End of an Elephantine Era in a Live Stream on Sunday

End of an Elephantine Era in a Live Stream on Sunday
On Sunday, May 1st at 7:45 pm ET, from Providence, RI, watch a live streaming of the last elephant act on Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Ciccus. Link to: www.facebook.com/ringlingbros OR www.ringling.com

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cole on the Dole: Show Trucks and Tent Leased to Dick Garden for His Big Top Circus ... John Pugh to Manage ... Kelly Miller Grabs Vineland Date

This just in from Don Covington, linking me to the following news, reported in today's Vineland Daily Journal: 

It appears that notorious low-end circus producer Dick Garden has leased the Cole Bros Circus equipment from John Pugh, and will take it out under the title Big Top Circus.

According to the report, Pugh will manage.  Former Cole spokesman Tim Orris telling the Journal's Daniel J. Kov, "Last Friday I learned of a resurrection under a new management with the Cole Bros equipment leased to Dick Garden but managed by John Pugh, who owned Cole Bros for the last 50 years. I believe they are opening under the name Big Top Circus."

Report focuses on Kelly Miller taking over the annual Cole Vineland, NJ date in a 2-day June stand. Cole held the date for 51 years.

What to expect?  From Garden, not nearly as much as from Pugh.  But Pugh, I have to assume, was out of money and options.  Let's hope we can thank our lucky stars that Garden does not have his hands on the Cole title.  I'd hate to see that honored name dragged through the dung of a Garden style operation.

Among Mr. Garden's more noteworthy contributions to the American circus scene,  you may recall his infamous Toby Tyler Circus and its collapsing seats.  He floods the market with free kid tickets, and brings a carny-circus to town. I saw one of his shows, years ago at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.  It was so awful, that I fled the scene just as the rides were taking over the rings at intermission time.

More as the story develops -- or devolves.  No, I'm not at all thrilled.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

New Lingo for the “New Circus”

Circus Ballet?  Fringe Circus?  Acro Dynamics?  Shakespeare Over Sawdust? Gypsies on Parole?  Whatever you wish to call today's "alternative" big tops, desperately needed are new up-to-date terms to describe and legitimatize  the rapid advances (or self-immolations)  in an entertainment formerly known as "circus."  Here are a few suggestions:

Fabric” is a term the Circus Smirkus kids, a lively bunch, toss around, I guess to describe the act of working what a Sarasota insider calls “ the bed sheets.” I think this precious act evolved from the old web routine.

Here’s how that same Sarasota smarty described the setting for last year’s Ringless Bros. Circus: “A parking lot.”

Following are my own earnest efforts to recast circus terminology in a more modern spotlight, acceptable to fussy spectators of unmessy, blood-free stuff:

Equestrian Foreplay: Today’s nouveau horse trainers (excuse that inelegant expression) at shows like Cavalia make a point to prove a loving, wholly egalitarian relationship to their ring partners.

Menage Adagio: A threesome intricately related in a series of movements denoting esthetic horniness.

Astro Marionettes: Wire walkers (please pardon that crude term) rigged to lifelines work the safest area of the arena or tent.

PETA Pachyderm: The "new circus" elephant that does nothing. At last, the Ringling chorus girls do it all. Next stage: the Bulls present the Broads.

Bozo Break: A time-consuming audience participation gag designed to save management the cost of hiring real circus acts. (aka: A Larible)

Plank Vaulting: what they do at Circus Eloise, adapting the old pole vaulting routine into something much safer and wider, thus allowing for a great number of amateurs to make the delicate cut.

Hyper-Posturing. Typically, these are the sidebar characters at a Cirque du Soleil show who cavort gloriously during high points of an act in progress. They make a point rarely to look directly at the audience.

The list no doubt will grow as “new circus” developments merit precious news euphemisms. Tune back here later. As I walk the FDA-approved sawdust of a safe new circus, I may be struck by additional euphemistic epiphanies.

And yours?

First posted August 5, 2007

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Big Top Bits: Horror on Ringling BMX Ramps ... A Late Cole Roll, or onto the Dole? ... My Great Nephew Compares Big Apple Circus to Ringling-Barnum ... and MORE! ...

Update, 4/23/16: Cole Bros. Circus has been sold, claims Anonymous leaving a comment here.  Real or pipe dreaming?

First draft reckless: Not an easy opening, wondering what went wrong at Ringling in Fairfax VA when a BMX rider was thrown over the handlebars of his bike as it blew a tire and landed on his head  The horrifying incident was captured on film and given prime time coverage on ABC.  Show was stopped short, patrons instructed to leave.  Strangest of all is Feld VP Stephan Payne declining to give out the name of the performer.  I still can't find his name on the net.  Why?   ...  Once again, it would seem, our attention falls to a failing prop.  Ominous.

Big Show tech blunders, continued:  So a bike tire blows -- accident or negligence? This marks the third mishap in recent years at Ringling.  Last year, an aerialist suffered injuries after plunging 25 feet to the ground; the season before, you'll recall the collapse of a chandelier rigging, later found to have been ineptly and inadequately rigged, sending nine women to the floor, some seriously injured.
.
Will Cole roll, or go out on the dole?  Cole Bros. Circus website back up and in glorious color promising, come June, to present  "America's last real 3-ring circus under the big top" But try dialing the phone number listed, and see if you don't get Ma Bell’s dreary, “Please hang up and try dialing again.” Maybe when the world comes to an end, that is what we will hear, over and over again ...

What lurks inside the mind of Johnny Pugh?   All one need do is watch  the excellent Lane Talburt video visits to the show in 2011, easily findable on the website, to know that Johnny possess the heart of a do-or-die trouper. My speculations:  Johnny really wants to go back out, but is hard pressed for money.  Johnny sold the property to raise money to for some kind of a Cole roll-out.  But why does the website play up animals when Johnny supposedly removed them from a theoretical wish list for the new season yet to possibly be? ... I can see a circus fan behind the scenes struggling to fund Johnny or buy the show himself.  Don't count Pugh kaput.  He is  no stranger to producing on the brink. 

END RINGERS: My niece Lisa e-mailing me about her 10-year-old son's reaction to Circus Xtreme: “I forgot to mention that Noah said he actually liked APPLE CIRCUS better in some ways, one being the tent!” ...  Interesting  story on Douglas McPherson's blog, Circus Mania about how many if not most of the Brit elephants trainers did not use bull hooks for the most part ... The Smithsonian putting together a big circus splash, come 2017, with big top show .. Cirque du Soleil, apparently minus its founder,  about to open its 25 million dollar Broadway-or-bust baby, Paramour, this being their fourth attempt to capture Gotham for more than a season or less.  Fine story about show in Sunday’s New York Times.  Big shots from the new ownership group, (Guy Laliberte’s name no where in the story), looking in on  previews and demanding a replacement for the lead  actor plus cuts in running order, down to two hours.  Wonder if that means two bearable hours? Some noting show’s resemblance to IRIS, the CDS opus that failed to click in LA few years back. ... I’m thinking Smash Hit, I’m thinking Blundering Bomb  — Hmm, maybe I should ask my great nephew, Noah, to take a look and report back. ...

Apple Me a Convert:  Finally, I am now an Apple person!   Had to let go of my very small dumb phone,  something to do about  2G going to 4G.  So, wanting the lightest weight smart phone out there, (short of a flip job, which looks more like a medical alert device these days), I found it in Apple’s new SE, and what a beaut!   Although Steve Jobs seems to have been a son of a you know who many times over (I watched both movies on his miserable life, what a perfectly miserable genius he was)  My iPhone is, to quote C-Nets savvy review, a “small wonder.” And I am an iBeliever.  What a joy to have something that works so easily and perfectly.  And what a camera!  That's why I got it over the 5S ...  Breathtaking technology ...

Bonus Blather!   This just in from Don Convington: Ringling's new show heralding "A Cosmic Family Adventure  -- Experience a Circus Light Years Beyond the Expected!"   ...  Let's see, no elephants,. so what to replace pachyderm power?  Monster trucks in space  on a mission to save  -- what? Come back again, I might have a big iFinish.ur oxxx journey that will let imaginations run wild with unexpected surprises and thrills at every turn. Clib ab

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

From Luray VA: Niece Lisa Reviews Ringling's CIRCUS XTREME ... About the Elephants Retiring: "They are SO the circus for Brian and I" ...

Photos by Lisa


The last elephant act on Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, only two weeks from retirement.  My niece Lisa  Gerrity and her family recently went to see Ringling's Circux Xtreme.  How I wished I had seen the show when it came to the Bay Area -- blame it partly on a confusing Ringling ad grouping three show dates together.   Here is a review of the show which Lisa sent me, and which I am happy to print, because it strikes me as a real review.  In Lisa's own words... drum rolls! ...

Brian surprised us and bought tickets to the circus! So we drove an hour and 15 minutes to Fairfax Virginia, took Noah and his little friend, and enjoyed the show.

Growing up with the circus, and an uncle (guess who?) who wrote about it, Ive always gotten butterflies in my stomach when the lights came up and the music started. I'm happy to say that this still happens for me even at the tender age of 53. Luckily my husband also loves the circus and the traditional acts that  we remember as children.

One Ring Fans

One thing that we always agree on is the three ring circus idea. Both my husband and I get overwhelmed with three rings and always felt like we were missing part of the show. We were so excited to see only one ring at the circus this year and enjoyed it so much more.

The show started with the National Anthem with an elephant draped with a sequin red white and blue cape. A woman road on its back and waved to the crowd As we all sang the patriotic song. What a great way to open the circus, God bless America!


Refreshing Ringmaster Relief 

The Act after that included two horses, dancers, cyclists, and an "around the world" boat. We really enjoyed the opener.  We loved the young ringmaster (David Shipman), who was also a great singer and rolled around on an elevated little platform that raised up really high now and then.  I must say he is one of my favorite ringmasters in recent years.  If I had to say why, it would be because of his friendly face, enthusiasm, wonderful singing voice, and lack of cheesiness that some ring masters suffer from.  We liked him!!

Good Circusy Music ... Ho Hum Camels and Clowns

Costumes were good, not amazing, and music was good, more circusy than recent years. 😊

The camels were next and failed to entertain us. The theme seemed to be a "travel around the world" theme. We had not seen camels before and although they were interesting to look at, and the ladies on them had pretty outfits on, the ladies just kind of struck different poses as the camels went around in circles for a little too long. We started to lose interest after a while.



Next, onto MT EVEREST and the brief clown act.  It was multiple clowns and quite honestly I miss having just one clown do a cute theme throughout the circus and come out with his little suitcase of tricks or something that entertained us in between setting up for the next act.

The Tight rope was exciting and amazing as was the human canon.

The skiing tap dancers act (clowns) was short and sweet to fill a few minutes.
 
 
They Missed the Trapeze

We really enjoyed the Glow in the dark swinging acrobats up high! Does this replace the flying trapeze? If so we missed the traditional act. 

Clowns with big balls were just ok.

A big Mongolian man lifted 551 lbs with his teeth, and we wondered if it was real.

The Elephants were brief but entertaining and adorable.

The Mermaids had beautiful costumes but failed to entertain us with the Middle ball with white dancers.   Pretty but not impressive at all.

The Spinning wheel is always thrilling and Spectacular.


The Ring of tigers was impressive with 16 beautiful white tigers and a Latin trainer.  One hopped like a bunny.

Poodle show... Boring

Bike Riders and Acrobats Thrill the Boys 

Bouncing acrobats and cyclists at the end were new and exciting! Our two 10-yr-olds said that was their favorite.

Overall, we'd give it an 8 and return to see Ringling Circus again!

 ****

JUST IN TIME TO SEE THE ELEPHANTS ONE LAST TIME

I e-mailed Lisa about the elephants retiring this year.  Her reply:

"We learned that they are going to the farm in 2 weeks! We are SO GLAD we got to see them one more time. They are SO the circus for Brian and I.  Thanks for raising us to love the big top!!!"

And thank you, Lisa, for sharing your feedback  I'm glad you had a good time, especially given recent depressing big setbacks on the American circus scene. The elephants are gone from Ringling, and the entire Cole Bros. Circus is gone.  A double bummer!



Our guest critic from Luray, Virginia: Lisa, left, with sister Debbie, the latter about to move with hubby to Alaska.   And me in one of my rare selfies. We joined company a few weeks ago when Lis and Deb were out touring these parts.  Had a fabulous dinner at a Chinese restaurant, Little Shin Shin on Piedmont Avenue, only a few delicious blocks from where I live.  Utter perfection.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Cole Bros. Circus is History. Say Goodbye to DeLand and Johnny Pugh (***)

UPDATE, 4/7/16: 4:40 pm, PST: Yes, what first appeared below, yesterday, and then was rebutted, turns out to have been true, thank you Barry Lipton.  Documents discovered, Covington shared and confirmed.   

First posted yesterday:

A crusher, this just in from Barry Lipton.  The show's Deland winter quarters up for sale.  The price tag: $350.000.

And my heart sank. Even I was holding out.  And you, too?  Tomorrow never dies --- until l it dies.

Go there if you wish:

 http://usedrides.com/ViewAd.aspx?Ad=27029&view=i

Know what?  I am genuinely depressed.  This marks the passing of a great and durable and classy American big top we are likely never to see again.

Remember 1956? So, too, may they one day remember 2016:  Ringling retired the elephants.  Cole retired itself.

Pray that's all there is to come this season.

And hold onto your old tapes and movies.

(***) Okay, just another hopelessly strained theory:  Maybe Johnny is putting up the winter-quarters to raise money and planning to produce without such a home base.

Yes, I know. Send for the clowns in white to usher me out.

4.6.16

Sunday, April 03, 2016

On the (Provisional) Fall of Cole Bros. Circus: Some Immediate Thoughts About the Man at the Top

UPDATE, 4/3/16, 7:52 am: For Harry and all Cole Fans, the show has put up a very nice website.  It geneally alludes to the show's history.  So, shall we say that tomorrow never dies?
 

There is an almost abstract sadness about the wordless sudden demise, or so it would appear, of Cole Bros. Circus.  Words point to a season not to be. 

It was there for years, one season after another, the solid stolid show. The one guided by Johnny Pugh, a Class Act all in himself.   Season after season, the show threw up its tents,   gave a good show, sometimes a very good show, and sustained an old tradition that is gradually dying before our disbelieving eyes.

Pugh’s management style extends back to the old Ringling-Barnum A team.   In a manner of perception, the Cole Bros. Clyde Beatty saga completes of an arc of inevitable change and decline traceable  back to Pittsburgh, 1956, when John Ringling North struck the big top for the last time and opted into the arena market.

Only a few months later, Clyde Beatty Circus hit the skids,  faced bankruptcy, and was reorganized under new ownership, key players from the old Ringling tent show regime.  Beatty-Cole kept the big top. Pugh stayed with the show and eventually purchased controlling ownership himself.

North's move indoors proved a smart one.  But today, filling up the seats in an arena has become virtually impossible. Circuses no longer attract the same size crowds.  Under our tents, which have grown smaller, circuses still struggle to fill up fewer seats.  Need I do more to explain it away than drop the word Digital?

In its early years, what I valued most about the Cole show, even though I saw it only maybe once every seven to ten years, was how it sustained, symbolically, a residual Ringling legacy.  The 1961 edition, which I was lucky to catch in Richmond, VA, sparkled in its own more modern manner with top line talent, direction and music.

When Johnny Pugh removed his elephants about 10 years ago, buckling under to the mounting demands of the animals rights movement, he was onto something.  Open to change as is any smart showman.  His patrons were not so open, not then, not yet. And so, a season or two later, he brought back the elephants. 

But You Tube and PETA and court room testimony only intensified.   And then Ringling-Barnum did what Pugh had done. By summer’s end, all of its elephants will be gone from the ring(s).

Ringling gets all the national publicity.  And Ringling will now stand for the Norm.  Look for other shows to gradually follow suit. 

Cole was rumored ready to hit the trail this year without animals.  Basically, the right move. But to go Vargas — no animals at all — is a self defeating measure that makes no sense at all. 

After the last Greatest Show on Earth under canvas sixty years ago, the nation wept.  Nobody talked down performing animals, or scary daredevil flyers, or creepy clowns.  They cried over the death of the tented city, over the grand arrival of the circus train at dawn.

In 1956, nobody went to a circus with “issues.”   Everybody went to a circus for guilt-free fun.

Today is a very different today. Today is no longer innocent or guilt-free. One by one, the circuses most powerful features have been talked out of existence by a public so very very different from America sixty years ago.  You fill in the rest — if you can spare a free moment away from your iPhone or iLife.

You might say that the soul of the old American circus followed a path into the soul of Johnny Pugh. 

One less Johnny is a big loss.

His presence on the lot will surely be missed.

4.1.16

Thursday, March 31, 2016

MIDWAY FLASH UPDATE! COLE 2016 SEASON CANCELLED! ... THE FAT LADY SINGS? ... MIDWAY FLASH! ... COLE CANCELS HAVELOCK SHOWS! ...COLE 2016 SEASON CANCELLED! ...

 UPDATE, 11:40 am PST:  Read Harry Kingston's comment below ...

News rushed my way from Barry Lipton ...

April 18-21 shows cancelled.

This from a report in the Havelock News:

A frustrated George Cook reported late Wednesday just before press time that the show was off.
“We got confirmation this morning that the circus is cancelling. They are having trouble getting migrant workers to help set it up,” Cook said. They needed 55,000 to get started and they didn’t have it so they just cancelled it for the year. It’s closed for now.”
The show has been off again, on again, this spring. The last word had been that the circus would come without animals, but now the whole show is kaput.
“It’s over. Done,” Cook said.
 Do I hear the fat lady singing?

More may follow.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Big Tops Battered Round the World: Ramos Circus Patrons Fire Bombed ... West Bank Clown, a Terrorist? ... Come In at Your Own Peril, and Don't Trust the Popcorn!

Cole Bros. Circus update, 3/27:  The website does not come up when searched.

 Crashing the tent in San Bernardino, 2015: That's where these fanatics took their anger.

War Zone Midways:  Customers exciting the big top following a  Ramos Bros. Circus show in Las Vegas were forced to dodge a Molotov cocktail lobbed in their direction. Luckily, the fire bomb missed its human targets, hitting a truck and shattering into pieces.  The show has been drawing volatile opposition from animal activists, causing cancellation of some dates.

In San Bernardino last year, clowns fought off protesters crashing the tent during a performance.  One of the hot heads threw a megaphone in the face of show owner and ringmaster Oliver Ramos, splitting his lip. Two clowns were injured, two protestors arrested.  “They’ve been getting more aggressive,” Ramos told a reporter.

Snarling Protests in the Big Cage?  Ramos believes he was being harassed by animal fanatics.   I have an idea for a new act:  Those protesters should hire themselves out to circuses as a new breed of wild animal — ready to hiss and snarl and HAVE AT IT in combat with a trainer’s whip, gun and chair -- and in the big cage, of course while the band plays ''Give Peace a Chance."

According to the website Samidoun, a growing international  drive is on to free Abu Sakha.  Several European countries are participating.

Closet clown terrorist?   On the ever-tranquil West Bank, a Palestinian clown, juggler and rope walker, Mohamed Abu Sakha, detained by Israeli police since last December for “renewed activity” with a Palestinian group fighting for liberation from their overlords in Tel Aviv and opposed to peace with them.  Sakha runs a circus school for mentally challenged for kids ... Hard liners seeing more than mirth to his act.  Israeli security forces defending their action for dubious associations. “Abu Sakha was arrested because of intelligence about his recent activities on behalf of the Popular Front.”

Incredible to believe that a circus clown would ever be up to undercover mayhem, claim his defenders.  But, roared back a realist leaving a comment, “What on earth difference does it make that he worked as a clown??? Are all clowns automatically good people???"

Good question, I suppose. Of late, the answer would have to be NO.  Many are the wackos out there who find the funny face a convenient disguise. Stop the show, I want out before my peanuts explode.

No, it’s not funny.  Whatever it is, and it never ends,  pray that somebody out there with the right brain cells can liberate these groups from their perpetual war, and I will tactfully say no more. 

END RINGERS: Will Cole ever roll again?   Nothing up there yet to suggest it will. Website still down, waiting word that the Fat Lady won’t be singing any time soon ... Wild speculation: I wonder if some fans close to Johnny Pugh (the website message -- WE'RE NOT DEAD YET! -- suggests a fan at work) are urging him to take the show out on the road, or others are scrambling to raise money to fund a season reboot or take over ownership or management of the circus. Sir Harry of Kingston:  Sorry but it doesn't look good  ...  Here’s what does not make sense: Why Pugh pushed his pachyderms onto an unfriendly public for so long?  He endured numerous problems and protests, and had to pay a huge fine for something having to do with the transfer of elephants in or out.  

On the big show bandstand, continuedAbout my item on Merle Evans and his musicians who advanced to other venues as well as those from the outside who sat in as guest players, Don Covington remembers how the Evans band was considered “one of the finest musical organizations for its day.”  The maestro, Don tells us, kept in touch with hundreds of musicians in every state, and  many of them were “thrilled to play the show when the circus was in town.” ...  New York Philharmonic's Buster Bailey spoke of his guest time in the band as "a highlight of his career" on the drums ... How much fun drumming under the biggest big top must have been! ...   Looking through my old Ringling-Barnum route books, in a photo of the '55 band I count 26 windjammers .. .

  
Is that all there is?  Or ever was?   Let's  take a look at Kelly Miller, just for the fun of it: Okay, please, Shirley North II, look the other way.  I dunno.  The not very new edition, a holder over from last year, itself a holdover from the year before, looks rather thinly rehashed.  No?  Lots pinned on their new clown in his second tour, the funny to look at (for sure) Fajolino.  If only he had a better script writer .. . On K-M's Facebook, I found this photos of the old All G. & Kelly Miller Bros. Circus when it came to my neighborhood in Northern California.  How well I recall those festively painted trucks and the dramatic unloading at dawn ...Those were the days -- before circus goers risked fire bombs on their way out, and clowns were not suspected of embarking on suicide walkarounds.

Sorry, Shirley.  Ill try being nicer next time.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Fat Lady Still Ain't Singing on the Cole Roll Watch: Deland Delays, Phone Calls Unreturned, Annual Dates Not Inked Point to Money Troubles at the Top

Cole Bros. 2016 Season Delayed

The Cole Bros. Circus won't be participating in the North Carolina Azalea Festival this year.
STARNEWS FILE PHOTO

DELAND – The annual tradition of the big top setting up in town might not take place this March.
Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars, which normally performs during March in front of the DeLand Municipal Airport, has not applied for a special event permit, according to city spokesman Chris Graham.

The permit must be applied for at least 30 days in advance of an event on city property, Graham said. Last year, for its 131st season, the show brought its clowns, high wire show and elephants to DeLand on March 21 and March 22
.
“They’re working to put the show out,” said John Mercurio, the circus’s certified public accountant.

The Sarasota accountant said by phone last week the circus does not have a set date yet and it was going to be a late start, but did not give the reason why.

The StarNews of Wilmington, North Carolina, reported earlier this mo
nth that the circus, which had been coming to Wilmington’s North Carolina Azalea Festival for more than three decades, would not be a part of this year’s event. The newspaper reported that in February the festival released a statement saying the circus would not be touring — which was denied at the time by a circus spokesperson.

The website for the circus read Tuesday "We're NOT Dead Yet!" It also states: "It aint over till the fat lady sings."

The phone number listed for the circus online has been disconnected.

A Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter left his phone number last week with people at the circus’s facility on Old New York Avenue, but has not been contacted.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Exit the Elephants: In The Court of Public Opinion, A New Day for The Greatest Show on Earth?

Update, 3/12/16: Early reports have Cole Bros. Circus touring without any animals this year.
 
 
Not since the fall of the last Ringling-Barnum big top, in 1956, has the Greatest Show on Earth undergone so great a redefinition of itself.

Once upon a season, Americans counted the stature of a circus by the number of elephants it carried.  And once upon a merrier season, John Ringling North staged an elephant ballet scored by Igor Stravinsky, “choreographed” by George Balanchine.  Another year, he hosted a fashion show atop the pachyderms.

Now the elephants are to exit.  Several years ago, big top boss Kenneth Feld, faced with growing pressure to cease presenting animal acts for which there was mounting evidence of abuse by his presenters, told the media that when the public stopped coming to his shows — then, he would pay attention and act.

Los Angeles takes a stand

Well, in the court of public opinion, that day has come. In the words of Alana Feld, cutting clean to the chase:  "There's been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers.  A lot of people aren't comfortable with us touring with our elephants."

You can blast PETA and its affiliate groups for shameless misrepresentations, but you can’t blast the American public for being turned off by YouTube evidence filmed backstage at Ringling, of apparent callous (if not actually cruel) mistreatment  of a group of elephants being readied to go on.  Here is where Kenneth Feld made his worst strategic blunder.  He claimed the YouTube, posted in 2008, had been misleadingly edited, but then never made good on the claim.  Animal-rights protestors (many of them, understandably bothered by such evidence) still push the video in hand-out leaflets, while standing outside arenas when the circus comes to town.

Kenneth Feld and his lawyers were able to prove liable against the circus by various  animal-rights groups.  But, in the end, they could not explain away the “misleadingly edited” YouTube. And so, for that reason and others, the court of public opinion finally caught up with them.  It caught up with them in Entertainment Central, in this unfaltering instance, not unnoticed by major media, the Los Angeles City Council voting last year to ban the use of elephant bull hooks.  An inconvenient year later, the same thinking spread north to the City of Oakland.  California was fast closing its arena doors to the Greatest Show on Earth.


Feld's fatal testimony

As much as Feld may be a lover of the elephant preservation compound he fosters — or of its imagery to counteract all that noise out there against him, behind the scenes, his elephants handlers, at least on occasion, do not conform to what the public has come to expect.

I actually believed — or wanted to believe — that the man had a genuine love for the elephants.  I also came to believe that he is well aware of things that go on behind his back but has kept free of those things — to the dangerous point of not wishing to be regularly apprised by his staff  —  in order not to have to testify against himself or his operation.  Indeed, this practice leaked out in his testimony before a judge when Feld admitted to not always been informed of such actions.  How blatantly it contradicted the man’s alleged high concern for animal abuse in his own house. In that one stunning revelation, I lost faith in the man’s sincerity.



And what about the other shows?

Ringling Bros. is still the Big One.  The Big Show. And it is filthy rich -- a well-earned testament to  its skill in production and marketing. .  The Feld family is apparently loaded with producing talent to last for future generations.  Theirs is the circus that draws most of the major media attention, and so the question: Will other smaller big tops be forced by pressure or declining patronage in their own markets to follow suit?   They may be able, each, to make a case for themselves and their animal trainers, but to do this, they will have to separate themselves from those nasty videos that will not go away -- from the Ringling YouTube and, even more so, from the more lethally damming strip of film, secretly made years before, of Tim Frisco going nuts in a Carson and Barnes Circus barn, viciously breaking in a group of pachyderms.  

These things can not be talked away.    Sadly, they will hurt the efforts of all trainers, no matter how ethical they may be, to continue training and presenting wild animals.    Perhaps the saddest part of this tale is how our nation’s most famous and long-lasting circus turned out itself to be have been a prime contributor to the anti-animal cause.

.
The ever changing, never changing circus has a way

They said Barnum was done when Jumbo died (a line from the film, The Greatest Show on Earth).  They said the tented circus was done when John Ringling North, in 1956, declared it “a thing of the past.” But his dire pronouncement clarified,  “as it then exists.” North alluded to the colossal costs incurred in operating a three-train railroad show, a mammoth enterprise increasingly difficult to fund and move from city to city, where nearby parking lots were growing scarcer.   

A new day for the Greatest Show on Earth?

There can be little doubt that the animal rights movements ultimately drove down attendance at Ringling dates.  Where once they played to ten thousand on good nights, now the number was closer to half that (my best guess).

Now, Ringling-Barnum stands to benefit the most from Feld’s decision.  Indeed, it may be facing a glorious new era of rebounding parsonage , as parents adverse to elephant acts flock once again to the circus, their children happily in toe.  Horses and dogs?  A pig through a barrel?  A monkey peddling a bike?   The public will have no problem at all embracing these types of acts.  For years Big Apple Circus has done well enough featuring horses and dogs. 

Droves of families who have stayed a way will no doubt return, wanting to enjoy a circus that still knows how to find the best acts in the world, and how to shape and merge them into dazzling spectacle long associated with the glory days of the three ring American circus, albeit without those three rings. 

The story is not over  

Kenneth Feld's best move would be to sign the UK’s Thomas Chipperfield, who has become something of a poster boy for how tigers and lions can be humanely trained, what with his home made videos showing him at work with his charges.  Especially at this sensitive moment in Ringling history, Chipperfield would be a great asset to the new Greatest Show on Earth,  Don’t count out the millions of parents, even of the liberal class, who want their children to witness uplifting interactions between man and beast.


In the beginning, In London Town, there were horses.  There were no elephants.  Perhaps that is where we are headed for, back to the beginning.

So say goodbye — for a while — to the elephants on parade!   And pray they may one day return.   In the court of public opinion, inevitably, a good case made for a good act kindly trained and cared for will have its day.  The court is never fully adjourned.

Photos, from the top down:

Ringling Bros. finale at Madison Square Garden, Circa 1954
Kenneth Feld and his three producing daughters
Richard and Edith Barstow, Ringling directors, with a baby elephant ready for its carriage ride in  the  1955 production number, featuring 55 pachyderms, Mama's in the Park -
Baby Opal, Polack Bros. Circus, 1955
Elephant pyramid at the recent Monte Carlo International Circus Festival, Monaco

First posted March 7, 2015.  So much has happened in so little time.