Of the many interesting things in their home, my favorite is a feather. It belonged to Monika’s father, Emmett Kelly, aka Weary Willie, the world’s most famous clown. Costumed as a sad, hapless, white-faced hobo, often with that feather on his nose, he stole the hearts of circus lovers around the world.
Whether he was using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut or trying to sweep up the light from the spotlight shining on him with his tattered broom, as one reviewer said, he was, “… the saddest and funniest man in the world …”
Monika’s mother, Evi Gebhardt was a member of a German acrobatic troupe “The Four Whirlwinds.” It was while she and Emmett Kelly were both performing with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey that they met.
After being married between performances at Madison Square Gardens, they had a reception in the center ring. She was 21 and he was 55.
Wherever Weary Willie performed, Evi went with him and directed the lighting. He would not begin until he saw her in the booth.
When possible, Monika and her sister, Stasia, went, too. So did Kitty-Mouse, her father’s beloved cat. Monika recalls when they were in airports waiting for their luggage and Kitty-Mouse’s cage to arrive that they usually heard the cat growling before they saw her.
Emmett Kelly had only one costume and carried it in a special suitcase. It also included his hat, feather and juggling balls specially made to fit his hands.
Once, it got separated from him and they had to go to their hotel without it. Soon, they heard excitement on the street. The suitcase had been found and was being delivered by police officers.
Stasia and Monika frequently changed schools. When Monika’s friends learned she was the daughter of Emmett Kelly, she got different reactions. “It was 50-50,” she said. Some were awed, while others asked, “Who’s that?”
She could have told about his Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II, starring in hit movies like “The Greatest Show on Earth,” acting in Broadway plays, having an opera role in “The Bartered Bride,” performing at Harrah’s in Reno or even being the mascot for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Monika remembers that Weary Willie never talked, laughed or smiled when he was in costume —with one exception. He had just learned his and Evi’s new baby was a girl. An AP reporter saw him, took a picture of the famous, sad-faced clown with a smile on his face and circulated it worldwide.
Remembering her childhood, she talks about family friends. Red Skelton was one of her dad’s best. Skelton wished he could go out without being recognized like Emmett Kelly could. Without his costume and makeup, Kelly went unnoticed, except in Sarasota where the family had their home.
Once, when her teacher asked students about the most exciting thing that had happened to them during summer break, Monika, about 12 at the time, told about Tom Smothers of the Smothers Brothers picking her up and swinging her around.
She did not tell about seeing Jack Benny in his underpants going into a room filled with showgirls. Her mother downplayed it, but Monika still thought there was something wrong about that.
The list of friends and associates goes on and on —Lawrence Welk, Liza Minelli, Jimmy Durante, Carol Channing, Rock Hudson, Danny Thomas, Liberace, Ronald Reagan, etc.
At his death, Emmett Kelly was working on two projects. One was with Tony Bennett for United Way. Another was a film being made about his life.
When Red Skelton learned of his lifelong friend’s death he said, “I guess those in Heaven needed a laugh.”
Monika remembers her dad had class and was down-to-earth. He was friendly, compassionate and a Christian. Sitting down to dinner with his family was very important to him.
At home in Sarasota, he liked to sit in the garage in a director’s chair Carol Burnett had given him and look out. He also did some gardening and enjoyed puttered around.
A talented actress, Monika trained in the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City and Royal Academy in London, before she began her 20 years in professional theatre.
She put her career aside after she met and married Rick Andrew. They now enjoy life together in their mountain top home.
Although she was in movies, on television, made commercials, modeled and was an actress on stage, in real life, like her dad, she is down-to-earth and friendly.
Cherokee’s mountains have many treasures. Monika Kelly
Andrew is one of them.
Marguerite Cline is former mayor of Waleska.