Photograph: Pepito as Mr. Hermhan the Clown, Circo Parish, Madrid, Spain (1916)

This rare photo of Pepito, the Spanish Clown, is from the personal collection of his great-nephew, Raymond Escobar.  It is the earliest known photograph of Pepito, whose real name was Jose Escobar Perez.  Pepito was born in Barcelona, Spain in 1890, and as a young man he became an entertainer.  He came to the United States in 1922 and was an immediate sensation on the B.F. Keith’s vaudeville circuit, and later the Orpheum vaudeville circuit.

But in his earlier career years in Spain, before he was known as Pepito the Spanish Clown, he had another clown persona, as seen in the picture above.  In his own handwriting, he labeled the front of the card “Mr. Hermhan.”  This clown outfit, with the sailor’s shirt and the tattered clothes, was a vagabond character.  The cane is reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character.  At this time, Spain was going through economic turmoil, and hobos were considered objects of humor.  

Raymond Escobar, who speaks French and Spanish, has been using Google Translate as a tool to translate his emails from French to English before he sends them to me, bless his heart.  What follows is text from two of his letters to me, recombined into one essay.  I have made only small changes to the grammar, and added small details for clarification, and have indicated these changes by using [brackets].

Dear Melani,

My mother sent me the photo that José Escobar Perez gave my grandfather Rafael Escobar in 1916.   I will answer your questions. On the picture at the bottom, there is an inscription in black ink, “Mr. Hermhan.”  This may be Jose’s clown name [in Spain].  The name “Mr. Hermhan” is certainly “Sir my brother” in Spanish patois.  Jose has certainly [later] taken the name of Pepito in his shows because it speaks more to the U.S.A.

On the back of the photo, it says “Dedicated to my beloved brother Rafael as evidence of the great love of his brother Pepe.  Baza [Spain], 12 January 1916.

I searched the Internet for the city of Baza in Spain, it is 200 km from the city of Alicante. Jose and my grandfather Rafael should be closely linked because my grandfather lived in Alicante before leaving Spain and my father was born in Villena, a town near Alicante. According to my mother, my grandfather and his brother went to the gym and practiced Greco Roman fight. They met in places of professional sports circus and can be then practice the profession of clowns.

Why Jose has a tramp costume? At that time in Spain, people were very poor. Humor is easier on the misery of others. My grandfather gave me a phrase in Spanish when I was small:  “Area li que no porta focol.”   This meant: “You can hit him because he does not have nice clothes.”  Charlie Chaplin began to be famous by playing a poor immigrant in his films.

Each country has its own rules to define its values. The vaudeville is a light comedy drama in France. The best of vaudeville world for me is “The Magic Flute” by Mozart. This opera was written for the people and it should make people laugh and not the government.

There was a large space [in social status] between the family of [Rafael’s and Jose’s father] Segondo Escobar: Los señors, the children of these families, señioritos, and the rest of the population who were very poor. This prompted the civil war in 1934 in Spain.  Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunnuel made a film on the terrible poverty in 1933 Spain called “Tierra Sin Pan.”

My grandfather Rafael Escobar, engraver in the steel trade, certainly learned with [famous artist and possible relative] Ramon Borrell in Barcelona, but he spent too much time in cabarets in Spain. He was also a jeweler.  Like many Spaniards, he left Spain in 1930 for economic reasons, like the Americans that John Steinbeck had described in “The Grapes of Wrath.”  At that time, it was the same conditions everywhere, but I feel that this time has come again in the USA and also in France: the economic crisis.

My father Ramon Escobar and my Uncle Antonio were jewelers in Algiers, Algeria in the workshop of [my grandfather] Rafael Escobar. The drama of the Algerian war forced us to flee in 1962 for France, and my brother and I have followed the same profession by obligation because once again the family was ruined.  I was 17 at the time. 

This [worked out well in the end] because my brother, my wife and I had a famous jewelry workshop in Paris for 40 years.  For my part, I worked for French museums [repairing and restoring] the jewels in the family of Emperor Napoleon 1st and Napoleon III. 

When I was a little child, I remember that my grandfather had my face painted like a clown with all colors. My father when I was a child, gave solo clown performances during the holiday new year season at a banquet in a cabaret.  That amused many people, they laughed and clapped hard. We were often invited my family to be the father clown but I admit, I was a little boy and I was ashamed of my father at that time.  In my turn, I laugh a lot people in society and it comes naturally, and that is why I have many friends and I continue to make others laugh.

I phoned my cousin in Bretagne, she has no records on my grandfather, or memories of the family. It must be said that the family of Rafael Escobar was dispersed by the Algerian war and that everyone has lived his life on his side. I remember seeing in Algeria in 1960, a cousin from France, he was in the military, he was named Eladio, but I can not tell you if he was the son of a brother or a sister of my grandfather.  I will work on the [Escobar family tree] in France and [will also investigate the Escobar family line] near Barcelona.

Of course you can talk on your site of my research on my family because I am sure that like myself, Escobars in the world expect [hope] also to be found.

I hope that we stay in touch and I will give you information about my research.  I am sure we will grow [in our mutual investigations] because your website will bring some of the answers to our questions. There are many people who consult the Web, that’s how I met you. I love the Web and I develop for friends’ websites.  I have other passions, of which I will speak later.  For now, we look at Pepito the Spanish Clown. 

I am very happy to have sent this picture. Somewhere, this picture was waiting to meet the family Escobar. I am sure it is the starting point for a wonderful story.

Very friendly,

Raymond Escobar

On the back of the photo postcard, Jose Escobar Perez wrote “Dedicated to my beloved brother Rafael as evidence of the great love of his brother, Pepe”  Baza [Spain], 12 January 1916.

Raymond Escobar is seeking any information about the history and family tree of the family Escobar in Spain, Algeria and France.  Please email Raymond Escobar at artbijou@wanadoo.fr if you can be of assistance.

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