Of all the American clowns, few figures are as beloved and instantly recognizable as Emmett Kelly Jr. His poignant portrayal of “Weary Willie,” a down-on-his-luck hobo clown, captured the hearts of audiences worldwide and solidified his place in circus history. This feature delves into the biography and history of Emmett Kelly Jr., including the date of his passing, before exploring the vibrant world of Emmett Kelly collectibles, a testament to the lasting legacy of the world’s most collectible clown.
Early Life and Career
Born on December 13, 1923, in Dyersburg, Tennessee, Emmett Kelly Jr. was destined to enter the world of circus entertainment. His father, Emmett Kelly Sr., was the original “Weary Willie,” a character that would become a cornerstone of American clown lore. Despite initially pursuing a career outside the circus, the lure of performance and his family’s legacy eventually drew Kelly Jr. back to the big top.
Kelly Jr. reimagined his father’s creation, bringing to life his version of “Weary Willie” with a depth of emotion and humanity that resonated with audiences, particularly in the post-Depression era. His “Weary Willie” was a departure from the typical clown persona, offering a silent, sorrowful character that reflected the struggles of the everyday person, making him a beloved figure across the globe.
Kelly Jr.’s career spanned several decades, featuring performances with major circuses, including the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, as well as appearances on television and in films. He became an international symbol of resilience and empathy, celebrated for his unique contribution to the art of clowning. Emmett Kelly Jr. passed away on November 29, 2006, at the age of 82, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire and touch the hearts of many.
Legacy and Emmett Kelly Collectibles
The impact of Emmett Kelly Jr. on circus performance and the art of clowning is profound. His legacy is preserved not only through the memories of his performances but also through a diverse array of collectibles that celebrate his life and character. A line of ceramic figurines was developed with Flambro and through a well-planned merchandising program, the Emmett Kelly, Jr. figurine collection, at its height of popularity, became the third best seller in America according to Giftware News. At one point there was a Emmett Kelly, Jr Collectors Club e-club which had over 4,000 members.
Other companies producing merchandise and collectibles include Bachman Trains, ESCO, and figurines by sculptor Ron Lee.
Types of Collectibles
- Figurines: Highly sought after, these detailed pieces depict “Weary Willie” in various poses, capturing the essence of Kelly’s character with remarkable accuracy.
- Plates and Artwork: Collectors also treasure commemorative plates and artwork, which often feature scenes from Kelly’s performances or stylized portraits of the clown.
- Memorabilia: A broad array of memorabilia, including posters, photographs, and programs from Kelly’s performances, offers insight into his historical significance.
- Limited Edition Items: Items such as signed merchandise and performance-used props are especially valued for their rarity and personal connection to Kelly.
Emmett Kelly Jr. transcended the role of a clown to become an enduring symbol of the human spirit. His “Weary Willie” character continues to inspire resilience and empathy, touching audiences even years after his passing. The world of Emmett Kelly collectibles allows fans and collectors to keep his memory alive, celebrating the man who brought so much joy and reflection to the world of circus entertainment. Through figurines, artwork, and cherished memorabilia, the spirit of Emmett Kelly Jr. lives on, cementing his status as the world’s most collectible clown.