Saturday, October 22, 2016


Showbiz David opened this blog on August 24, 2006


Big Top Bits: Kelly-Miller Shines North ... Don Stacey Doesn't ...

From the first year posting ...

"It’s Showtime!" — and away we go at the new Kelly-Miller Circus produced by first-of-May showman John Ringling North II. "It’s Showtime" is the title of the opening production number, a chivari of sorts, or so I am told by manager Jim Royal who has been sending me, in glacially slow doses, program details bit by bit. A would-be archaeologist I have become, digging patiently away --- one pick at a time ... Bit by bit, into focus here we go:

From Mexico to Asia hail Kelly-Miller’s artists in the 18-act layout. Other production flourishes: A return of the North Starlets, down to an affordable foursome who glide around the cloud swing work of Jennifer Nichole. And a red, white and blue climax that fills the tent with flaring flags and confetti drops. Manager Jim stands by smiling "It does my heart good to go into the tent at finale and hear the reaction of our audiences. They are very pleased with the performance."

Has the show a star? Royal tells me that North, who booked all the new acts himself, was "particularly impressed" with contortionist Sai Zhang. "He was right. She gets a great response from the audiences." Bit by bit ...

The first act ever signed by North? The Rosales Family. More to follow from the trenches of Hugo ... Next to come: a complete rundown of the entire performance! I have it, kids...

Sunshine & Shadows: The Big Apple’s Maria Parra, who works dogs for Johnny Peer, is one of 30 Under 30's Picks for 2006. Says, Maria at 28, "I’m learning that you don’t have to go to every party. You don’t have to meet every single person" .... Big Apple Circus, by the way, is hauling in some adoring notices after opening to a New York Times rave last November ... Death stalks the sawdust — a Leitzel replay? Tragically, 35-year-young aerialist Roberto Valenzuela fell to his end while performing on Circo Hermanos Vazques in L.A., and maybe through no fault of his own artistry. Investigations point to rigging failure, and how often that, sadly, is the case ... Circus News.Com is following this story ... Stay out of Connecticut, circus with animals! That’s the intent of one chilly bill (HB 7019) moving through an unfriendly legislature. And if it passes, let the public suffer ... About my circus website ratings, Joan Hart of Circus Vargas e-mailed me: "We were thrilled with your favorable comments." One of the tidy little things about the Vargas site that I like is their concise listing of acts, specially from where they come. Thank God for places like Italy and Chile and Holland and Spain – well you get the picture. Keep spoiling us, World, please ... See the photo, on the sidebar, of North II and Royal I, taken in a revealing flash by Beverly Royal? Now that’s what the theatre calls "character delineation... The ever-resilient Zoppes, led by Alberto, are out with their first newsletter, and it oozes warm Italian charm, complete with Mama’s Recipe ... Go there and be embraced by one of Spangeland’s Great Circus Families ...

And here comes Englishman Don Stacey, raising high once more the Irvin Feld banner ... Go, Don, I feel your Piccadilly pain! Stacey continues to rant against the truth of what really happened. And I’m back on Stacey’s stage, and, gosh, I feel perversely flattered. A reference to me kicks off Stacey’s article about Circus World for the latest issue of King Pole ... As usual, I come off as the guy who loves John North (the original) and hates Irvin Feld, whereas Stacey loves Feld and doesn’t love North.

... I know there are many sincere Irvin Feld fans out there (and I respect them all) who may believe that Feld was actually the better showman. Feld as savior? There, I draw a line. Stacey — going near ballistic this time out — writes, "I am inclined to agree with those who feel that Feld and his family were indeed, the people who saved the oldest and biggest traveling circuses from annihilation" Bombs over the big top, Don? How about turning your radar onto how the Felds have tried to annihilate John Ringling North and Arthur Concello out of circus history?

The nuances, England, the nuances. Here, Don, is what you will find on page 299 of my book, Big Top Boss, concerning my take at one point on Feld's showmanship: "In the mid-1970s the greatest show on earth was as aggressively promoted as it had ever been, with Gunther Gebel Williams at the dazzling forefront of a glamorous and modern Ringling ballyhoo that captured the American public’s fancy." ... To a corner please, go, there to recite that sentence a thousand times over ... The two of us in vaudeville, Don? I could hoof a tad ...

Stacey, who handled publicity for North’s 1963-64 European tour and loathed every performance he was by contract obligated to promote, concedes that he never saw a Ringling circus in America produced by JRN. Hmm, how interesting ...

I’m back at Kelly-Miller digging for the truth, bit by bit ... And that’s a Royal wrap ...

First posted May 5, 2007

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mid-Season Musings: The Tents Tremble, My Paranoia Rises ...

From the fist year posting ...

Lay ‘em out, get ‘em in the air and pray they stand ... So far, new Clyde Beatty Circus gone in weeks ... Chimera shuttered July 2 ... How many more to heaven in ‘07? ... I keep checking the Circus Vargas website, and still a Long Beach date hinted at by the show’s evasive pr dept. does not appear... Another e-mail from yours skeptical to Vargas vague. And in return, "We will be going to Long Beach."

Pardon my paranoia, but I entered this crazy biz during another iffy period fraught with turmoil, oh, back around ‘55, only a few trembling weeks after the Big One stood abandoned on a St. Paul lot, the work force having walked off before the night show began in the wake of mass management firings. A feisty Noyelles Burkhart charged onto the scene, had the respect to rally the roustabouts, and got the show back onto the train. Thank you, Mr. Burkhart, for playing God that ominous night. I got to see the Greatest Show on Earth and all of its fifty five elephants perform in Richmond, California under majestic blue canvas ...

The next year, Pittsburgh happened. Killer seasons come and go.‘38 was another midway-crusher, six of the eight tenters that fell, gone forever. Pickle Family Circus founder Larry Pisoni has his own Pittsburgh years later, and the erratically experimental Cliff Vargas, had he lived long enough, might have, too ...

Present tense perplexities: Nice to see on Pat Cashin’s blog a photo of John Ringling North II paying a June visit to his own new toy — Kelly Miller, somewhere en route; was there ever a show more secretive about its play dates? Let’s hope North found greenbacks in the kitty, not IOUs. Once, I was Jim Royally favored when I e-mailed for updates. Now I am royally ignored. Still, I offer you what Royal offered me a few months back, his actual lineup:

Exploding applause meter with Raul "Tony" Oliveres; Charivari; Sun Acrobatic Troupe on the Chinese poles; Jennifer Walker’s Dog & Pony Revue; Rosales Family on perch poles; Sun Acrobatics on Diving Bungee; Laura Herriott's Animal Carousel; Tony's Toy Box to Life; Wan Hong hat juggling; Carmen Portugal, single trap. INTERMISSION. Chinese Lion Dance; Rosales Wheel of Destiny; Tony's potato head; Contortionist Sai Zhang; Jennifer Nichole on cloud swing with four North Starlets; Juggler Brett Michael; Murray Family elephants; Hoop diving by the Sun Acrobatic Troupe; Finale ... On paper, looks breezily balanced ...

Train pulling out! Consider this shortie a water stop on a red hot summer day. By the way, I skipped the Caballero canvas out there in lovely east Oakland by the freeway named Nimitz. Not worth trekking through a maze of urban riff raff to a tent that might or might not open for biz at 3 p.m. How like today's state of the little tops ... At least, for now, this I know: "We will be going to Long Beach."

And that’s a Vargas wrap.

First posted July 6, 2007

Thursday, October 13, 2016


This just flashed my way from Douglas McPherson:

"As the evil clown craze sweeps the UK, Zippos has turned it into a publicity opportunity by removing clowns from the show. Not strictly true, as revealed on my blog, but still a reflection of how the pranksters have unsettled the pros."

Or scroll down to the Circus Mania link on the right sidebar 

As reported also in The Sun: "Martin ‘Zippo’ Burton, who used to be a clown himself, is worried the ‘killer clown’ trend will affect his shows."

Friday, October 07, 2016

Creepy Clowns Grip the Nation! ... Letizel and Codona Movie in Works at Warner ... Cirque’s Paramour Gets Scripting Overhaul, Biz Remains Stagnant ... Vinyl is Back ... Farewell, Jack Ryan and Pat Cashin ... and More on the Inside!

Do Creepy Clown lives matter?  That’s what I heard this morning on a radio talk show having fun with the issue.

This latest media storm is becoming fodder for late night  TV comedians.   It’s also no laughing matter for our struggling big tops, unless some really smart circus can spoof its own jesters into a new kind of merry mayhem.  Ringling, you’ve tried outer space. What say, a trip to the asylum for retired clowns on parole?   Bring on the Scariest Show on Earth!

Creepy clown sightings are spreading like a visiting virus    Another gift of social media, the demented darlings are rattling news wires, stalking schoolyards, scaring kids half to death.  But what a nice diversion from that political circus going on all around us.  Maybe Lady Hillary or Lord Donald will show up at the next debate in gory greasepaint, or is that what they are already wearing?  (shhh! Think Hillary's laugh, kids ...)

Pity the well-intended circus clown: If this creepy movement isn’t reason enough for all circuses to ban traditional jester makeup in favor of the harmless red nose, (okay, to be extra safe, a pink one)  I don’t know what is.  More and more adults are outing their own fear of funny faces.   No longer something to hide from.  Simon Cowell on America’s Got Talent, for one.   Just another nail in the coffin of our sadly beleaguered big tops.

P.T. Barnum once said that "clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung."  Well, these days, they may be hanging it — literally

Onto great promising news  Have we, at last, a high-drama quality film for adults about a genuinely tragic American circus story?  New flick about aerial thrillers Lillian Leitzel and Alfred Codona in the works at Warner Bros, and how I hope the Weinsteins have their hands in this one.  Heavy weights already signed on include producer Andrew Lazaar, who handled Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, and Aussie actress Margot Robbie, right (The Wolf of Wall Street, Suicide Squad), to play Leitzel.  I’m thinking this could be The One I’ve been waiting for through too many mediocre big top flicks  Think of the background alone --- Ringling in the ‘20s!.  The rivalry between Leitzel and her scheming nemesis, conniving Vera Bruce ... Of the tragic ends that would befall both icons.  

To be based upon Dean N. Jensen’s 2013 book Queen of the Air, and I can’t wait.  Yes, I might have said that before another film, Water for Elephants, came out, but I’d not yet read the wretchedly brutal book from which the latter was faithfully adapted. 

Can Queen of the Air achieve what all other circus flicks have failed to do: Mine cinematic gold from genuine big top history? Film Makers and documentarians  have long shunned compelling subject matter staring them in the face: I’m thinking the towering figure of reckless circus king John Ringling, who lived a colorful and ultimately tragic life, and I’ve thought of Leitzel and Codona, and of course of the catastrophic Hartford fire, not to mention its genesis in a fractious war among Ringling heirs for control of the circus.

What do we usually get from Hollywood?  Of late, Water. I mean, tell me, please, was there ever a circus as thoroughly sadistic as that one?   As improbably untrue to any semblance of tent show history, then, before or now?

Another Cirque du Fizzle?  The company’s ill-reviewed New York stage show, Paramour, closed down quietly for a few days in late Auguest to reivse script in reponse to public feedback, some fans wanting “more acrobatics earlier in the show during the exposition,” others hungering for more meat on the bones of an empty-headed plot.  Post revamping, the altered Paramour is enduring ticket sales still ranging from pretty good to ominously stagnant, hovering too often in the 65% range.  I still think they have a chance.

Will the eggheads on the lot ever learn?  When I came across a New York Times review of two new stage shows, headlined “Identify Crisis: Theatre Productions That Refuse to be Theater,” I thought of how well it applies to circuses refusing to be circuses.

END RINGERS: Sadly, the passing of  Pat Cashin, clown and blogger, and only 48-years-old.  When I started up this blog, he was an early supporter.  That support faded away over the years, down to zero. I never exactly knew why, but likely something I said ... Also departing us, on August 25, another early supporter of my blog and the person who coined "May all your days be circus days," Ringling PR man Jack Ryan, at 77 ... Yet another circus school is rising, this one over Philly, site of the first circus to play America .... Warning to freak show imitators:  If you try dining on blades, be sure to order them Dull.  An Indian man suffering acute stomach pains, discovered by doctors to be harboring 40 various blades and knives in his guts.  About the unnamed patient, you’re thinking. extreme side show trickster?  No, think 42-year-old policeman – and maybe, on the side, a petty thief with a built in fencing flow  ... Retro trendy vinyl record lovers not going away.  It’s no passing fade.  Some new CDs coming out on old wax, too.  Down the street, just opened a vinyl-only shop.  Exciting!  Many of my old LPs from the fifties are still cracking-free good, I’ll have you know ... Sinatra never sounded better ... Oh, you gotta love the kids who don’t dismiss everything that came before them ...

Chase a creepy clown into a panic.  Pray for a great circus flick from the great Warner Bros.  And buy a vinyl record on me! 

Thursday, October 06, 2016

How Well is Cirque du Soleil's Paramour Doing Compared to Other Shows on Broadway?

Currently on Broadway, 29 shows are up and running.  The Broadway producers data base issues weekly business records.  One of the key factors reported on is gross percentage potential. 

Last week, Paramour ranked at 44.1%.

This would place the Cirque du Soliel production at number 26 out of the 29 shows.

Only three others ranked lower thank Paramour.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Big Apple Circus in Meltdown? The Paul Binder Equation May Not be Sustainable – Without Paul Binder

Given the urgency of the moment, I am bringing the one back.

Part 2 in a Series
Bottom Line, from the top:  Paul Binder lent an aura of command — real or subliminal — around which the entire company and its many supporters could cohere.

 The proposed circus school, in the beginning.
The most oft-visited reality of circus -- forever on the brink of disaster -- is once again threatening to put another show off the road.  Now, it is the theoretically formidable Big Apple Circus of New York --  not for the first time, but once more comes news of severe cutbacks and shake ups at Big Apple.   These are dire reports.   And so, direly I speculate:

Circuses by and large rest and move on the strong shoulders of one person -- the owner (or a figure virtually occupying that position) at the top.  They by and large do not work well as non-profit performing arts entities, which have a way of self-expanding into payroll-crushing monsters, not to speak of constant internal battles over who gets to run the show. Circus Vargas may call itself non-profit, but it hardly fits the profile.  Is it thriving?  I can’t say it is.  Please understand, one of the factors I look at is audience size.   I’ve seen mostly good crowds at Big Apple, mostly meager turnouts at Vargas, including, most recently in my own backyard, in Hayward.


At the foundation of Big Apple circus, founder Paul Binder, wanting it to be non-profit from the outset, built up a complex arts organization, to which his multiple talents seem to have been effectively applied.   Back slapping to fund raising -- big bucks in better times from corporate NY; discriminating trips abroad to scout some of the best acts in the world; a warm personal connection with the audience in his ringmaster red -- I fondly recall, during a performance in Brooklyn back in the 1980s, Binder taking some time, not overdone, to insert bits of historical information about some of the acts. A touch pastoral. 

 The Dusov Troupe: Big Apple books world  class acts.

There are many things of which I am uncertain, but here goes my best long-held impressions -- key components of the Paul Binder Equation -- primarily in the positive.

* An infections pied piper:  Great at fund raising, from the man on the street to the CEO in a glass tower. I can picture him talking the City of New York into giving him space at Lincoln Center, if not free, at dirt cheap prices.  Through the worst of times, he found ways to muddle through.

* The bogus (as I see it) repertory type troupe he commandeered — don’t think it ever produced first rate acts, but it added to the elitist imagery surely designed to impress arts-conscious New Yorkers.  This they could believe was their own circus.

* The Clown Care Unit, a noble venture, has helped sell BAC to corporate sponsors.  To this I see they have just added an Autism wing.   Charity has been used in many ways by circuses as a survival tool — pardon my pragmatism — but it can’t, I don’t think, save a show from irresponsible budgeting and top heavy management, or temporizing showmanship.

* Binder’s adoration of Bary Lubin’s Grandma, seen above in Dance On!, was,  I will concede, arguably well placed.  From on the ground experience, talking to a few Gotham locals around the Queens lot, while I do not believe that Grandma could solve all the problems,  I’ll be the first to admit, there are lot of New Yorkers out there who took this classic clown to heart, and were none to happy when he was let go.  Comedy is the trickiest thing to bring off, they say, even more so perhaps in a sawdust ring.  There are some great clowns and comics out there; BAC should do a better job at finding them.  In other words, Give the French their walking papers. 

* Binder paid great attention to the concerns and feelings of each and every member of the board, I can only infer, from his having, during our one interview, spoken highly of somebody who had just joined the Board, wanting to be sure I wrote down that person’s name.  A master diplomat in my distant view.

* Animals.  Genuinely sensitive to changing public sensibilities, Binder steered a wise course, safely in sway with domestic animals.  In recent years, Jenny Vidbel, above, has delivered delightful originality to the ring bordering on pure genius.  Photo by Bertrand Guay.

* Bureaucratic bloat:  On the downside, Binder's biggest shortcoming and  miscalculation, as I see it, was to foster too complex and far too costly an operating bureaucracy at the top.  Only he seems to have been able to sustain it through thick and thin.  The Great Recession took a terrible toll on the lush corporate funding that had given Paul & Company a free ride.  Much of that funding has dried up, and has evidently yet to return.   Barring a big box office turnaround --- in other words, evidence of showmanship that fills the tent day after day, I can't see it ever returning.

* Altogether, these attributes composed the Paul Binder equation.  There were, of course,  other more minor counterproductive policies and traits. He could not make his founding base, the circus school, work.   And he has been said by more than one source to have treated the lower working class ranks  with a cavalier disregard bordering on disdain.
**** Summing up, given the man's multi-faceted gifts, I have to believe they lent an aura of command — real or subliminal — around which the company could cohere.  Since his retirement, an increasingly ominous succession of short-lived CEO’s has left a clear impression of disarray and chaos at the top.  Can you imagine Apple or Goggle or Facebook — or even Ringling — being run in so slapdash a fashion?  I can’t.

And that’s the way it seems to be from my perch here in Oakland.

First posed September 27, 2015

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Creative Shanghai Acrobats Sizzle and Soar in Plodding Circus Ballet

Circus Review
Shanghai Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China
Shanghai Nights at Berkeley, CA
September 10, 2016

The richly talented Shanghai Nights, from one of the country’s leading troops, offers yet another one of those tortured patch works combining  ballet, theatre, opera, and circus.  But the circus parts are well worth the patience it may take for you to sit through the story-alluding segments. If I got it right, two fated lovers get torn apart, until they are reunited, and a clown is murdered.

How Novel: A Chinese Clown

The clown is played by the gifted Nia Jian, a charming asset to the troupe and to the story telling, such as it is, or may have been; I don't pay much attention to those things, and I don't think anybody else does, either.  Jian has comedic flair and charisma, agility and deft dancing skills.   A star jester, I'd guess, and in so unexpected a setting!

Show starts sluggish and slow, opening sequence needing to set up the story.  But once the best acts hit the stage, you will be amply rewarded.  The inventive genius of this troupe is stunning to behold. They employ clever new props, twists and turns to most of the familiar staples, ball juggling and bouncing, hat exchanges while dancing, diablo and teeterboard and the hoops, among the standout displays.

For example, when Nie Jian takes time out from his clowning for some serious work on the rolla bolla, he places cups on the tip of his balanced board, and flips them up onto his head. First one cup, then two, all the way up to five.  Five.  Get this: They are all flipped together, though separately, into the air and manage to land, each in succession, one after the other into the preceding cup! Jaw dropping.  

Collectively Dazzling

Much of the circus in this show is like that.  At delicious intervals, ensembles blossom into mesmerizing charivari action, banners flaring, people jumping off springboards in one direction, flying up in another, yet others dancing or juggling in a front line, the hyperactive juxtapositions a work of great joy.  So many tricksters doing so many wonderful things at the same time!  The hand of Buzby Berkeley comes to mind.  Yes, sit there through the big top broccoli servings and take it -- if you want to get to the good stuff -- the cotton candy thrills.  Oh, the sacrificial drudgery (pretending to be following a plot) of circus-going these days.

Imprisoned in Darkness

But don’t count on the first half stream of pure circus to be as abundant after intermission.  In fact,  the second half grows darker and more dramatic with the invasion of “evil forces.” The ballet crowd may go for some luminous stage pictures.  And those who favor Bach on solo violin may feel placated.  Yes, Cirque du Soleil’s fetish for opera comes annoyingly to mind.  Some of the recorded scoring, to be fair, is strong and relevant.

The Shanghai Acrobats have performed  with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and, lately, in concert halls to the music of the masters.  I think I would much prefer the symphony showcase to this.  But then again, I suppose they have their eye on patrons of the higher arts who want their circus free of all the things with which they have their "issues."  The perfect show for this crowd, which filled the Zellerbach.       

Were Shanghai Nights true, with every frame, to its acrobatic brilliance and compelling creative genius. I’d gladly give it at least 3-1/2 stars

But, it has all the other stuff that can feel stifling, however well intended or execuited.  Sorry, something about the weakest links in a chain, you know.  So, I'm giving it a decent 2-1/2 stars.

After the show talk: Shanghai Acrobats appeared at the ERA Intersection of Time, In Shanghai, in 2010-2012.  When I was there in 2010, I saw another very creative show, but with no where near the same problematic story line as this one.   I discuss it in my book, Inside the Changing Circus ... I'd love to have a photo of Nie Jian, but can't find any in my searches. Were I to contact the management, I am almost sure they would not favor me. I think they have a thing against giving any individual artist a shred of individual attention ... Was every act a gem? No, there were a few so-so routines.  The lady plate spinners, this time on stilts, did nothing but keep the plates spinning while walking around and around during one of the most boring narrative sequences.   I saw few flubs at the show I caught, doubly remarkable among the populous ensembles when so many things were in motion.  Much of the group work manipulating  similar objects was outstanding. As you know, it is not always that way.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Pig Goes to the Circus, and the Circus Comes Home

  Elmo Gibb and his Teeny Weeny Circus -- no pigs yet, but there's a mind-reading pony.

Full disclosure:  Nothing at a circus delights me so much as a very unusual animal entering  the ring, even if it only does, well, almost anything   All it need do is something unexpected, and I’m a happy fan.  Yes, a bag of popcorn please!

Perhaps the sheer elation, the humor and joy of it all reconnects me to how the circus can delight children.  How it, I suppose, delighted me in my boyhood.

It’s a reason why I love the more bohemian animal acts of Jenny Vidbel, who’s been a regular of late on the Big Apple Circus.   A while back, she had, did she not, a rodent and a performing skunk?  Critters off the beaten big top path.  And she had them snapping to and fro on cue.  Now, that’s entertainment!

When my friend Boyi Yuan, who went to Ringling’s Out of This World with his girlfriend, told me about the experience, I asked him what he thought of the show.  He twisted his face in frustrated  ambivalence.   “I wish there wasn’t so much stuff going on,” he said, stating his preference for watching the acts in a less overdone format.   He thinks the show might please the children more than the adults

And then his face brightened fully. “I loved the animals!” 

I told him how much I agreed, how they had, for me, made the show, too. 

“The pig!” he said.

Around a pig Boyi and I could rally a shared joy.  We talked about how it reached the top of the slide and stood there for a moment, looking down in hesitation, and then on all fours, and ever so cautiously, made the slide all the way down.

Boyi, raised on a farm in China around barnyard critters,  wondered, in a kind of awe,  how it could have been taught to perform as a it did

Nothing charms me so much, or did I already say it?  Well, then, let met say it again, as the entrance into the ring of out of the circus-ordinary animals. 

Up there at the top is a photo found and linked my way by Don Covington, of the Teeny Winny Circus, whose mover and shaker, clown Elmo Gibb, presents it at fairs.  It reminded me of the old John Strong circus when it played county fairs under a tiny little top, when John greeted the audience as an ambassador of great and looming gratitude. “Oh, look who I see in the crowd!  Well, how are you!  Hey, there’s Art!” 

When he coached a gaggle of home grown mutts through their boisterous basics.

When he touted big moments in his humble ring.  “Got a good hand, Muster the Clown!”

When he even once had a little elephant, Nina, in his mighty little lineup.

Boyi and I fell into accord over how the animals at Ringling made the show.

In my opinion, they rescued  a shaky space voyage. When all else fails, bring in the dogs.  Even better, give us a pig fit for the greatest show on earth.


Up next:  I review Shanghai Nights, from the Shanghai Acrobats of the People's Republic of China.

Monday, September 05, 2016

San Francisco and the Circus on Labor Day

For over half a century Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey came to the city by the bay every year without fail, and on almost every Labor Day weekend.

They played the Cow Palace, where they had turned crowds away by the thousands in 1948, above,  the year the building was built.  I saw the circus there in 1955, during a labor strike when more than half the seats were empty

 The Ringling side show, in front of the Cow Palace, 1955

The show returned in 1957, and would play the Cow Palace every year without fail, up until a few seasons ago, when the modern scene with its many issues coming into conflict with circus made it near impossible to pull decent crowds without animal rights protestors spoiling circus day.

In San Francisco, the city of my birth, I saw my first circus, Polack Bros, at the Civic Auditorium.  Three images would stay with me: the flying trapeze net, elephants  entering the arena, and a clown gag that made me laugh: They lit off a cannon, which only made a squeak, then a small firecracker which produced a huge cannon blast.

The San Francisco I was born into was a real city.  Working class families.  Factories and produce, and all the ships of commerce that came in and docked, were off loaded and on loaded,  and sailed back across the sea.   After graduating from high school in another town - Santa Rosa, I went down to live in San Francisco, still enamored of the city.  I worked as a bus boy in Foster’s restaurants and as a clerk typist at Planters Peanuts in the warehouse.  The SF stint lasted less than a year.  I would never live there again.

Because a thriving middle class once lived there, it had a great amusement park that entertained the masses.

Today, Playland-at-the-Beach is long gone, which may tell you something.  Most American cities have retained their amusement parks.  But San Francisco has dehumanized itself into a cold and heartless, elitist and greedy metropolis for the one percent crowd.  Here, the rich make an art of it. And here over precarious landfill by the bay, buildings continue to rise.  Nauseating.  Now the developers are reaping engineering nightmares:  One of the new towers is leaning, believe it or not, and owners of million dollar condos are beside themselves, filing lawsuits, fearing the unthinkable.  I feel little sympathy for these high rise hedonists.  

All over town, renters, some up in years, are being callously evicted or run off by steep rental hikes, the owners lusting after the new crowd willing to pay anything to live here, or the tourist trade. 

I have little feeling for this city.  They can’t destroy its natural beauty, but they can and are destroying its character and spirit.

What remains is a freak show of in-your-face liberation fanatics.  A smug “sanctuary city,” driven by white guilt.  A navel-gazing playground for digital airheads.

San Francisco has a circus school, Static Trapeze among its studies, and some in places of higher leaning point to it as one of America’s best.   The roster of teachers is so long, I wonder if there are more instructors than students.  I have yet to come across an artist or act at a real circus that came out of the school.  No surprise, for that is the state of the States.  This country simply does not produce world class acts.  Too long a story to substantiate here.

I thought that Ringling might play the Cow Palace to show off their new circus without elephants.  But they did not.  That's right, the show still flaunts wild animals in the big cage. For this reason alone, not exactly a surprise that Out of This World was panned by the S.F. Chronicle.

I suppose the Felds have had their fill of this place.  I can’t blame them.

My mother once saw Sells-Floto Circus in San Francisco. And once upon a season, every labor day, I went to see Ringling Bros. at the great and glorious old cement barn, the Cow Palace.