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September 25: Coco the Clown

Lawrence Bush
September 24, 2016
Nicolai Poliakoff, the star clown of the Bertram Mills Circus from 1947-1967, died at 73 on this date in 1974. Poliakoff was born in Latvia to a theatrical family and began busking at the age of 5. At 8, he ran away and joined the circus, travelling 300 miles by train to Vitebsk, where he presented himself as an orphan to a circus owner and landed an apprenticeship with Vitaly Lazarenko,a clown and acrobat who became a major Soviet circus star. Poliakoff also worked for four years under Rudolfo Truzzi, who nicknamed him “Koshka” (cat in Russian), which evolved to Coco during the 1920s and '30s in the United Kingdom. Coco is in the Guinness Book of Records for having the largest clown boots (size 58 1/2). The character was a fool who received a lot of pies in the face. Poliakoff's son Michael inherited the character and his name — and also designed Ronald McDonald. To see him getting into makeup, look below. "His name became synonymous with that of the Bertram Mills circus and he quickly became its biggest star attraction in a branch of the entertainment industry that did not normally promote individuals as featured artistes.”--Ian Hendry

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.