Joe Jackson, Jr.

1912-1991

 

By Kim Lowe - USA

Copyright protected 2004 Circus Scandinavia

 

Joe and Margaret Jackson gave birth to their first child, Joe Jr., on May 30, 1912. They later had a daughter who died of pneumonia at the age of four. Joe grew up and became famous for doing the same act that his father developed; a comedy break-away bicycle act.

Joe was raised in Greenwood Lake, New York by his grandmother Maria Prols, who ran a boarding house for show folks. Joeís Grandmother was proudly known as Mother Rialto to the many show people who came to stay with her. Joe and his grandmother were great friends and she taught him to have respect for people.

Mrs. Margaret Jackson was a retired singer and ballet dancer when she met Joe Jackson, Sr. After she was married, she started singing again as a character singer. When possible, they would travel as a family. Sometimes she would travel with Joe Jr. and they would have fun playing fames. Joe was closer to his mother; they played tennis, baseball, catch and whatever game they would make up. Sometimes speaking their own language, his mother taught him the meaning of happiness and joy.

Summer was a busy time at Greenwood Lake as the show folks would take vacations there, many at his grandmotherís boarding house. Sometimes there would be as many as 30-40 different acts there at a time. Joe Jr. would watch and sometimes rehearse with the performers as they were developing new acts. This became the training ground for Joe Jr.

Like his father, Joe developed an interest for mechanics and attended aviation school in Kansas City, Missouri. After he had earned to fly, Joe learned the movie industries in Hollywood were hiring stunt men. He eventually performed stunts in and out of the planes.

He was also an athlete, as was expected from the style of his performance. Joe enjoyed all sports but he excelled in Hockey. He was offered a contract with the New York Rangers, but turned it down to pursue a career in entertainment.

It was about this time that Joe Sr. began teaching his son the break-away bicycle act he had developed. It did not matter if Joe Jr. was to eventually go on and do something else, he wanted him to learn the act. Joe Jr. learned it by watching, instead of being taught by, his father. Joe Sr. gave him advice on such things as timing, and how to judge the audience.

The first time Joe Jr. made it big in show business was due to a hoax played on him by his father. His father phoned his son at home and told Joe Jr. he needed him as soon as possible to perform a publicity stunt in his fatherís make-up. Arriving to his fatherís dressing room just in time, he put on the make-up for what he thought would be a publicity shoot. Instead, Joe Sr. informed his son he was on stage in just a few minutes and left the building. A very nervous Joe Jr. performed the act so well; the manager told him he had just finished his best performance, it was as if he was a youngster again. Joe Jr. performed the act again the next day.

Joe Jackson, Jr. performed what was initially his fatherís act all over the world. He became very popular, especially in Sweden. One of the original members of the Ice Capades, he met a skater named Ruth whom he later married.

He performed at New Yorkís Radio City Music Hall; La Scala in Berlin; Moulin Rouge in Paris and Tivoli Garden in Denmark. He was also seen in American theater, fairs and on many television shows, including Ed Sullivanís. His circus dates included runs with many Shrine Circuses and the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey show which toured Russia. He was a popular performer in Swedenís Circus Scott and spent summers with the show from 1966 to 1984.

Like his father, Joe Jr. performed for many European heads of state. He and his father made the audience guess who was who when they performed throughout Germany. He spent much of the war years entertaining troops. He once said he had performed around the world eight times.

Joe Jackson Jr. was a Silver Clown Award recipient at the Monte Carlo Circus Festival. He was also seen in Swedish movies. His bicycle and costume can be seen on display at the circus museum in Sweden. When he died in 1991, he left behind loving family and many adoring fans who will never forget the tramp clown who just could not resist sneaking a ride on a bicycle that always fell apart.

                                                                                                              Kim Lowe

 

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