Grock was born in Loveresse, a village in the Bernese Jura in the Canton of Bern. He started early as a performer, learning musicianship and acrobatic skills from his father. When a caravan of Roma passed through, he joined them, learning more instruments and gaining confidence with them. In 1894, he debuted with
Fiame Wetzel's traveling circus. He became a clown, working first with Brick in 1903, adopting the name "Grock", and then the famous clown Antonet (Umberto Guillaum). This second act was developed with the aim of making the transition from circus to music hall stages, which were more lucrative. While not initially successful, Antonet and Grock did manage to secure a London engagement in 1911. Refining their performances according to audience response, Grock came to dominate the act, and they eventually split up.
Career and later life
Grock with wife, Berlin 1930
By 1913, Grock's fame had spread, his act having developed into the mixture of pantomime and musical blunders for which he is now remembered. With the outbreak of World War I, he made Britain his base, remaining there until 1924, when he returned to continental Europe. He performed throughout Europe and in the United States, commanding ever higher fees, and his continuing success enabled him to establish his own circus in 1951, with which he toured until his final performance in Hamburg on October 30, 1954.
He retired to the Villa Bianca (now named "Villa Grock"), a 50-room house he had had built in the 1920s in Imperia, Italy, where he died in 1959.
Some of Grock's performances have been preserved on film. He made the 1927 silent movie What For?, and French and German language versions of Grock in 1931. A biopic, Au revoir, M. Grock (1950), featured Grock as himself, with Adrien Osperi and Ted Rémy playing Grock as a boy and young man, respectively.
In retirement, he made some appearances on Italian television. He also wrote several books, including an autobiography.