The Unknown Clown

I recently received via email this article– an obit for Alfred Cunard III, a South Jersey clown. (via The Courier Post Online) I never met him. But his obit got me to thinking.

Alfred Cunard III was a guy who performed for 45 years. It really was a way of life for him, and his family followed him into the business. He never worked with a circus or did television or print. He mostly seems to have worked hospitals, birthday parties, and parades. He wasn’t famous or well known (except of course in his area, and to his friends and family.)

Not to be sentimental about it, but he brought joy and laughter to a lot of people over 45 years.

I’m sure there are thousands of guys just like him, toiling in near anonymity, working hard at their craft, and having fun while doing it, and who won’t be rewarded with fame and fortune, but rather rely on the shared laughter and good feeling of the work itself to be its own reward.
Some of them toil in obscurity for good reason (not funny, not ambitious enough, not working at it, etc) but some of them, like Alfred, just didn’t get on the radar.

I raise a toast to you Alfred, and all those guys lost to history, who brought laughter to their audiences but weren’t rewarded with fame or fortune or a place in the International Clown Hall of Fame.

To The Unknown Clown.

Here’s the article:
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Clown passed craft to family
By WILFORD S. SHAMLIN
Courier-Post Staff
DEPTFORD

Alfred M. Cunard III appeared in clown face for his obituary, and his family says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“That was so him,” says his widow, Linda, of Deptford. “He loved clowning. He just loved it. He did it for 45 years and we saw that picture sitting there and we all agreed that’s the picture we should use. There was no question.”

Cunard, who spawned two generations of clowning enthusiasts, succumbed to pancreatic cancer last month at 70. His family will honor Cunard’s last wish and perform at one of his favorite events, the Fourth of July parade in Pitman. For years, he entertained the parade crowd as a hobo clown on a scooter. Cunard also visited area nursing homes and hospitals.

“He loved being with people, especially if there were special needs,” Linda Cunard says. “He loved to be able to brighten their day.”

Alfred Cunard was a member of the Almonesson Lake Fire Company’s comic unit when he made his debut as a clown in the Atlantic City Fireman’s Parade in the early 1960s.

“From there, somebody asked him if he wanted some makeup,” his widow says. “A friend asked him to come entertain the kids at his son’s birthday party. He bought magic tricks.”

Alfred Cunard was a natural. He would hone the art of comedy by traveling across the country to clowning conventions with his wife and children. And humor naturally worked its way into his acts, his family recalls.

Once, Alfred Cunard forgot to remove the loose change from his pockets before walking on his hands, then made it an interactive part of his show. Audiences of kids eagerly scrambled to pick up the coins.

Initially, he kept silent during his shows, his wife says. As he started appearing in more baby parades and birthday parties, he began conversing with his audience. And his makeup took on a more professional look.

Like every good clown, Alfred Cunard had a bag of tricks: several suitcases, actually. The words “pride and joy” were written on one case, and he would coyly ask his audience: “Do you want to see my pride and joy?” Out would come bottles of Pride furniture polish and Joy dish detergent.

“People always remember that one,” Linda Cunard says.

Another suitcase was labeled “the funniest person in the world.” Curious onlookers would peer inside and see their reflections in a mirror.

The Cunards often brought their three sons and daughter to the Pitman parades with them. And they always wore matching outfits Linda Cunard had designed and sewed. Alfred Cunard would walk the parade route and his wife and children — first one, then two, then three — would walk the sideline.

The family’s first clown noses were actually pingpong balls spray-painted red, recalls Cunard’s daughter, Susan Coppola. But sometimes, the adhesive wouldn’t hold their noses in place.

“Down the road it would bounce and we would go chasing after our noses,” says the Elk resident. “It was a whole clown disaster.”

Alfred Cunard was the son of a New Jersey Turnpike maintenance superviser and homemaker mother who volunteered for the local school board and various PTAs.

“He grew up in a home where it was normal to volunteer,” Linda Cunard says. “He was always willing to help anybody. If you needed a ride, anything — he’d be there to help.”

Alfred Cunard was a proud, lifelong resident of the Almonesson section of Deptford. He lived on Cunard Avenue, a residential street named after his family, whose roots go back more than 150 years. He was also a volunteer fireman for 54 years and a lifeguard in Stone Harbor for 12 years.

Linda Cunard says she will remember her husband as a “good father, good grandfather. He loved his family. He bragged about his family all the time to anybody who would listen.”

Coppola credits her father for her own part-time clowning career. Three of her three children are all in the clowning business. Coppola’s brother, Mark, has two sons interested in clowning, and her other brother Andy’s two boys accompany the family when they perform.

For years, anyone who wanted to clown was welcome in the Cunard camp, Coppola recalls.

“I don’t think we ever turned anybody down. We always had enough costumes for anybody who wanted to go into the parade.”

Chuck Sidlow, a Deptford Township High School graduate who performed with the Cunards, eventually became a clown with Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus.

“He was always proud that he clowned with us first,” Coppola adds.

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READ THE ARTICLE ONLINE

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