10 Amazing Circus Families

The Flying Nelsons
Loretta Young was only 14 when she played a circus performer in 'Laugh, Clown, Laugh.' Hilda Nelson was her double on the tightrope. John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Nelson is not this famous circus family's real surname. It's Hobson. But when actor Robert Hobson and his family left England for the United States in 1868 and formed a family acrobatic act, Hobson dubbed it Professor Nelson and Sons as an homage to his former stage partner. The troupe expanded over time, incorporating other performers in addition to family members. Soon they were called The Great Nelson Family, and then The Flying Nelsons, due to their incredible acrobatic skills [source: Mount Clemens Public Library].

Not surprisingly given their talents, the family starred in circuses around the globe and in every major American circus, including the Cole Brothers and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Hollywood soon came calling. In 1928, Hobson's granddaughter, Hilda, was tapped to teach actor Lon Chaney to walk the wire in "Laugh, Clown, Laugh"; in the same film, she was Loretta Young's double on the wire. The entire troupe also appeared in the 1928 comedy "Circus Rookies." The Nelson-Hobsons largely all retired by 1935, although some descendants continued to perform individually with various circuses for decades [sources: IMDB, Mount Clemens Public Library].