By Gwen Starr, The Register
Sunday, October 3, 1965
Pepito, the world famous Spanish clown who reigned as “King of Playmates” in vaudeville for more than 20 years and who has devoted his life to entertaining children, again shares billing with his talented wife Joanne. Only now, the marquee is atop an old Santa Ana mansion which serves as the couple’s Academy of Theatrical Arts.
Having appeared in every phase of show business, the artists came to Santa Ana and opened their studio in 1949. Since then, they have assisted hundreds of young people in their theatrical careers with dancing, singing and drama.
Pepito was born in Barcelona, Spain, as Jose Escobar. He was an artist and sculptor and started making grotesque masks and heads for musical comedy acts and other clowns.
The freakish faces he created out of his own imagination. He designed costumes and makeup (which have since been copied by clowns the past two decades), and eventually caught the “footlight fever” himself.
The originality of his first clowning caught the fancy of the audiences that saw him in those early days, and he soon worked up a repertory of funny gimmicks that carried him to Madrid.
Pepito became a court jester for the royal family for five years during King Alfonso’s reign. He was presented a diamond and pearl stickpin in the form of a crown by the Queen of Spain.
When Pepito came to the United States, he was signed with MGM where he had a brief movie career. He had the distinction of being selected by Charlie Chaplin to play the clown magician in Chaplin’s picture “The Circus,” his only clown part in films.
Pepito and Joanne, (who joined his act when she was 15 and married him at 17) have toured across the United States numerous times and have been as far as Australia. Joanne was billed as Juanita but she was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and began preparing for a career at the age of four. Her studies included ballet, music, drama and the allied arts. She studied piano at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and under the guidance of her father, a well-known orchestra leader, she made her musical debut wen she was five.
After graduating from the Milwaukee University School, she furthered he studies in ballet under such great masters as Val Vestoff in New York and the late Theodor Kosloff.
At the age of 15 she was a featured performer at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood where Pepito was starred. At the close of the 18 week engagement, Pepito rearranged his famous repertoire to include her as the Ballerina Doll and together along with her mother, they went on tour.
The partnership developed into a romance and soon the Clown and Ballerina Doll were married. Continuing her studies of the various theatrical arts, Joanne soon became a featured solo dancer and choreographer at the Roxy Theater in New York and later at the famed Chicago Theater.
The couple’s presentation was directed especially to children, and through this association with young people, Joanne credits her ability to reach children “through the medium of entertainment.”
“I always consider my classes my audience, and by applying my knowledge of showmanship in stressing a point, I never allow myself to lose my audience.”
Dedicating her life to the development of talent and passing on her vast knowledge of the dance, Joanne feels that age should not be a barrier. Many adults who feel they have been deprived the privilege of a dance education in their childhood are now students of Joanne’s either for a career, exercise, or just for developing poise and confidence.
Together the couple have appeared in some of the most famous theaters in America, the Hippodrome, The Palace, Rialto, Orpheum, Majestic, Grauman’s, Loew’s State, and many others. Pepito has the honor of being listed among the four distinct clowns in America. He has thrilled thousands in movies, on stage, and on television, but has never appeared in a circus.
Now in professional retirement, Pepito is back to creating. In his workshop behind the studio — he designs and constructs sets, props, and puppets, for productions presented by Joanne’s students. He works up pantomime and for any one interested in learning the art.
Joanne has classes every day for tiny tots to housewives. She presents programs twice a year at the Balboa Bay Club, in addition to special productions and summer patio programs.
In his spare time, Pepito is usually fishing on his cruiser with his friends Desi Arnaz and Bing Crosby. His love of boating and fishing is what brought him and Joanne to Orange County many years ago for vacations, which eventually led to their establishing a residence here.
Their studio is housed in the old George W. Ford home at 15th and Ross Streets which was built in 1892. Pepito has remodeled and beautifully decorated the living quarters in French provincial.
For many years the couple have produced the musical “Hansel and Gretel” with the Orange County Symphony. Pepito played the witch in addition to designing the sets. He has never accepted a fee for his set, performance, time or work. More than 18,000 school children have enjoyed the production. Both feel it is their contribution to the community and both, so used to the happy faces of the children, are rewarded by the genuine laughter and delight of their audience.
This story originally appeared in the Santa Ana Register,
now known as the Orange County Register,
Sunday, October 3, 1965
Pages B13, B14, and B20.
Sunday, October 17, 2010 – 01:20 PM
It’s too bad that they can’t know how very devoted you are to them . . . and the size of their fan base. They obviously meant very, very much to you.