Monday, May 11, 1931
He is a clown, but he never worked under a circus tent. (See footnote 1). He speaks his English with a pronounced accent, but he is an American citizen. (2) His features are as handsome as those of any reigning screen favorite, but he greets his public behind a grotesque mask of grease paint. His name is Jose Escobar, but the world knows him as Pepito.
Pepito is back at the Rivoli theater this week after nine years. When he came here the first time, it was his first American vaudeville engagement. He couldn’t even sneeze in English. With the help of stage hands, he built a comedy auto in the theater basement. He had to draw a picture of everything he wanted, from a bolt to a bumper. When they got the machine finished, it was too big to go through the basement door. Pepito laughed about the incident. He has Packard build him special midget cars for comedy work now (3).
Pepito, who has striking features, luxuriant wavy hair, low-sweeping and pointed sideburns, and the physique of a Praxyteles statue, started life as an artist in Barcelona, Spain. He was painting settings for a theater there when the idea of a novel clown makeup struck him. He tried it out, found it successful, and hasn’t varied it in 11 years. He played all over the world and in seven royal courts. He has done comedy bull-fighting, revue producing, and movie acting. But clowning is his forte and he’s going to stick to it. You may remember him in Greta Garbo’s last silent, ‘The Divine Woman.” He was romantic lead in that (4). Or you may remember him as a clown in Chaplin’s “The Circus.” (5)
He has a home In Hollywood (6). His hobby is deep-sea fishing from his 38-foot speed boat, “The Phantom.” He speaks, besides English and Spanish, Catalan, French, Italian, Portuguese and Arabic. His favorite fishing rod is made of one piece of whalebone. The tiny bicycle he rides in his act is worth $200. He is 34 years old and is not married. He is billed as a clown, but points out that he is technically an “eccentric,” as he employs none of the traditional technique and costume of the white-faced, skull-capped circus jester.
Pepito is personally interested in the recent revolution in Spain, though he, being an enthusiastic American, isn’t concerned about the outcome. He was a King Alfonso’s Teatro Real in Madrid for five years (7) and once toured southern Spain with a party including the queen, in the interest of a campaign for better milk for babies. He showed me a scarf pin that Alfonso gave him when he (Pepito, not the King) left Spain. It is a little crown, set with diamonds. He could use the royal coat of arms on his cards, a highly special privilege, if he cared to. But he doesn’t. Honors like that don’t mean anything, he says. I asked him how he thought the King felt about losing his kingdom. “Alfonso don’t care,” he replied. “E’s appy.”
A member of Pepito’s company came bolting in and interrupted this discussion of international politics to tell Pepito he was on next and the act ahead was half over. He didn’t get excited, but got busy and put on that complicated makeup and costume in seven minutes, with time to spare.
Pepito is a fascinating character, but the more I research his life, the easier it is for me to pinpoint his boasts and exaggerations in the name of ‘good publicity.’ Hence the following footnotes.
- (1) Pepito WAS in a circus, in Cuba in 1917, as revealed in Tiny Kline’s autobiography.
- (2) He applied for naturalization in 1930
- (3) My research shows that the car was built by Jack Landon, not by Packard, and that Pepito did not custom-order it, he bought it ‘used’ at a car lot in Los Angeles.
- (4) Pepito did work at MGM for a while, and may have been in the cast or crew of “The Divine Woman,” but according to the Internet Movie Database, he was NOT one of the two romantic leads who vie for Garbo’s affections.
- (5) Pepito was NOT in Charlie Chaplin’s film “The Circus.” He was in the live ballyhoo stage show which preceded each showing of “The Circus” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, in 1928.
- (6) His home was a modest cottage in the Athens District of middle-class South-Central Los Angeles.
- (7) Conflicting reports state that for five years he was either with the Teatro Real, or with the Circo Parish, both of which were located in Madrid.
Thursday, January 5, 2012 – 02:45 AM
One of the contracts I own from the Pepito estate show he was performing in Ohio during this time. He played at the 105th Street Theatre in Cleveland the week of April 25th, at the RKO Palace in Akron the week of May 2nd, and at the RKO Rivoli in Toledo the week of May 9th. The cast included Pepito, Juanita, and Bombo. The article mentions he was there 9 years ago (1922) and it was his first engagement. Was this true or an outright lie or exaggeration? Did he really come over to Ohio from Spain?
Saturday, January 14, 2012 – 04:53 PM
Mike, I think the author might have meant to use the term “first American tour”, not engagement. Yes, 1922 was the year Pepito emigrated from Veracruz, Mexico to New York City. Prior to that, he spent a few years in a circus in Cuba, and originally he was a caricature artist, cabaret performer and clown from Spain.