Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sunday Pause: Digitally Yours, At Last ... From Hectograph Machine to Kindle --- Now I know what an e-reader looks like!

Newer worlds forever rushing in and out,  and I always a year or more behind the last one, or the one before that one.  Are they still putting out iPhones?  

Of course, I know about Kindle and the various e-readers, especially in the last two years, when royalty statements for two books I have written --- Big Top Typewriter and Broadway Musicals: A Hundred Year History, show ebook sales at least equaling or slightly topping paper editions. Suddenly, I am taking note. 

Before that, e-sales were nothing compared to paper. So something has changed, and even me getting with it.

BearManor Media, who published my Inside the Changing Circus, offered me a contract to bring out Those Ringings: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Musical, in Kindle.  And I jumped.

How many of you will jump? Only time will tell. So, may I sing to you --- be my jumping Jacks!  Simply type in quotation marks "Broadway Musicals" and Amazon will rush in to meet you.

For those of you still typing it out on your loyal royals: You do NOT have to buy one of those e-readers. Amazon takes care of you very easily. They will send you as they sent me up to a cloud.   You will be surprised! Maybe even floating. 

Well least until the next techno trauma hits.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Now Available on Amazon! Those Ringlings: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Musical ... How True to Life Might it Be? ... Drawing From the Hints of History

"A show that is basically better than Barnum" -- VARIETY

Making musicals fly can take a toll on history.  Some of our most cherished hits (My Fair Lady, Carousel) resort to feel-good endings unfaithful to source material. The Sound of Music is nearly a total fairy tale. 

Starting from the facts 

On solid ground, the through line --- my central theme --- follows five young brothers who take on a corrupt circus world by refusing to condone or sanction all manner of grift, and win the hearts of Americans.  

But there are other areas in their story, ill detailed in history, that left me free to fill in with some creative dramatizing.  In particular:

When and how did Al and Louise Ringling actually meet?  

I find this the most puzzling of all the things we do not not know.  After all, how many couples do not remember how and where they met?  Of course, Al and Louise would know, but may simply never have shared it with others -- or with writers. In his book Circus Kings, Henry Ringling North states that Al met Louise "during his travels."   By the most persuasive accounts, she, Eliza Morris, was a widow (children, if any, not known) and a dressmaker.  I vaguely recall reading somewhere that Al met Louise while both were working on a circus.  But no other account in the several books I  have verify this.*  It seems clear that Louse became a versatile performer after she met Al. They were married in December, 1883. I sometimes think of her as the stronger willed  of the two.

What was the relationship between Al and Louse?  

They were childless, as were both Otto and John Ringling.   Might they have ever taken in or befriended a young boy, running away with the circus, as a substitute figure?  She had a (possibly young) chauffeur, and rumors alluded to an affair between the two.  From one very reliable source a few years back, I was informed of Louise’s once telling a friend that Al, as he became more prosperous, became “boring.”

Why did Al offer Louise $100,000 to retire and move away?   

The incidents above may play into this rumor.  And, if true, it suggests to me  that Al was more in love with her, and on a deeper level, than she with him.  All of these elements influenced my adaptation.

What did the brothers think of P.T. Barnum?  

It’s doubtful that Barnum knew or had much reason to care about the boys in their early mud-show years.  He lived only a year after they went out on the rails, in 1890. But they surely would have known everything about the celebrated “prince of humbug.”  In fact, on March 28, 1884,  two months before the boys started up their own circus, Barnum unveiled his sacred white elephant hoax in New York city.  And his famous elephant, Jumbo, died the following year.  So, on their way up, the brothers would likely have joked about Barnum’s showmanship, and even started blasting away at his tawdry attractions — by implication, linking them to grift.

Anything goes with John Ringling

He was bigger than life, the Ringling who grabbed all the attention and bullied his brothers around  until he got his way, a self-made circus king who looked back upon the people of Baraboo, where he had grown up, as  “Baraboobians.”  

This youngest Ringling brother once audaciously booked space for their big top to rise directly across the street from the Barnum & Bailey’s Bridgeport winter quarters!  Or so it has been written.  Quintessential John Ringling.     

John in his big wooden shoes song, featured in the Rnglings' winter vaudeville shows, and likely in their first circus, from The Life Story of the Ringling Brothers  

Free and independent
advance man on the run
By day, a bid for business
By night, a run for fun!

“Oh, Johnny I’m waiting
with arms you were made for!”

Ho, ho, what I’ll trade for
garters going down
Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows
are coming to town!

“We think the script is really wonderful”
– Tyler Dubrowsky
Associate Artistic Director
Trinity Repertory Company 

Published by BearManor Media

Buy on Amazon, google "Those Ringlings"

or at the publisher’s website:  

* Sources drawn from: Harlow’s The Ringings: Wizards of the Circus; Circus Kings, by Henry Ringling North; Ringlingville, by Jerry Apps; Life Story of the Ringling Brothers, by Alf. T. Ringling, 1900;   Plowden’s Those Amazing Ringings and their Circus

12.9.20  Due Out on Christmas Day

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Showbiz David’s 2020 American Circus Evidence of Life Awards

   At UniverSoul last month

What is there to write about a season that wasn’t ?  That it will stand out in American circus history as, yes, the season that wasn’t?  And what’s to look forward to in 2021? As Nellie Hanneford so simply stated, when I reached her by telephone, “It’s out of our hands.”

And the sooner it’s back in, the better.  But even then, I wonder.  There should be plenty of Americans hungry for the kind of down-to-earth live entertainment that circus can offer.  And if the Feld of Felds does make good on his promise to bring back The Greatest Show on Earth, that will be, by far, the best thing that could happen to the big top scene here. For, Ringling-Barnum symbolizes American circus. When it died, so in the minds of many did circus die.  A successful return could work wonders for an institution that is closer than ever to the abyss.

How does 2021 look to the trouping wounded?  I dialed their numbers, sent out e-mails seeking their thoughts on what lies ahead. My rankings here are partly based on the responses received; also on my knowledge of each show’s history; and a gut feeling.

2020 American Circus Evidence of Life Awards         

1.  UniverSoul

No need to call them.  The sight of an actual tent in the air anywhere over the U.S. marks a milestone. They pitched theirs for a perilous period last month down in Texas.  Whether the crowds pitched back is another matter. Photos I have seen show only a few strays in the seats. But something is better than nothing, right?  My hat's off to you, Cedric Walker.

2.  Cullpepper Meriweather

Why so high on this list?  They are small enough to have, I assume, the smallest nut, and they’re run by pros, and have been around for a long time.  

From Cullpepper’s Jim Royal:  “Show owner/manager Trey Key is monitoring the situation daily.  We are in touch with our local sponsors and ready to set the route.  Everything hinges on the pandemic. I know, no surprise there.” 

  3.  Royal Hanneford           

I’d never spoken with Nellie Hanneford before, such a sweet soul.  She tells me they are working on dates, and she nearly mentions one in particular, but I do not press. These days, “in particular” could mean a whole season.  

4. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey

They should be at the top, and soon, they might be again – if Kenneth Feld follows through on his announced plans, through brainstorming sessions with many people, to create the return of Ringling, originally projected to happen in late 2021.

From VIP Stephen C. Yaros, in reply:  “Thanks for reaching out to Feld Entertainment. Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, our plans to relaunch The Greatest Show On Earth have been delayed.  As soon as we have more information to share, we plan to do so.  I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas.  Cheers.”

Money is no problem for the Felds.  Only key issue, as I see it, is when best to strike.  I’d say, when Americans feel safe enough to sit next to each other at a circus.  Feld has good reason to maximize the potential for a groundswell of grateful yes-give-us-the-real-circus patronage.  Was the stage ever better set for a circus named Ringling to roar back in triumph?

5.  Big Apple Circus

It’s presence remains, I’d venture, even more  murky, as witness what you hear when you dial their number.  At the other end, a recorded message from a cool sounding guy: “Hey there, thank you for calling. Please leave us a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.” No name of voice or circus. Us Circus?

The guy, answering my e-mail on the upbeat,  turns out to be Jack Marsh from Circus Flora — the Flora that played a hand in the last Lincoln Center date show before Covid came calling.

“Yes, life is here, indeed!!"pipes Jack.  “Obviously hard to have a crystal ball right now, but all plans are for BAC to re-launch once the world will allow. Plan A right now is to target Lincoln Center in October, our usual time frame.... Fun plans are underway.  Fingers crossed for the industry we both love.”

His name stands above the imposing title, Executive Producer.  So I e-mail back, and toss Jack be nimble some questions:

 Is Gregg Walker still in charge?
      “Gregg is moving on to greener pastures.”
Is Walker’s company still involved in any way?
      “I don’t have precise details on the arraignment but Remarkable has some ownership of the           company, as do other investors.”
Who is your CEO?
      “That’s not a position we have right now”.  
New Owners?
      “No, no ownership changes to report.  Be careful about assumptions!”

Jacks seems to be a splendid fellow. See how much space he got here?  He even offered to set up a chat, which might have been very interesting, but I did not wish to take it that far.  Given Jack’s fluidity, I might have ended up with so much inside stuff, that I would feel guilty not writing a book about it.  So politely, I declined.

Since they can’t seem to live without Lincoln Center (their Achilles heal),  they might not be too welcome back come October. Broadway is still looking uncertain about 2021. 

6.  Carson & Barnes

Both circus Vargas and Carson & Barnes are about equally inaccessible by either e-mail or phone. I am graciously awarding an edge to  C&B because they answered my e-mail of yesterday with this lovely reply.  "Hello David, Thank you for contacting us! Someone will respond to you very soon about your inquiry."  Well, I am still waiting.  

Whereas, however...

7. Circus Vargas

Didn't get back to me at all.  When I dialed there number, I was sent into a loop-the-loop extension chase down into a hole.  No reply to my two e-mails.  So I must relegate them to this bottom slot.  You have come to the end of the rankings.  You may now take your mask off, kids.

END RINGERS: This is the year when we lost Circus Report for good, when Spectacle suspended publication due to lack of subject matter to cover ... When the Brits showed us how to could keep a dozen or more circuses on the road for a few months.  From the land that gave us circus, I would hope for that.  Kudos to them!...  A year when Italy, which had suffered devastating covid deaths, warmed my heart by staging a great circus festival, in which star Italians inspired before masked-in audiences. ... The year when Cirque du Soliel went into and out of bankruptcy, as if anybody cares.  I have grown weary of the Cirque style.  And I believe many Americans have, too. I mean, really,  does "character arc"do that much for any of you? ... Feld Family: You are our last great hope, so don’t let us down this time!... And I almost forgot, when cyber courier Don Covington stuck in there, continuing to find all sorts of stories related to circus and sending them out and keeping me on the list. Thank you, Don!


Thursday, December 24, 2020

And a ... a ... a, ah ... Merry Masky Christmas!

How vividly this classic suits the moment.  Poor Santa, having to sit alone, off limits to children.  Banned from chimneys

The next one can only get better, brighter, happier, and more all-together, right?   

In the meantime, my warmest wishes for all!  Especially for those normally hard working families struggling in long lines,  patiently waiting for meals, hoping for a job to return, praying for the solace and security of a way-of-life ripped from them by fear-mongering opportunists in places of ill-held, ill-deserved power.  May God bless you all.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Sunday Pause: Teaching Myself to Enjoy Visiting as Much as Watching DeMile's The Greatest Show on Earth ...

How many times can you see a movie before getting burnout?  Some people watch favorite films countless times, and never stop watching.

I have come to think of this wonderful circus movie as a familiar place, a world of people and things I may always find new surprises among.  And I have found a renewal of desire to watch it by knowing that I will watch it in two sittings.  Last night I watched the first hour and a half, stopping just as they were going into the song on the trampoline, Be a Jumping Jack.  Now, after I write this, I will take my seat and watch the last part of the movie.


I'll admit I am a hopeless John Ringling North fan. Why? When I was barely in my teens, I learned of a movie being made, this one,  in which he appeared as the big boss, a movie that swept me away.  Soon, I subscribed to The White Tops and was reading The Billboard every week, following his exciting and controversial creative moves in designing and staging the shows, and the whole look of the circus on the lot.  

Even though I once was lucky to meet and interview him, there is still about him that mystical quality, mainly I think because he was a hand's off showman, giving others from various creative realms the freedom to create. On came, via Art Concello, the seat wagons, and other dazzling innovations.  There was talk of putting up a tent for dancing on the midway, with one of the Dorsey brothers leading the band.  There was talk of a Ringling theme park. Of a pole-less  big top designed by Norman Bell Geddes.

Back to the movie: The train wreck has, increasingly over the years, struck me as excessive, as it did a few otherwise impressed critics.  But since it comes around two hours into the film, this works good for my viewing, for it arrives after my taking a break, returning to the film the next day.

Last night, during Sebastian's build up to his reckless trick resulting in a fall, I sat back and gave more attention to  the lean flyer who makes those big reckless arcs, moving from one trap bar to another, rather than to a catcher. He is really good!

There he is, John Ringling North in the hat, with brother Henry to his left, and could that be Art Concello, to his right, in the other hat?

We are lucky to have this wonderful film, rich in so many ways.  And, yes, maybe only a circus fan can feel this way.  On rotten tomatoes, it hits a high of around 45%. But when it opened in 1952, Variety and a few other big shots gave it full out raves.  Know what?  I think they were right.  And so were those Hollywood insiders who gave it the Oscar for Best Picture of the year.

Looking for photos, I landed a great treasure trove of images in rich black and white, largely featuring John Ringling North, because they were posted in a story about him in New York Social Diary.  Great discovery!  A few brought on here.

Saxing it up in the M'Toto Room at the old John Ringling Hotel.  I see his good musician friend Rudy Bundy, lower right.

There's Bette Davis with John, to her right, and Henry, lower right.  

A juggler of sorts.


North and press agent Frank Braden at Madison Square Garden, 1950.  I was in awe of Braden's writing style in the roue books.

You can view all the photos at:

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Ring In the The Ringlings on Christmas Day ... Reserve a Stress-Free Copy Now!

 From BearManor Media
who brought you Inside the Changing Circus

"A show that is basically better than Barnum"

$4! -- Publisher's Opening Day Sale -- $4

Pr-Order the book, and Kris Kindle will deliver it down your i-chimney on Christmas morning

 Sale Price guaranteed Through December 25!

Hit the sawdust trail with five young brothers from Wisconsin, who daringly take on shyster big tops with honest dealing, battle Barnum & Bailey to the top, and win the hearts of Americans. From comedy to calamity, hoopla to heartache – and tragedy, this acclaimed musical celebrates their remarkable rise from rags to circus kings.

"For any producer with vision, the potential is evident ... It has style, spirit, appealing characters, filled with rousing choruses and lyrical ballads." – THE LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS

“Kudos  for everybody! .... The lilt of David Baron’s always lively, never blatant score carries sounds developed from the big tent.  David Lewis's lyrics are as entertaining and as relevant as his book and dialogue."    -- HOLLYWOOD DRAMA-LOGUE  
"A dazzling musical. Top drawer entertainment!"

"With proper handling, deserves a shot at a Tony" 

-- Variety

"We think the script is really wonderful."
-- Tyler Dubrosky,
Associate Artistic Director
Providence Repertory Company 
Special $4 offer good through December. 25.  Reserve Now! Go to Amazon, link to books and enter the title.   Give the book as a gift, this option available on December 25.

Monday, November 30, 2020

BRIT BIG TOP REPORT CARD: Corona Transmission Count: 0. Autumn Biz: Healthy. Boris’s Funding Heart: Generous. Next Season’s Prospects: Good


 Zippos Circus owner and producer, Martin Burton

     OVER THERE and Over Here, I go back and forth, cheered to see Brit big tops getting ready for next season, less optimistic as I stare at dormant U.S. circus websites, and walk a bleak landscape looking like forgotten playgrounds.  Have we about lost it all? (or have I?) Are we still in the running? Yes, UniverSoul is playing a Texas date, good news, and  a vaccine is on the way. And then, let’s see. And then, who will have the will and the wallet to reboot and reroute?   

      CULLPEPPER & MERRIWETHER, the smallest show, shines the brightest on my PC screen.  Big Apple Circus, arguably the biggest U.S. name, shines the grayist – as barren as one flickering light bulb on a rusting neon sign over a boarded up store.  Bankruptcy to go -- or for pick up, anyone?   Paul, where on earth are you! Please come out and say something.

Corona is Not a Circus Fan

      SO BACK TO the sunny side of the pond: The best news is that not a single transmission of Covid at any circus has been reported.  Writes my Atlantic correspondent Douglas McPherson, in helpful reply to my asking him for a general update,  “Socially distanced big tops proved to be a safe environment.”

     THE FIFTEEN OR SO circuses of the UK evidently did okay through the autumn.  In early November, they were all locked down through at least until December 2.  A few of the bigger ones produce pantomimes filling out December.

“I think all the circuses will be back in 2021,” writes Douglas.

Big Top Boris  

     FUNDING TO THE RESCUE: Boris (as in prime minster) opened his pocketbook with grants to a number of shows. That would be a cool 1 million (pounds) to Gandey’s, 600,000 to Zippos, and 466,000 to the National Center for Circus Arts.              

     BREXIT HAS mucked up the flow lanes between the UK and other countries, making it not nearly as easy or affordable now to import artists from abroad.  And those are the ones who supply, it would appear, an increasingly critical component of  the kind of shows the public wants to see.

Circus Art is Not a Hobby, Kids

     MARTIN BURTON, Chairman of the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain, and owner of Zippos Circus, told The Stage, “There are a lot of people in the UK who say they are circus artists.  But for the quality that I want, I don’t need somebody who decided to train in a building-based circus school in their mid-20s because they thought it sounded more exciting than working in a factory.  I need somebody who trained in a 42-foot ring almost from birth and has the skill of an Olympic athlete, which is why is why we employ so many overseas people."

     BURTON OFFERED a nine-month tour to some “excellent artists” from an English circus school.  They yawned, “Oh, that’s too long. We don’t mind doing July and August.” With British born artists dwindling in number,  Burton and other owners are relying more on Eastern European performers and, of course, the redoubtable Chinese acrobats

But for my fear of flying, how I would relish crossing the pond, come summer, to take a look for myself, railing from one lot to another on those cozy British compartment trains.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020


Here comes the  musical that wowed  L.A. critics.  The musical that Variety declared  “... deserves a shot at a Tony.”  Follow the  remarkable  rise of five Wisconsin brothers who take on shyster big tops with honest dealing and win the hearts of Americans.  Relive the greatest period in American circus history.  Those Ringlings are coming again!

They called us a “mud show”
Now, look who's on rails
in top hats and tails
talking by the press
“You’re chasing Barnum?”

to be published by BearManor Media

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Dark Side of Model Building: How I Made Laffing Sal live in My Playland-at-the-Beach Fun House

Daring to disclose, yet feeling the apprehension of Frankenstein in his laboratory fearing the fury of society and the gallows, I post this rare, possibly soon-to-be deposted video on You Tube, either by outrage in miniature land, or by my own guilt-wrenched soul.

Be there for the inside story on how I really created the half-mad Laffing Sal. Be there to witness my fall into the depths of despotic scratch-builder madness.  Oh, the acts of inhumanity I have committed in quarter inch scale!  On, the temptations to play God with Exacto blade in hand!

And be there to behold a gruesome foretelling of what modern society, in its quest for infallible beauty and surgical-ordered perfection, may one day fall victim to.

Here's how:

google "The dark side of model building," or go to:

Hurry!  Hurry!  Limited engagement!

Monday, November 16, 2020

Bach Be Damned: Woke Folk Invade Frisco Concert Hall Scene, Hip Hop From the Top!

Music Review: Throughline: San Francisco Symphony, From Hall to Home, November 14, PBS. Esa-Pekka Salone now rules the baton.

Oh my! And it couldn't happen to a worthier city than San Francisco -- ground zero for the subversion of Western culture.  Over there across the bay, where I was born, I now avoid it like its own plague.  Now, the streets are ghostly, shops boarded up, tourists gone, bums better off than ever before, living it up and shooting up in empty upscale hotels, businesses fleeing, bus rides fraught with freaky nut balls keeping you constantly on edge. How unexpected can unforeseen events change cities overnight. "Baghdad by the Bay" risks being zoomed into an empty metropolis begging for renters on fixed incomes.

And how sorry I feel for Esa-Pekka Salone, the new San Francisco symphony director, a man of world class stature from Finland, who will have to face this urban wasteland.  I marveled at many of the great and wonderful concerts he lead in front of the L.A. Philharmonic. 

Facing a season without a hall to play to during lock-down, PBS broadcast a  weirdly ominous and unsatisfying one-hour preview of what Salone wishes  to accomplish during his tenure.  New sounds.  New voices.  New ideas.  Good enough. All incoming conductors these days say the same thing.  But Salone will need far greater works than those on display during the preview.  

His chosen composer-musicians specialized in a form of straining minimalism, heavy on dissonance, woefully weak on music. And hardly all that new.  Terry Riley was already fostering this counter-culture form over fifty years ago. I still have one of his records. 

A more unusual segment took place out in the open air, where a hip-hop artist and a dancing woman wearing a sweatshirt lettered BLM cavorted.  Yes, really.  But concert hall audiences still favor larger, more melodically expansive works. Surely Esa-Pekka must know this. Only a few years ago as guest conductor with the symphony, he piloted the orchestra through a thrilling performance of  Stravinsky's The Fire Bird and nearly brought the house down.

Inexplicably missing were more Asian faces.  They don't exactly excel in Da Hood, but they do in symphony halls around the world.  And in symphonic composition. Asian culture passionately embraces classical music.  Why not market to them? Knock knock!  They are a big part of your future. 

When, finally, Esa-Peka Salone takes the podium with a full audience behind him, will he be wearing a sweatshirt  prominently lettered BLM? 

Early retirement already in the works, Maestro?