Last Friday, a man who became nationally famous at the Big Apple Circus for playing “Grandma the Clown” resigned following his confession that he coerced a 16-year-old teenage performer at the circus to strip and pose naked for pornographic pictures in 2004.
Barry Lubin, 64, who played the Grandma character for more than 25 years, resigned immediately after former acrobat Zoe Dunne contacted the circus to make her accusation. He released a statement reading, “The allegations are true. What I did was wrong, and I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Dunne, 29, had initially informed the circus about Lubin’s actions in 2012, but a circus official said there was nothing the circus could do because Lubin had recently left its employ. But three months ago, Dunne, who is married and pursuing a doctorate in school psychology in Seattle, according to The New York Times, learned on Facebook that Lubin had rejoined the circus.
On Monday, she recalled, “I saw this ad that said ‘Grandma is back!’ and I almost threw up on the bus.”
Dunne stated that her first contact with Lubin occurred at Circus Smirkus, a children’s circus camp in Vermont. She said that in 2004, when her name was Zoey Phillips, Lubin contacted her and offered her a job with Big Apple’s mini-troupe. She said, “All I can remember is feeling that it was like this great mentorship opportunity.”
But Lubin then informed her he had a job in which she would be a model for his personal photography business. Arriving at Lincoln Center, she went to his trailer; he told her the photos were for a Japanese paint-on tattoo company.
The Times reports that Lubin first instructed her to lie on a bed and pretend to be asleep. Then he allegedly showed her photos of Ashton Kutcher, her favorite actor, urging her to feel the thrill she would have if she were going on a date with him.
Then things got really nasty.
Lubin allegedly instructed her to doff her underwear; she refused. He reportedly switched gears, telling her to change into a thong, spread her legs apart, then hold a paintbrush up to her pelvis. Lubin allegedly told Dunne that for the tattoo company to procure the best angle and show the most skin, she needed to pull her underwear to the side, which she did.
Dunne reported that Lubin paid her $100 and warned her to remain silent, then scheduled a second photo session, but the evening before it was to be held, Dunne said, she threw up and informed him she wasn’t coming. But he pushed, saying his clients would be angry without getting a second set of photos soon enough.
Dunne said Lubin complimented her, telling her his clients had liked the first photos, adding, “They told me that you’re one of the sexiest girls they’ve ever seen,” then paying her $100 after she posed again.
Lubin indeed got Dunne/Phillips work at the circus; she performed several times with them.
While Lubin went on to become famous, Dunne quit the circus. She recalled, “He had given me these opportunities, and after this happened, I started to feel that it wasn’t based on my merit, and how could I have been so stupid, and really the only thing he was interested in was me as a sexual object.”
Some time around 2008, according to Dunne’s father, she told her parents in a therapy session what had happened.
The Times continues:
In 2011 or 2012, Ms. Dunne said, she went to the police in New York and they told her that the statute of limitations for pursuing any charges had expired. … Later in 2012, Ms. Dunne wrote to Big Apple officials that Mr. Lubin had done things to her that were “sexual in nature.” She asked to speak to him in the presence of a Big Apple representative. But Mr. Lubin, who joined the circus in 1982, had left.
But last week, Dunne wrote to Big Apple again, and the circus’s chairman, Dr. Neil Kahanovitz, immediately responded that Lubin had been placed on leave.