Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Greatest Showman: How to Review a Film I Can’t Review


 Step right down! I have finally seen The Greatest Showman, and I am at a fumbling loss for words.   My mind is a scramble of clashing story lines  --- some true to life, many not, and of voices shouting – that didn’t happen!   Self-esteem and respect for all seems to be the big theme of this movie musical.  Never mind that Barnum lived over a hundred years before before the dawn of the PC Enlightment.   Perhaps the most winning song is  “This Is Me.” 

Thus, we should not be surprised by the following scene:  When  P.T. takes Tom Thumb on tour abroad and is given the chance to entertain Queen Victoria, the Queen must also accept all of Barnum’s freaks, insits the showman, arguing equal respect for even the weirdest among us  The Queen accepts.  In real life, nothing like that.  Tom Thumb made a solo appearance.  The freaks would have been back in New York holding court at Barnum’s museum.

Mostly, I feel cheated by my own nagging knowledge.  It gets in the way of what’s up there on the screen.   How I wish I knew nothing of the legendary showman   Absolutely nothing.  And then, maybe,  I could enjoy the The Greatest Showman as are its legion of raving fans -- my own kin among them --  who have have seen the film more than once, and who have made its sound track a best seller. 

These things happen,  Tinseltown to Times Square.  For example, don’t go near a recent new film out out called The Trapp family of Singers — that is, if you treasure the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical.  Turns out that the the Sound of Music is mostly a  fairy tale.

Here is a scene in The Greatest Showman that  I would love to have experienced in a blissful state if ignorance: The P.T. Barnum Circus (in real life, it was called Barnum’s New York museum, NOT circus) goes up in flames  (yes, it did).  Barnum hasn’t the money to rebuild (no, he did).  So P.T.Jackman, our engaging actor playing the role with winning gusto, is inspired to speed-walk victoriously across town to salvation on a vacant lot.  Skip having to raise money for another firetrap!  Up pops a lollipop of a big top,  as bright and clean as a Disney balloon. Heart-warming transition to a higher level of showmanship — you’re right, none of it happened that way.
 
No, nothing like that will you find in dull, medllesome history books.  I was left feeling cheated of my fair share of tears over that triumphal climax.  And left knowing that I can’t review this film in any way approaching “objective.” So I won’t.  The less you know about P.T, the more likely you are to enjoy the musical in the movie.  Look for a run on  Broadway. 

And what, I wonder, might the Prince of Humbug himself have thought of The Greatest Showman?  I can see him, his own self-esteem elevated by Hollywood,  smiling down upon an ambitiously clever cinematic illusion with a rare twinkle in his scheming eye.

“Job well done, gentlemen. – Jumbo of a humbug!”

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Deminse of Ringling Bros by Terri Silver ... Rare In-depth Analysis of the Greatest Betrayal on Earth ...

It's a very long and thoughtful piece in Hobby Lark, but you may find it of interest.  Terri Silver gave much though to the suddenly inexplicable closing of the Greatest Show on Earth.  Here's your link:

https://hobbylark.com/performing-arts/The-Demise-of-Ringling-Bros-and-Barnum-Bailey

A sample I especially like:

"Out Of This World could have been part of the Feld Entertainment presentations that they currently have in their stable. The problem was, in my opinion, that they put the Ringling brand on it -- that was a huge mistake. As good as elements of this show were, the entire production was not what people want to hold onto as "circus." Sure, not having elephants kept some people away but that is exactly the reason to make the rest of the show a more traditional draw."

Amen!  I wish I could have said it as well as she does.  In fact, I had imagined the ideal first no-elephant edition being a return to a more down-to-earth Ringling circus (irony not intended).

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Why David H. Lewis? The True Story Behind My Name Change

The following is from the opening of one of two chapters I dropped before my book Big Top Typewriter went to press.  I came to believe that the subject of skating wandered too far off course.

17

Enter David Lewis

           
How ironic that the very first publication to accept my circus writing — The White Tops — would be the last to reject it.
            Believing the 1980s to have been an outstanding decade in big top history, I wrote an essay about its memorable attributes, “Circus in America: The New Golden Age,” and sent copies out to national magazines.  None jumped, and so I jumped back to my alma matter, sending the piece to The White Tops’ editor. He telephoned me about it, believing he might need to cut it by a third, were he to go with it, and how would I feel about that?   I replied that I was open to the idea.  
            A few weeks later, the story was returned without a cover letter.  How naked it looked inside a lonely envelope.  As cold as the editor’s cavalier rejection felt, it also felt liberating.  Suddenly I felt the freedom necessary to treat other subjects as fully as I had treated the circus.   Maybe in this way, I might now be able to achieve some success in other fields.  So I made a promise to myself, and wrote it down, that not until I realized success in writing on other subjects would I ever again write about the circus.
            So, what next? 
            Roller skating.  Why not?  If you have a problem with that, please lighten up for a few pages, for that’s where we’re going next.   Organ music, Maestro, if you please!
            I had enjoyed test and competitive roller dance from my boyhood up.  For a few years, I had taught dance and figure skating. In fact, when I received the first invitation from Able Green at Variety to write a piece for the next anniversary issue, I took his letter to Roll-O-Torium, the skating rink in San Pablo where I was then employed.  I had to show it to my boss, rink operator Betty Bendit.  She was working behind the refreshment counter when I met up with her.  She read the letter with delight, happy for my good news.  And then I skated back to the record-player booth, to announce — Couples Only!
      

How to Avoid Getting Stereotyped

To continue quoting from the deleted chapter: 

    
            Here is where my story took a sharp turn. After suffering numerous rejections of my roller skating manuscript by a multitude of book publishers, I began to wonder if they  were stereotyping me.  David Lewis Hammarstrom.  Isn't that the guy who writes circus books? Covers the subject for  Variety.                                       
             Desperation by default:  I needed a new identity, a new name, maybe shorter, yes shorter, that would make it not so easy for acquiring editors in a hasty rush to turn me down before even giving my sample chapters a decent peek.  Where have I seen that name before?  Oh yes, he writes circus books?  Oh yes, dear stereotyping editor, it’s me, and does that mean that I can’t write anything else?   
            I decided to scale back and go with my first two names.  But when discovering how many “David Lewis” authors there were out there, I added H for a middle initial.  That narrowed my name competition down to one doctor.  
            Under my  new name, I sent Roller Skating for Gold out to a small house in New Jersey, Scarecrow, that I had somehow overlooked or maybe deemed unsuitable.
            Never trust an assumption.
            From the very first publisher to receive samples chapters of Roller Skating for Gold by David H. Lewis — Drum rolls and trumpets!  — came …
            A phone call of interest ... A few months later, a contract!

I could thank veteran Macmillan sports editor David Biesel for that.  A true gentleman, and one of the best editors I would ever work with.  Dave was then turning out a series, American Sports History, for Scarecrow.   Did somebody say that timing is everything.  Or that most things happen by  accident?  I call it fate.

***********************

By the way, I still regard the 1980s as the last great decade in American circus. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

ONE MONTH FROM TODAY: Showbiz David's New Book will be Prime Time Reading



Was it really a golden age?  Showbiz David's new book, due out on June 30,  gives a personal voice to the  excitement of watching TV in its start-up years.  From Milton Berle to Jack Paar, I Love Lucy to The Twilight Zone—Wrestling and Roller Derby to the Kennedy-Nixon presidential debates—Prime Time Rising: Growing Up at the Dawn of Television offers a fast-moving panorama of television’s meteoric rise through the 1950s. The Book traces TV’s early-day programing milestones, and  how it matured as a news-reporting participant through one of the most polarizing decades in American history. A decade as reviled as it is revered. 

From Gunsmoke to Omnibus, rigged games shows to live dramatic adaptations equal to a seat at the theatre—they’re all here, honestly covered and thoughtfully reviewed.  Tune in for a prime time read one month from today!

"Travel through time … A treasure trove of early day TV programming … Introduces new audiences to these old-time shows, bringing them to life even for those without a prior familiarity with early television …. The special attraction of Prime Time Rising lies in its ability to retain and maintain a vividly engrossing atmosphere throughout."

                                              -- Midwest Book Review