, amagician, or a billiard game; the moment they stop the entire audience roars for "la musique," the most famous oftheir acts, remarkable because it has a minimum ofphysical violence.

La Musique is all a matter of construction and is awonderful example of the use of material. For at bottom itconsists of the efforts of two men to play a serenade andthe continual intrusion of a third. Francesco and Paoloarrive, each carrying a guitar or a mandoline, and place twochairs close together exactly in the centre of the ring. They step on the chairs and prepare to sit on the backs9 but eventhis simple process is difficult for them, as neither iswilling to sit down before the other, nor to remain seatedwhile the other is still erect, and they must be continuallyrising and apologizing until one flings the other down andkeeps him there until he himself is seated. Ready then, theyblow out the electric lights and strike the first notes; but the spotlight deserts


them; they are left in the dark and puzzled; they regard oneanother with dismay and suspicion. Suddenly they see itacross the ring and, descending with great gravity, carry their chairs across. Again they start, and again the spotlightgoes; their irritation mounts, but their dignity remains andthey follow it. It flits back to where they had come from.

There is a consultation and the two chairs are returned totheir original place in the centre of the ring. Then the two musicians take off their coats, prowl around the ringstalking the light, and fall upon it; then slowly and withmuch labour they lift the light by its edges and carefullycarry it back to their chairs. And as they begin to play thegrotesque marches in behind them, unconscious of them,intent only upon his vast horn and the enormous musicalscore he carries. Unseeing and unseen, he prepares himself, and at about the tenth bar the great bray of his horn shattersthe melody of the strings. The two musicians are dismayed,but as they cannot see the source of the disturbance, theytry again; again the horn intrudes. This time there isexpostulation and argument with the grotesque, but, as hereasonably points out, music was desired and he is doinghis share. There is only one issue for such a scene, and ittakes place, in a riot.

The preparation of these riots is a work of real delicacy, for the Fratellini know that two things are equally true: violence is funny and violence ceases to be funny.

Like Chaplin, they infuse into their


violence the sense of reason-they are violent only when noother means will suffice. In the photographer scene theycall into action the "august" a stock character of theEuropean circus, played at the Medrano with exceptionalskill by M Lucien Godart. The august is a man of greatdignity whose office it is to parley with clowns, be the buttof their jokes, and in M Godart's version, set off theirgrotesque appearance by an excellent figure and the mostcorrect of evening clothes. (He is in addition a rather goodtumbler, and it is part of the Medrano tradition for theaudience to hiss him until he grows seemingly furious andturns twenty difficult somersaults around the ring.) TheFratellini, armed with a huge black box and a cloth, ask himto sit for his photograph. Francesco takes it upon himself toexplain the apparatus, Paolo standing close by with thethree fence posts which represent the tripod, and Alberto,the grotesque waiting near by. Suddenly the tripod falls onAlberto's feet and he howls with pain; Paolo picks the postsup again, and again they fall, and again he howls. It is unbelievable that this should be funny, yet it is funnybeyond any capacity to describe it for one reason which thespectator senses long before he sees it. That is that thetripod is not intentionally thrown on the feet of thegrotesque. The fault is Francesco's, for he is explaining themachine and making serious errors, and every time hemakes a mistake Paolo gets excited and forgets that he hasthe[302]

tripod in his hand, and simply lets it drop. One senses hisacute regret, and at the next moment one realizes that hisscientific zeal, his respect for his profession ofphotographer, simply does not permit him to let amisstatement pass; his gesture as he turns to set the matterright is so eager, so agonized, that one doesn't see what hashappened to the tripod until it has fallen. And to point themoral of the matter, when the grotesque Alberto after thefifth time picks the tripod up and attempts to slay Paolo, Paolo is again turning toward the others and the blow goes wide.

What the Fratellini are doing here is, to be sure, whatevery great actor does-they are presenting their effectsindirectly. The difficulty for them is that in the end theymust give their effects with the maximum of directness-they have to strike a man in the face and make the soundtell. In the scene of the photograph the august is "he who gets slapped" (the phrase is a common one) and the sceneis carefully built up through his reluctance and stupidity inposing. At first it is only an exaggeration of the customarydifficulties between a photographer and a little child; but asthe august becomes more and more suspicious of theintentions of the photographer, the clowns become moreand more insistent that he, and nobody but he, shall havehis picture taken. Gradually an atmosphere of hostility isbuilt up; the august tries to escape from the ring and ishauled back; then


dragged, then forced to sit; the opposing wills grow more and more violent; the audience senses the good will of the clowns, the obstinacy of the august; not a push or shove is given without reason and meaning. And when they see that there is nothing else for it, the three hurl themselves upon the clown in a frenzy of destructiveness and he is rent limb from limb. (In actual fact only his exquisite evening clothes were rent, but the effect is the same.)In these scenes and almost all their others, the Fratellini escape the reproach of being nothing but violent, while they hold every good element which violence in action can give them. To them are comparable the best (and only the best)of Eddie Cantor's scenes-when he applied for the job of policeman and when he was examined for the army-where there is a play of motive and a hidden logic. In their world everything must be sensible, and the most sensible thing in the world is to hit out. Behind them is a dual tradition-centuries of laughter and centuries of refining the instruments by which simple laughter can be produced. For it is opposed to their sense of fitness (as it is to ours) that the clown should create an effect of subtlety.' The kind of laughter they produce must involve the whole body, but not the mind. They have to be active all the time, so that you are dazzled and cannot think; and they must 'They nevertheless played exquisitely, I am told, in the Cocteau Milhaud Boeuf sur le Toit.


shake the solid ground under your feet, so that you may shake with laughter. What the critical observer discovers as method must reach the - actual average spectator only as effect. All of this the Fratellini have accomplished- "these three brothers who constitute one artist" are the complete exemplars of their art. Seeing them week, and nearly two dozen times sometimes twice an I find their actualities inexhaustible. Even in the descriptions noted above it can be seen that they have a definite sense of pace; their changes from fast to slow in the middle of an act, their variations from violence to trickery, their complete mastery of climax, their fertility of invention, are all elements of superiority. But they are only elements in a composition based on something fundamentally right-the knowledge that we have almost forgotten how to laugh in the actual world, and that to make us laugh again they must create a world of their own.