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By Alessandro Cervelatti — Translated and edited by Dominique Jando

Giacomo Cireni (1884-1956), better known as Giacomino, was one of the most celebrated clowns in Europe at the turn of the 20th century.

He was born in Milan, Italy, in March 1884, to a poor family. His father was perhaps a cobbler, who is said to have died at the age of 90. Other sources say that Giacomo was the son of a jockeyClassic equestrian act in which the participants ride standing in various attitudes on a galoping horse, perform various jumps while on the horse, and from the ground to the horse, and perform classic horse-vaulting exercises. from the Bocconi stables who had suffered from a bad fall in England during a race in 1890 and had died soon after. What is certain is that Giacomo's mother let him join, at a very young age, the troupe of Circo Pulaiot.

When he was eight years old, little Giacomo sold candies at the Balbo Theatre in Turin. At that time, circuses often performed in theaters, and such important companies as Gatti-Manetti, Beketov, and Guillaume showed at the Balbo. Their presence triggered in the child a desire to become an acrobat. He mentioned it to Rodolphe Guillaume, afraid as he was to bring the subject to Beketov, who intimidated him. A former clownGeneric term for all clowns and augustes. '''Specific:''' In Europe, the elegant, whiteface character who plays the role of the straight man to the Auguste in a clown team., Mathias Ivanovich Beketov, born in Orel (Russia) in 1867, had established a circus company in Italy, and he had noticed the young Giacomo, who trained in the ring with the acrobats. Like Guillaume, he suggested that the young boy join Circo Pulaiot.

Circo Pulaiot was a small company that played in the outskirts of big towns with a small troupe and no more than three or four horses. Giacomo spent four years with Pulaiot. There he learned bareback riding, tumbling, and vaulting on the "batoude(French) A long wooden tramplin that acrobats use to jump over other performers, horses, or elephants, notably in the charivari. Also called "grande batoude".," and became a complete circus artist.

Giacomino In Russia

After that, he worked for Circo Tavaglia, Circo Frediani, and Circo Vitali. The contortionist Hubert Stevens suggested that Giacomo go to Paris. There he was hired by the Cirque Medrano as a tumbler and an "augusteIn a classic European clown team, the comic, red-nosed character, as opposed to the elegant, whiteface Clown. de reprise(French) Short piece performed by clowns between acts during prop changes or equipment rigging. (See also: Carpet Clown)" (carpet clown(English) An Auguste performing short pieces between the acts during prop changes or equipment rigging. See also: Reprise Auguste.). But Giacomo's ambition was to become a clownGeneric term for all clowns and augustes. '''Specific:''' In Europe, the elegant, whiteface character who plays the role of the straight man to the Auguste in a clown team.. At the suggestion and with the help of the German acrobat Ernst Merkel, he left Medrano and traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia, to try his luck with Scipione Ciniselli, director of Circus Ciniselli. Ciniselli told him, "I'll hire you only in consideration of your long trip. You will be paid three rubles a day. But don't forget, your return trip will be at your own expense!" Giacomino improvised a parody of Greco-Roman wrestling, at the time very popular in Russia, where it was personified by such popular champions as Zbysko, Padubny, and Hackenschmidt. His act met with approval, and Ciniselli extended Giacomino's contract for another three months.

Next, Giacomino presented a trained pig named Ziloni, after the very unpopular governor of St. Petersburg, which allowed him to poke fun at the governor every night. It was a huge success, but someone "advised" Giaconimo to rename his pig, lest he wanted to taste the caress of the knout and end his life in Siberia. As can be expected, Giacomino took notice.

He had been with Ciniselli for three years when he decided to join the traveling circus of Erasm Andreievitch Strepetov, which was leaving for a Siberian tour. This was 1906. He then spent one season with Circus Dekanter and returned in 1908 to Circus Ciniselli, where one of the stars was the Russian clown Anatoly Durov. Giacomino and Durov became friends, and Giacomino also struck a friendship with the writers Leonid Andreyev and Aleksandr Kuprin. He helped Andreyev research his clown character for his novel He Who Get Slapped (1914). In the same period, he often went out with Kuprin, and time and again, after the show, he had to make the rounds of the city's taverns and look for the writer, whom he often found drunk under the table of some cabaret and had to take back home.

Giacomino's fame, meanwhile, grew steadily, and he eventually became the most popular clown in imperial Russia. His clown outfit was well known; he wore a small rimless round cap, "café au lait" in color, an oversized brown jacket with matching slacks, gigantic shoes, and a white shirt with a dotted tie. At that time of his life, he became friends with the Fratellini family, with Tanti Geretti, who became his partner, and with many other Western-European artists that circumstances had brought to Russia. He owned an apartment on the Neva Prospect in St. Petersburg, where he had a bank account, and when summer came and the Ciniselli building closed, he worked in Odessa, Helsingfors, Warsaw, and Berlin. His earnings were quite substantial.

In 1912, returning from an engagement with Ciniselli at Helsingfors (today Helsinki), he was asked by Prince Garsikov to give a performance for his guests at the Prince's palace. Giacomino's success was such that he was asked by Tsar Nicholas II to perform at the Court to entertain the Tsarevitch, who suffered from hemophilia and despondency. In the years that followed, Giacomino often returned to Tsarkoe Selo, the imperial residence outside St. Petersburg.

In 1913, under the Russian phonetic adaptation of his name,Zhakomino (Жакомино), he appeared on screen in three comedy shorts directed by V. Geigardt, Zhakomino gets severely punished (1913)— of which a second version, released in 1916, was called The punished lover, or Fooled by the driver—and Zhakomino, the enemy of hat pins (1913).

The End of the Russian Adventure

Then came World War I and, in 1917, the Soviet revolution. After the revolution, Giacomino found work again at Circus Ciniselli, now under the management of Ivan Petrovitch Riziov, a former roustabout with whom Giacomino didn't get along. He left the circus after a quarrel with his new director, and during the terrible winter of 1918, he crossed Siberia to reach Vladivostok, where he was able to sail to the United States. He went to Hollywood, where Charles Chaplin helped him find work in the movies. Giacomino was Eddy Polo's double in serials in which Polo actually had to play a clownGeneric term for all clowns and augustes. '''Specific:''' In Europe, the elegant, whiteface character who plays the role of the straight man to the Auguste in a clown team..

Back in Europe in 1920, he found an engagement with Circus Beketov and, the following year, with Circus Krone in Germany, where he performed for seven years. He retired from performing in 1945, after having married Katia Roncarolo, a young Italian woman from a respectable family of Vercelli, who presented him with a son, Michele, in 1947. In the last years of his life, he worked as a maitre d'hôtel at the Circolo della Stampa (Press Circle) in Milan. He died August 22, 1956 in the hospital of Niguarda, near Milan.

Giacomino continued to correspond with Kuprin for many years, and many circus chroniclers and historians spoke of him at length, whether they were his compatriots, like Franco Bernini, Tommaso Besozzi, Giovanno Cavicchioli and many others, or Russians, Such as Yury Dmitriev (The Russian Circus, Moscow, 1953) and Radumski (Memories of a Clown, Moscow, 1954).

Suggested Reading

  • Franco Bernini, Un clown alla corte dello Czar (Milano, Edizione Baiardo, 1929)

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