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April 28, 2013

Whimsical Walker (1850/51-1934), English clown
(photo: unknown, probably 1915/16)

‘Dear Girls and Boys –
‘How many of you have never seen a pantomime? Not many, I imagine, for the funny business between clown and pantaloon with which all proper pantomimes still conclude has always strongly appealed to the hearts of the children. I wonder if any of you have seen Whimsical Walker, the world’s most famous living clown. For some years he has been appearing regularly in the pantomime at Drury Lane Theatre, and because he is also appearing in the Trans-Atlantic British-made film comedies I have published his portrait, and feel sure a few facts about his adventurous career will interest you.
‘Mr. Walker was born at sea on July 5th, 1854, and first appeared before the public at Burnley as a tiny clown who emerged from a carpet bag carried by another member of the company. In 1872 he was engaged for the famous Sanger’s Circus in Westminster Bridge Road, London (as a boy “Uncle Tim” saw and enjoyed many shows there), where a stage performance was given in addition to the circus. Mr. Walker admits that his stage efforts were so bad that he was sacked every night, but always re-engaged because of his skill in the circus. In 1874, and important period in his career, he was engaged by Charles Hengler to appear at his circus in London, where he was christened “Whimsical Walker,” and for fourteen winter seasons he appeared there regularly. (“Uncle Tim” also enjoyed himself on rare occasions at Hengler’s, which stood on the site of the present Palladium.) In America Mr. Walker appeared with other circuses, including the great Barnum and Bailey shows, and was also commissioned to purchase the famous elephant Jumbo from the Zoo at a cost of £1,000.
‘Jumbo was an enormous success in America, many single day’s takings amounting to as much as £3,000. The cast was poured into great wooden casks and sent to a bank in New York.
‘In 1882 Whimsical Walker opened a theatre of his own in new York with a pantomime called Three Wishes. Its success brought temporary misfortune, for the top gallery dropped a bit when filled with people, a stampede followed, and actions for damages reduced poor Mr. Walker to the clothes he wore and a few dollars. He had to borrow money to return to Liverpool, where he was again engaged by Mr. Hengler.
‘On boxing Day, 1882, feeling in need of a refresher, Whimsical Walker chartered a horse at 7 a.m., and started off for a gallop. Before he had travelled far, however, the horse stumbled and fell, and the clown sustained a fractured leg, which laid him up for five months.
‘In a singularly adventurous career, this is the only serious accident he has ever suffered.
‘On February 20th, 1886, Whimsical Walker was honoured by a Command Performance to appear with his singing donkey before her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle. In commemoration of this visit the queen presented Mr. Walker with the beautiful diamond tie-pin which he is wearing in the [above] photograph.
‘In 1904 the great clown embarked for Australia for a long tour there, but on landing at Melbourne he was cabled for by Mr. Arthur Collins, of Drury Lane Theatre, and he returned immediately. The fact is that Whimsical Walker had been appearing every season in the Drury Lane harlequnade since 1890, and the reason for his sudden recall was that, owing to the death of Herbert Campbell, and the absence of Dan Leno from the cast, Mr. Collins felt that he could not possibly do without the popular clown as well.
‘I hope these details have not bored you. The subject fascinates me. I should like to write a big book about Mr. Walker’s life. Oh, I’ve forgotten to tell you that the first of these films in which he is now appearing on the screen is called The Knut and the Colonel, so mind you look out for it.’
(Uncle Tim, ‘The Young Picturegoer,’ Pictures and the Picturegoer, London, weed ending Saturday, 12 February 1916, pp. 463 and 464)

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