Bicycle, miniature, theatrical prop, with canvas bag, metal / leather / rubber / canvas, made by Carbine Cycles, used by Fred Klimo the clown, Australia, 1936-1939
This miniature bicycle is considered to be of particular interest because of its use as a performance prop by Fred Klimo the clown, a successful performer in vaudeville and circus. It also has significance due to its local manufacture and its good original condition.
The trademark gimmick of 'Klimo the Krazy Klown' was his miniature bicycle, which he claimed to be the smallest rideable bike in the world. Fred's stature (he was six feet tall) made the sight of a large clown riding a tiny bicycle seem absurd, and he was billed as 'the big fool with the little bike'. Klimo's comic antics relied largely on his slapstick physical skills. His act was that of the 'knockabout' clown, who uses comic acrobatics in which slaps and falls predominate. He had another act in which he used chairs and tables as props. He would grapple with them, climb on them and, placing one leg on a table then the other, fall off by way of a backwards somersault.
Fred worked in schools where he charged 3d and gave half of the proceeds to the school. He worked for the Road Safety Council promoting road safety. He would allow children to ride the bicycle. Many adults remember seeing Klimo perform when they were children.
Klimo the clown also had a comical magic act in which he sometimes used his daughter Fay as a stage assistant. He would dress Fay in an old pair of men's trousers and address her as Horace. After each trick he would say 'Bow, Horace, bow', and she would bow to the audience in a shy, reluctant and unpolished manner. In one trick he would pour water into a bottle which would then vanish. When he said 'Bow, Horace, bow', Fay would bow and turn to leave the stage, revealing the missing bottle of water on the back of her coat, which was fitted with a concealed wire to hold the bottle. In this way the humour of Klimo's magic act lay in its inversion of the usual practice of magicians of having a glamorous female assistant and never revealing to the audience how a trick was done.
According to the donor, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery have in their collection objects relating to Fred Klimo and his wife Hylda Trevena. A website database search indicates that they have a photograph of the Trevena Sisters (Hylda's act) from around 1910. Fay Abbott was interviewed by Australian Archives in 1988 (not recorded on tape). There was a display at Parramatta around 1989 using material lent by her.
Bicycle and bag made by Carbine Cycles, 88-90 Wentworth Ave Sydney, 1936-1939.
Carbine Cycles was a Sydney bicycle manufacturer. The first Carbine bicycles appeared on the market in late 1895 and were made by T W Henderson of 40-42 Park Street, Sydney. (This firm was not connected with the Melbourne-made Carbine bicycles which was established in 1896.) Henderson named his bicycles after the winner of the first Melbourne Cup, Carbine. In 1910 he donated a prize for the Bathurst to Sydney bicycle race. Henderson sold the business to F D (Fred) Walcott, a former champion cyclist, in 1920. Walcott manufactured and sold Carbine bicycles from his premises at 88-90 Wentworth Ave Sydney. Carbine bicycles were used by serious racing cyclists in New South Wales and during the 1930s dominated the racing scene. In 1932 alone the first, second and third place getters in the New South Wales state titles all rode Carbine bicycles. F D Walcott of Carbine Cycles was also an agent for Malvern Star, prior to Malvern Star's setting up their own retail store in Sydney in 1934 or 1935. After 1935 Carbine bicycles had red livery with white decals and the horse's head emblem on the headstock. (The fact that the miniature bicycle has the horse's head emblem on its headstock allows us to date it post-1935.) F D Walcott closed down Carbine Cycles in 1968, selling the remaining stock to Jack Walsh.
A photograph that was originally published in 'The Sun' newspaper has been borrowed from the donor and copied, showing the head of Carbine Cycles presenting Fred Klimo with the miniature bicycle. This was Fred's second miniature stage bicycle. His first one was among the contents of Jack Hepher's Bundanoon bicycle shop sold at an auction at Mittagong by Pickles Auctions on 20 September 2003.
This miniature bicycle was used as a stage prop by Klimo the clown from the mid to late 1930s until his death in 1950.
Fred Klimo was born John Fredrick Uhrstrom in Sydney on 22 March 1887. At the age of 13 or 14 he obtained employment, without his mother's knowledge, in a circus that was operating at a park near Sydney's Central Station. Spotted there by a family friend, he was hauled from the circus and given a hiding by his mother, who wanted him to become a school teacher. However he ran away with the circus and became a clown, which he remained until he died.
Uhrstrom changed his name to Fred Klimo early in his life. His daughter Fay (the donor) bore the surname Klimo and only found out that this was an assumed name after having seven children.
Klimo performed with travelling circuses including Wirth's, Bullen's and Fox Brothers, and graduated to the vaudeville circuit. Vaudeville was a form of variety entertainment staged in theatres, mixing dance, sketches, novelty acts, spectacle and comedy, and was particularly popular in Australia. Sydney had a number of variety theatres including the Tivoli in Castlereagh St and the Palace. Vaudeville had a natural affinity with circus performers and by the 1920s many Australian circus acts had sought to maximise their income by alternating between circus and vaudeville engagements.
As well as performing at Sydney venues such as the Tivoli and the Capitol, Klimo worked with touring vaudeville companies, performing at theatres around the country (including Tasmania) and Perth's Ambassador Theatre. A photograph in the donor's possession indicates that Klimo toured New Zealand in 1904. One such touring theatrical company was Fullers, established by the New Zealand impresarios John and Benjamin Fuller to rival the Tivoli circuit. The Fullers had a string of theatres including Fuller's National Theatre in Castlereagh St Sydney. Another touring company that employed Klimo was Dixon Baker. According to his daughter (the donor) Klimo shared the bill with the vaudeville stars George Wallace and Roy Rene and 'was a top act in vaudeville'.
He formed a double act called Keldine and Klimo. Keldine did trick cycling on a special oversized bike, rode a unicycle and had a two-wheeler which he dismantled during the act. Klimo was the duo's comic focus and rode his miniature bicycle. Sometimes they were billed as Cyko and Byko. (This was because audiences were sometimes reluctant to pay to see acts they had seen before. If the acts had a different name, potential customers might think it was a different act.) Fred promoted shows, sometimes staged at Earl Park in Arncliffe, where the crowd sat in the grandstand. He also had an double act with his cousin Roy Clifton, billed as the Clifton Brothers. He worked as a Santa Claus at Farmer's department store and, between engagements, as a lift driver. One lift he drove was in the clock tower at Sydney Showground. He also worked as a spruiker at sideshows including Sydney's Royal Easter Show. He was employed as a clown at the opening of Sydney's Luna Park in October 1935.
Fred's wife Hylda was born Hilda Williams on 9 March 1887 at Goulburn. When she was young they lived in a tent by Cooks River at Earlwood. They built a home in Garners Ave Marrickville. She and her sister Mabel formed the Trevena Sisters, a singing/dancing vaudeville act. The sisters learnt to dance and joined a travelling show, and experienced the excitement of being 11 year-old girls travelling in a covered wagon. They eventually became well-known vaudeville entertainers.
Hylda and Fred married in 1909 at St Clements Church Marrickville. The donor was born Fay Trevena Klimo in 1922, one of six children. Her name contained the stage names of both parents. She married Ray 'Bud' Abbott. When Bullen's Circus first came to Sydney, Fred got Ray a job there as the drummer and panotroper (responsible for operating the panotrope, a sound system that provided mechanical music).
During World War I Fred Klimo served in the first AIF in France for four years. He was wounded by shrapnel and the scars remained visible on his chest. He injured his wrist in the war and for the rest of his life could not bend his hand, but he somehow still managed to ride his miniature bike.
During World War II he joined the militia after the Pacific war started, serving in Australia. He trained German Shepherd dogs and was camped for a while where Australia's Wonderland stands today. He told stories of guarding caves on the coastline with brooms. Fred Klimo died of a heart attack in 1950.
Fred had no motor car and always carried the miniature bicycle in its original 'Carbine Cycles' canvas bag. He used this bike in performances until he died, after which his widow Hylda took care of it. When she died the bicycle came into the possession of their daughter Mrs Fay Abbott, who donated to the Powerhouse Museum in November 2003.