Otto Griebling

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Otto Griebling
Otto Griebling 1947 cole bros circus.jpg
Born (1896-04-28)April 28, 1896
Koblenz, Germany
Died April 19, 1972(1972-04-19) (aged 75)
New York City
Cause of death stroke
Resting place Sarasota, Florida
Nationality German American
Occupation Circus clown
Spouse(s) Hanna (divorced 1948)

Otto Griebling (April 28, 1896 – April 19, 1972) was a German-born circus clown who performed for many years with the Cole Brothers and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circuses.[1][2] He was one of four clowns given the title Master Clown by Irvin Feld.

Early years[edit]

Otto Griebling was born April 28, 1896 in Koblenz, Germany. There he was introduced to the circus business, as well as ballet and opera.[3] Following the death of his father, his mother emigrated to the United States ahead of her children. His older brother Emil (b. 1894) worked his way overseas on a boat, eventually working on Wall Street. Young Otto worked his way to the United States by boat in 1911.[4]

After arriving in America, Griebling left home after reading an ad seeking apprentice bareback riders. He studied under and worked with Albert Hodgini in Baraboo, Wisconsin for several years, performing in Hodgini's act in the Sells Floto Circus and other circuses.[5]

Griebling changed his performance area in 1930 after suffering a serious fall. He developed a silent tramp clown character, an act that he would perform as a clown. He would walk around the circus holding a slab of ice asking for Miss Jones. When he didn't find her, he would come around again, this time the ice slab was smaller, finally he would find Miss jones but as he handed the ice to her, it would melt away right in her hand! His signing on as a clown with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus in 1932.[6] He was a clown with the Cole Brothers Circus from their first tour in 1935,[7] eventually becoming Cole Brothers' head clown before he joined the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1951.[8]

Griebling spent the rest of his circus career with Ringling, going on strike in 1956 with Emmett Kelly [9] and later teaching to the first few classes of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. He appeared as Jimmy Durante's stunt double in the 1962 film Jumbo. In 1970 Otto had his larynx removed due to cancer, but it did not affect his silent act.


Otto Griebling, Sr. was married twice. His first wife, Hanna, was a fellow circus performer;[10] they had three children together and divorced in 1948.[4] His second wife, Anna, relocated with him to Venice, Florida in 1961. She passed on in 2005.[11] They had the following children:[12][13]

  • Elsa Griebling Gable (?-1971)
  • Joan Griebling Simons
  • Otto Griebling, Jr.


Otto Griebling died on April 19, 1972 from a stroke following a brief illness for which he was hospitalized at Saint Clare's Hospital in New York City.[1][2] He was buried at Sarasota Memorial Park in Sarasota, Florida.


Griebling was inducted into the International Circus Hall of Fame in 1973.[14] and the International Clown Hall of Fame in 1989.[15]


  1. ^ a b William M. Freeman (April 20, 1972). "Otto Griebling, a Circus Clown For Over 50 Years, Dead at 75. Dour. Visaged Actor Charmed Ringling Audiences With His Precise Mimicry". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-04. Otto the Clown died yesterday in St. Clare's Hospital after a brief illness, he was 75 years old. 
  2. ^ a b "Clown Otto Griebling Dies". United Press International in Washington Post. 1972-04-21. p. 21. 
  3. ^ Hicks, Cordell (1958-10-23). "Ringling Bros. Clown Calls His Work an Art". Los Angeles Times. p. B9. 
  4. ^ a b Fields, Sidney (June 1951). "Diamond Ring for Otto Griebling". Hobby Bandwagon. Circus Historical Society. p. 7. Retrieved 2007-09-22. 
  5. ^ "A New Generation of Hodgini Circus Acts". Marina Hodgini. Archived from the original on December 7, 2004. Retrieved 2007-09-22. 
  6. ^ "Clyde Beatty Arrives With Circus Today". Washington Post. 1933-08-02. p. 7. 
  7. ^ "Cole Bros.-Clyde Beatty Show Rated 2nd Largest In World". The News-Sentinel. 1935-06-07.  Compiled in Tombaugh, Wendell C.; John B. Tombaugh (2001). "Fulton County, Indiana handbook : Cole Bros. Clyde Beatty Circus". Retrieved 2007-09-22. 
  8. ^ Maloy, Richard J. (1953-05-21). "Backstage, Circus Stars Live Like Folks in Town of 1400". Washington Post. p. 21. 
  9. ^ "Circus Continues. Ringmaster and 3 Clowns Are Still Absent Though Others Go to Work". New York Times. April 8, 1956. p. 52. Retrieved 2007-09-22. 
  10. ^ "Cold Opening, Fair Biz for Cole in Rochester". Billboard, 18 May 1940. Reprinted in Bradbury, Joseph T. (September–October 1967). "A History of the Cole Bros. Circus 1935-40: Part XIII, The 1940 Season". Bandwagon. Circus Historical Society. pp. 16–30. Retrieved 2007-09-22. 
  11. ^ "Obituaries". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 2005-04-03. p. B12. Anna Griebling, 92, formerly of Venice, died April 1, 2005, in Ocala. She was born January 4, 1913, in Chicago and came to Venice in 1961 from Chicago. She traveled the world with the circus with her late husband, Otto Griebling the Clown. 
  12. ^ Engle, William (April 5, 1937). "Cole Clown Gets Laughs From All Kids But Own". The News-Sentinel. 
  13. ^ Tombaugh, Wendell C.; John B. Tombaugh (2001). "Fulton County, Indiana handbook : Cole Bros. Clyde Beatty Circus". Retrieved 2007-09-22. 
  14. ^ "International Circus Hall of Fame Inductees". International Circus Hall of Fame. 2007-04-14. Retrieved 2007-09-22. 
  15. ^ "International Clown Hall of Fame Inductees for 1989". International Clown Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2007-07-30. Retrieved 2007-09-22. 

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