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 Oleg Popov

Born:   July 31, 1930
Deceased:   November 2, 2016

famous Russian clown.


Oleg Konstantinovich Popov was born on July 31, 1930 in Vyrubovo Village of the Moscow Region. The family moved to Moscow when Oleg was about five years old.

Oleg did not manage to finish school, because his father died in 1943 and the boy had to go to work to provide for his family. He was employed as a mechanic’s apprentice at the printing plant of “Pravda” newspaper. At the same time he attended an evening school. The skills that Popov acquired with his first job turned useful for his further activities. Later, when a performer already, he made most of his stage props with his own hands.

After the war Oleg returned to school and started training in a gymnastics section. It was a sort of an acrobatic ensemble that performed at amateurs' nights; this was when Oleg first tasted what the stage success was like.

His teacher marked the young man’s gifts out and advised him to shift to children’s group of the circus school, which was located in the next street. There he studied under the famous circus teacher S. Sosnina. She found out that the 14 year-old Oleg was just as good at gymnastic apparatuses as students of the circus school.

Next year following Sosnina’s advice Oleg became a student of the circus school. For the first two years he engaged in circus acrobatics. Yet a happy coincidence one day changed his life. Once on vacation in the school’s summer camp the boy saw one of the students rehearsing a stunt on a loosely hanging rope. Popov liked it so much that started to spend all his free time on this apparatus.

When Popov returned to Moscow he could already walk freely on the rope. One of his teachers, the former acrobat S. Morozov noticed that the boy did not only easily walk on the rope, but also tried to perform something like a drama sketch on it. Morozov suggested making an original stunt, a comic equilibration on the loose rope. For a whole year they worked on it and after showing it on a students’ concert the feat was approved as Popov’s graduation work.

After graduation Popov was assigned to Tbilisi Circus. Yet, he worked there for two months only; after his participation in a young performers’ festival he was noticed by the popular clown Mikhail Rumyantsev (Karandash). Thus Oleg Popov became an assisting clown in Karandash’ show.

Under the guidance of Rumyantsev he mastered the profession of a circus clown. He was to fill in technical breaks, drawing viewers’ attention away from changing of props. Thus gradually the repertoire of his own started to develop. Together with Karandash the young clown toured almost all over the country.

A real exam he had to take in Saratov Circus. On the second day after his arrival the main clown got badly injured, and Oleg had to replace him for a whole month. He performed jugglery, rope walking, and tricks with various things. This was in Saratov where Popov first time appeared in his chequered peaked cap and bright-yellow wig, which later became his trademark.

After returning to Moscow he performed on the circus arena for some time, until in 1951 he was included in the group of Moscow performers touring around the country. Again he was to show his turn during the technical pauses.

In order not to be lost amid famous performers Popov contrived a peculiar turn, resorting to parody. When taking the stage during changing of props he imitated the performer who had just left and said unconventional comic gags. Thus gradually he accumulated separate turns and in three years, after returning to Moscow again, brought them together in a show.

His performance became so popular that was included in the musical movie Arena smelykh (Ring of Daring) (1953) made by the well-known film director Yuri Ozerov for advertising purposes before the international touring of the Soviet circus.

Popov toured a lot around Russia with various circus groups, and in 1957 went on a tour around Socialist countries. First the troupe performed in Berlin and then in Leipzig. From there Popov went to Warsaw to participate in the International Circus Festival, where he was two gold medals, as an arena clown and a loose-rope walking clown.

This was the beginning of Popov’s worldwide fame. Almost every year he toured to different countries with his performances. Everywhere he was a triumphant success. Oleg Popov toured in India and Indonesia, Canada and Cuba, the USA and Japan. When touring in Belgium he won White Elephant, a special prize that marks the best circus performer of the year. Many times he participated in varied circus art contests.

Once during his tour in Stuttgart the famous circus performer P. Bush asked him for help. Her circus, one of the oldest in Europe, was left without a premise, since its competitors ruined the tarpaulin circus tent. So Oleg Popov suggested one show to be given for the benefit of the German circus performers. When the tour organizers threatened they would rip up the contract, Popov said he would never come there again if they did not accept his offer. The show finally took place, with all the proceeds handed over to the German performers. Later those events made the plot for the popular Russian musical Tsirk zazhigaet ogni (The Circus Lights Up) (1972).

In the late 1970s Oleg Popov left the circus ring, but did not part with the circus. In 1991 after marrying a German woman as his second marriage he moved to Germany, where he organized his own circus program and has lived ever since.




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