Quote Origin: The Essence of True Horror — the Clown, at Midnight

Robert Bloch? Lon Chaney? Stephen King? Ray Bradbury? Carlos Clarens? Eleanor Ringel? Apocryphal?

Question for Quote Investigator: A clown is usually a figure of humor or pathos, but a clown can also be frightening. If one appeared on your doorstep late at night it would be deeply unsettling. The following saying has been attributed to horror writer Robert Bloch, horror actor Lon Chaney, and horror author Stephen King. Here are five versions:

(1) The essence of true horror — the clown, at midnight. 
(2) There is nothing laughable about a clown in the moonlight.
(3) There’s nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight.
(4) No one loves a clown at midnight.
(5) A clown isn’t funny in the moonlight.

I have not seen any solid citations for this saying. Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from Quote Investigator: Robert Bloch was best known as the author of the 1959 book “Psycho” which was made into a chilling 1960 film by Alfred Hitchcock. In May 1962 the magazine “Famous Monsters of Filmland” published “The Clown At Midnight” by Robert Bloch. This was the second part of a two part article. Bloch wrote about his desire to visit the cinema “for shocks & shudders and the wholesome release of fears as old as all mankind”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1

Where our search will lead, I don’t know. It may be that we’ll discover the ultimate cinematic horror in a clown. Years ago, Lon Chaney said:

“A clown is funny in the circus ring, but what would be the normal reaction to opening a door at midnight and finding the same clown standing there in the moonlight?”

That, to me, is the essence of true horror — the clown, at midnight.

A note at the beginning of this 1962 article stated that the essay was reprinted from a 1960 issue of “Rogue”. QI has not directly examined this earlier article. The cover of the March 1960 issue of “Rogue” does list an article titled “The Clown at Midnight”.

QI has not yet found additional evidence supporting the attribution of the quotation to Lon Chaney. Chaney died in 1930. The final sentence with the word “essence” is a quotation directly from Bloch and not Chaney.

Additional details and citations are available in the article on the Medium platform which is located here.

Image Notes: Partially illuminated tree shown late at night from Aditya Chinchure at Unsplash. The image has been cropped.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to author Will Ludwigsen whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.

[1] 1962 May, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Volume 4, Number 2, The Clown at Midnight (Conclusion) by Robert Bloch, Note: First published in Rogue magazine in 1960, Start Page 8, Quote Page 32, Central Publications, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans)