Performing Artist, Clown
1903 - 1992
Inducted in 2002
Lou Jacobs was one of the most famous professional clowns in the world, a favorite to American circus-lovers for 60 years. Touring with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus based in Sarasota, Jacobs touched the lives of both adults and children around the globe. He also became a founding professor at Clown College in Venice, Florida, where he helped create generations of future clowns.
Jacobs (born Jacob Ludwig in 1903) grew up in Bremerhaven, Germany where he was born into a show business family. His parents were a song-and-dance team, and by age 7 Jacobs and his older brother Karl were trying out their own acts as contortionists and actors playing bit parts in comic sketches. After seeing his first clown act at age 11, Jacobs knew what he wanted to do for a career in show business.
In the abysmal, post-World War I economy of Germany, in 1923 Jacobs followed his brother Karl to the U.S., where he had found work as a contortionist in New York. Jacobs got hired for a part in a Belgian acrobatic act and spent two years on the road. He soon met Michael Morris, a British contortionist, and the two formed their own comedy act that satirized circus performances. Morris, having a contract with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, lured Jacobs to join the circus in 1925 for what became the launch of a remarkable 66-year career.
The circus gave Jacobs all the opportunity and inspiration to pursue his dream of becoming a professional clown. By 1935 he had transformed himself through innovative make-up and outlandish, over-sized clothes into an irresistible attraction, and his knack for writing clever, funny gags had cemented his career in clowning.
Some of Jacobs comic sketches became circus-clown classics. His most famous innovation was the introduction of a fully functional, midget-sized car into his act. Seeing Jacobs stuff his 6-foot-1-inch frame into the tiny car and then zooming helter-skelter around the big top delighted audiences for more than three decades.
By the early 1950s, Jacobs was on his way to becoming a national celebrity. In 1952 he had a cameo role in Hollywood's Academy-award winning hit, The Greatest Show on Earth, starring Jimmy Stewart. The following year he married a former Ringling aerialist, Jean Rockwell, and started a family. In 1966, Jacobs' famous clown face appeared on a U.S. postage stamp, making him the first person to be so honored during their lifetime.
In 1968, Jacobs began turning his energies into a new career as a teacher, becoming one of the founding professors of Ringling's new Clown College. Jacobs excelled at teaching, which he did for 23 years, eagerly sharing with hundreds of students his wisdom and passion for using laughter to help mankind.
The last decade of Jacobs' long life brought a flood of awards and recognition. In 1987 when he received the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Lifetime Achievement Award. A year later, his star was unveiled in Sarasota's Circus Ring of Fame. In 1989, he was inducted into the Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, Indiana, along with such clown icons as Emmett Kelly Sr., Otto Griebling and Red Skelton. He died in 1992 in Sarasota.