"But Circus Isn't Dead ... We're Coming"

"But Circus Isn't Dead ... We're Coming"
John Ringling North II, Keeping Proudly Alive the House of Ringling

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Monday Wake-Ups: Rat, Rodent , & Pickpocket a Hit at Big Apple Circus ... New Circus World Boss Floats Big Ideas ... Cat Competition Videos a New Rage ...

A little levity out of the past ...

Late breaking!  Another Circus du Soleil aerialist falls ...  Reported the Los Angeles Times Sunday evening, "... another mishap in Las Vegas last week when a performer fell during a show ... The accident Friday came just three days after regulators slapped Cirque with six citations alleging work-safety violations connected to the death of an aerialist during a performance of "Ka" at the MGM Grand in June."  Performer fell from the ever-hazardous Wheel of Death, and is expected to leave hospital in a few days.

 Pickpocket for fun makes hay with rat and rodent at Big Apple Circus 

My eyes on a certain rat and a certain Rodent named Bob, grabbing Gotham glee at Big Apple Circus’s new Luminocity, which is coming out to the usual rosy notices.   Waxing high in The New York Times, declares reviewer Laurel Graeber,  “A circus that can keep a rambunctious toddler rapt for two hours deserves praise. But an even greater test of quality is whether it can entertain a jaded grown-up for just as long."  Mission accomplished.  “Luminocity succeeds on both counts.’‘ ...

One of the delights amounts to the slyly simple: pickpocket- magician Pierre Ginet tossing an “amiable rat” into a trash bin, the amiable survivor, like any good NY rat, very much alive, reversing the snub by emerging into a far larger size.  “Big Apple fans,” writes Graeber, quite tickled,  “will recognize this as a capybara, the world’s largest rodent.”  Didn’t I tell you how Gotham went a gaga over Bob a few years back – that’s the rodent’s show name. Bob.  “And what could be a more appropriate place for the biggest rodent on the planet than a Dumpsters in Times Square?” asks the astute critic.  Those 42nd Street rats are lionized like stage stars ...

Don't go any further, yet!  Tell me what you see:  A.  Nebraska  Hay Balers Cooperative?   B. Donald Trump's Private Badminton Court?   C.  The Affordable Health Care National Calling Center? 

Is anyone still wanting to “restore” or “revive” or “rethink” the value of the old Ringling arena down in Venice, FLA, after looking at the sterile structure, above, of what still stands following a virtual demolition? Come on now, are you telling me you see circus in that thing?  I see a NASA parking garage. Wrote a local scribe,  “they tore down the wall, but left the basic structure,” which is like saying they struck the big top but left the stake holes in the ground.  What I see conveys absolutely nothing. It’s over, Tito, over.

Onto an abundance of atmosphere, still standing triumphantCircus World Museum’s new — or latest big boss — Scott O’Donnell, floating big expansive ideas for jazzing up the place, and, kudos in advance! He did not mention restoring another circus wagon, from what I read.  A start in the right direction ... He wants to restore for public display the old train barn in the backyard.  I’ve seen it, thanks to Heavy, who gave me a tour of the place, and it's an industrial show stopper.  So symbolic of early Ringling on the rise ... Highest on Scott’s list is bringing back the Great Circus Parade ... Also, he talks of building a new exhibit hall, as if they need another, projected to be “interactive.”  This designed partly to fill the big void left by a sucking sound south (to FLA) of numerous Feld-owned  historical goodies, alleged to have only been “loaned” to Baraboo many years ago.  Now being called home, home being the new Feld Entertainment headquarters just north of Sarasota.  Well, okay, if that's what they say.  I guess.  I suppose  But I do wonder if  the freight charges south were paid for by one Mr. Tibbals. As they say, follow the money ...

End Ringers: Cavalia, the horse troupe I stupidly predicted would meet with an early demise, still touring, now in DC showing off its latest, ‘Odysseo.”  They found their grove, I think, when they brought acrobats into the mix, thus crafting something much more than a horse show — closer to the original Phillip Astley modern-day circus invention from old London town.  Since then, I've detected various configurations of this latent reincarnation, promising indeed -- sometimes the tumblers coming first, other times the horses.  ... Circus cabaret “La Soire” previewing off-Broadway, itself a growing playground with ticketing for smaller alternative circus troupes reaching for the upper class.  Show hits the sawdust November 7. ... BTW: Did you know that one Italian automaker, of the Lamborghini line, refuses to hire a single robot? All-human all the way ...

Or, did you know that Cat Video Festivals are now purring across the land?  Precocious felines compete for a variety of awards offered by various venues, from the Golden Kitty to The Golden Litter Scoop – and what do they do to woo the judges?  Circus talent scouts, take note: One stares into a mirror.   Another attacks a sheet of paper coming out of a printer.  And, as seen above, possibly one of the trio of concert divas, recently observed “nodding in unison” to a passage from Mozart.   Paws of perfection, coming to a symphony-circus program near you soon!  You cats bearing medals, you have options  ... And soon, you'll have the agents I could never land in a million moons.

First posted November 14, 2013

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Beat of the Big Tops: Ringling Goes Out with a Whimper ... John Ringling North II Thanks PETA for Free Publicity ... HBO Smiles Upon Smaller Circuses ... Past CFA President Critical of Feld’s Hasty Fold

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey may be gone, but John Ringling North II is not.  And he’s not going anywhere but up the road onto the next stand for Kelly Miller Circus, the mid-sized tent show he bought ten years ago.  Interviewed for a segment by HBO about the collapse of the circus his uncle’s helped found, said North, “I don’t think it’s a circus without elephants.”

Bring It On, PETA
This Ringling is tingling with heart, and with a rare sense of humor.  He whimsically antagonizes his antagonizers from No-Animals Central:  “They generally help  business.  They get press coverage and people know we’re here,  I often go out and thank them, which they hate.”

Love it, Sir John II!

Unlike most TV networks , HBO spread some sunshine through the clouds left hovering over the last Ringling stand in Uniondale, New York. 

“The demise of Ringling bros isn’t the end of the road for the circus,” noted reporter Kristin Fraser,.  “Small circuses still cross cross the country.”   Adding to the hopeful theme, said Kelly Miller Ringmistress. Rebeca Ostroff, “We bring the circus to people,  and it’s easier for them to see us.”

 "People like tradition,”says the last Ringling on the lot. “Even if they've never been to see Ringling Bros, they know the name.”

I was so depressed the morning after Kenneth Feld’s spectacular fold, so engulfed in a void of desolation, that I hadn’t the heart to move on the first draft of a post I was doing about my feelings.  How I hungered for a sliver of good news.  Anything.   And then came the HBO story, and a YouTube of it linked my way by Don Covington.  And my favorite quote from  the unflappable North:

“But circus isn’t dead, we’re coming.”

How I’d love to be there when Johnny the Second personally thanks his animal rights opponents for the publicity and patronage they are helping to promote.  Gosh, could you ever have imagined it coming to this?  A circus owner thanking PETA?   Only from wryly amusing John Ringling North II.
His five famous uncles must be smiling down on him and his twelve-hundred seat tent, fully twice the seating of theirs when they opened in Baraboo in 1884.

Super Fan Takes on Kenneth Feld

He’s Pete Adams, past president of the CFA, seen here at his home in Sarasota.  He’s fearlessly unafraid to say how how unhappy he is with the actions taken by Kenneth Feld, only a multi-billionaire who could have – chump change to him – kept a smaller unit of the show on the road, with trucks, something he had already done with his Gold Unit.  I saw one of its one-ring shows at Coney Island -- one of the very best circuses I'd seen in years.

Not with a Bang, But a Whimper ...

About the sudden close, it didn’t have to happen, Adams implies, as I have asserted on this blog, and how refreshing to hear a super CFA-er take on the most questionable circus axing of all time.   Had Irvin Feld been around, Pete Adams does not believe it would have happened at all.  ”If his dad was still alive, he’d be very disappointed in his family. I truly believe they made their money to buy the operations they have today based upon what they made originally from the circus.” 

This is a story that will only get more interesting — hopefully more revealing — as the embers of a tragedy cool and people begin digging  through the ruins for deeper clues into what really drove the Feld of Felds to take such dire action.  There are already conspiracy theories floating around.  One thing is certain: It was not for lack of money. 

And, know what? I don’t feel so bad after turning this one out.

Call me a super circus fan!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

$10 Big Top Typewriter Sale Returns! ... To Honor Ringling History as It Comes to a Close

Pittsburgh, 1956

The last days of Ringling are upon us.  Tears are falling. "The tiger presenter weeps as he ends his act with the big cats."  Hugs are warmer, longer.  Partings, more painful than before.  But while the Big Show may be  ending  for good (may we call that a provisional ending"?), Big Top Typewriter is opening for business, just in time to help preserve your fondest memories. On  sale through Sunday for only $10, here's your lifetime ticket to a Ringling show that will never end -- to a rich and rollicking journey through over fifty years of American circus history in which the Greatest Show on Earth plays a leading role.  From the last big top in Pittsburgh, 1956, to the last show in Nassau on Sunday, from John Ringling North to Irvin and Kenneth Feld, the dazzling showmanship of our nation's most celebrated circus will live on forever.  Journey with  Showbiz David on his personal adventures up and down sawdust trails, in and around big tops near and far, both as participant and observer.  Be prepared to be entertained.

 Kudos are rolling in

      Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

 Amazon consumer review

Douglas McPherson, Circus Mania

-- James Royal, American and European circus manager

  Blasting News, UK

Hurry!  Hurry!  Buy now for only $10!  Sale ends Sunday, when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey says farewell to the world.

Available on Amazon
240 pages / 95 photographs
Index -- might your name be in there?
(Sorry, peanuts not included)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Oh, Happy Day! Grandma Returns to the Big Apple Circus

 Photos for New York Daily News by Andrew Savulich

So, let’s all sing a happy song for a change.  Like a glorious MGM sunrise on the big screen, comes a burst of good news, and let’s hope it marks more good news yet to come.

Grandma’s on her way back, to rejoin the re-organized  Big  Apple Circus!    And that’s, by far, the smartest move the new owners could have made.  I'm impressed.   New Yorkers now have a strong sentimental reason to return in droves as the show goes back on the road, come October at Lincoln Center.  Having stood in ticket lines and sat with local residents though several Big Apple shows under the tent in Queens, I came to learn of their enduring affection for one of America’s legendary clowns.  

Next smartest move the new owners, Sarasota-based Compact Partners, can make would be a royal reinstatement of Big Apple’s founder and personable ringmaster, Paul Binder.  Even after his official “retirement” in 2008,  Paul has labored tirelessly to help raise funds needed to keep the show on the road, season after season.  In my book, he is still the heart of this national treasure.

In ringmaster red, Paul would be the perfect host to greet loyal New York patrons back into the tent.  As a ringside announcer, he is one of the best, neither bombastic nor bland.  Informed, gracefully enthused, most of all— gracious.  He recently served as Celebrity Ringmaster for the New England Center for Circus Arts Circus Spectacular. 

Another big plus, where Paul a part of the mix, is the natural, understated chemistry in the ring that he and Barry Lubin (Grandma) share  The presence of the two would lend a feeling of a family tradition reunited.

Already, with Grandma signed, Compact will enjoy, and well deserves to enjoy, enormous respect from the city, and this move will give them, I believe, an emotional toehold into the town's very psyche.  Bravo, Compact!

In other promising news, down Baraboo way Circus World excitedly awaiting a new and bigger tent,  said to offer twice the seating capacity, for the summer circus shows. Says top man Scott O'Donnell  to the Baraboo Republic:  “We’re thrilled to have a tent with a larger capacity with the upcoming homecoming and all those crazy events – it’s going to be a well-used space.”

While the Ringling funeral trains rattle down tracks of finality, back to Sarasota for the last ride, while curious onlookers along the way rush in to snap selfies and to wonder why, and while others with a lifetime of memories shed tears over the most devastating chapter in American circus history, the circus world is not about to fall over and follow the Feld script.   The circus world is still finding ways to adapt, to downsize if necessary, this when an emerging class of more vocal Americans are beginning to make their more populist voices known in the court of public opinion, too long dominated by small bands of activists.  Say the new dissenters in growing mass, We want animal acts!

On this critical subject, writes Barry Lubin on his Facebook, as quoted in Circus Report: “There is only one American circus that god rid of elephants last may and is closing this May. It’s a big one for sure. It was my home base for 5 seasons.  I feel terrible for those losing their jobs .... but may I make a suggestion: If yah like circus, go see other wonderful shows crisscrossing the American landscape these days.  The living breathing American art form we call circus ain’t dead!

Show us the way, Grandma!

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Big Top Typewriter is Coming to the Circus World Museum

Excited to announce that my new book, Big Top Typewriter, will be coming to Circus World’s gift shop, ready for the summer crowds and the opening of the circus show on May 19.

I can't think of a more idyllic setting for the book and buyer to meet.  The enchanting town of Baraboo itself.   The walk down Water Street past original Ringling brothers buildings, and onto the grounds, where the magic of what the five brothers gave us lives vividly on.

Here is where the most famous circus title in the world was born.

Also the perfect setting, given that the young up and coming circus kings make a rare and rousing cameo in my book -- a cameo that I could never have imagined when I set out to begin writing it many drafts ago.

While working on the very last draft, but still mired in a critical chapter that I believed needed a stronger ending, suddenly there it came, from out of nowhere --  the nowhere of my mind — Al,  Alf T,  Charles, Otto, and John entering to deliver it:  They were just beginning a glorious new chapter in their own remarkable rise to  the top of the big top.  How surprising it all happened – exactly what the chapter needed! Exactly what we all need now, I believe, as we face the depressing day of a world without Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

So, what better place on earth than Baraboo to purchase your copy of the book -- or, if you already have, maybe an extra copy or two for others, come birthdays or holidays?

Thank you for the honor, Circus World!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Save ONE CENTS on Big Top Typewriter! ...

Hurray!  Hurray!  Amazon dropped the list price down from $17.95 to $17.94! .... 

Causing a run on sales ....

Catapulting Big Top Typewriter back to  #1 on Amazon's Hot New Releases in Circus Performing Arts!

Buy now!  Sale may end at any time!

Price could rise any time soon! ...

The world may end any time soon! ...

Dare you live the "complete life" without your own big top typewriter?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Celebrate World Circus Day! - $10 Opening Day Tickets to Big Top Typewriter! ...

(The sale has ended)

4/20: ... LATE ...  BREAKING ... FROM ... ABROAD! ...

Blasting through with colossal kudos
from Blasting News: 

 "Compelling ... 
Behind the scenes look at the workings of the circus industry and the author’s encounters with its stars and showmen ...  
A thrilling roller coaster ride through his career as a writer. I was cheering him on all the way through this breezy page-turner of a book."

STILL # 1 on Amazon in Hot New Circus Titles!

Step right up to Showbiz David's new tendentiously tickling tanbark triumph, Big Top Typewriter!

"Eye-opening! ... Amusing! ... Anything but your staid story of  circus, " says the Midwest Book Review!  
"Here's a book with glue on the cover...
I couldn't put it down!"
- Douglas McPherson, Circus Mania

Go beyond the banner lines with your very own copy of Big Top Typewriter! (sorry, peanuts not included)

Monday, April 10, 2017

"Highly Recommended" -- Advance Critical Acclaim for Big Top Typewriter from Midwest Book Review Promises Readers Something Very Different ...

#1 on Amazon: Hot New Releases in Circus Performing Arts

 "Amusing ... Eye-opening ... A rare coverage that stands out even from the plethora of big top histories and performer biographies. Big Top Typewriter is anything but your staid story of circus animals and performers ... Highly recommended for readers who like circus exposés, and aspiring writers who struggle to find, project, and publish their own unique voices and styles.” 
 –- Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

We're riding a big top high over this first review of my new book, due out on Amazon by World Circus Day this Saturday, April 15.  

The full in-depth write up will appear in the May issue of Midwest Book Review.

Photos of La Norma.  She's the star of the cover.  Among many photos I referred to book designer Brian Pearce for his consideration -- as well as linking him to Tim Tegge's archives -- to my delight one of Brian's  selections was La Norma, and best of all,  he placed her in what I think of as the center ring ring spot.  And he spent some time making a rather grainy image less grainy.

Another welcome surprise, and I had nothing whatsoever to do with this, the three photos Brian selected represent the three staples of circus: Animals, acrobatic daredevils, and clowns.  I love the parade of showgirls and elephants!

Sunday, April 09, 2017

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.

So did I. 

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!

originally posed September 14, 2016

Friday, April 07, 2017

Across My Big Top Typewriter Rolls a Spangled Parade of Star Troupers ...

Fond recollections of  some of the many circus people I have been lucky to meet across the seasons, most of them making appearances or cameos in my new book, due out on World Circus Day.

* Barbette: His eccentric attire and manner while directing  production for Polack Bros. Circus, opened my very young eyes to the strange bohemian ways  of the big top and its people   How I would live to regret never having sought an interview with Barbette. 

*  Sid Kellner, who hired me to work the James Bros Circus advance as press agent..  He could be charismatic and warm, and, on one shocking occasion, something quite different.   I ended up with an affection for my one big top boss, and with  haunting regrets over the great potential that Sid, in my view too addicted to the phone rooms,  never quite realized.     

* Henry Ringling North, when finally I was admitted  through at New York’s Yale club, having been stopped at the sign-in desk for lack of proper attire (they found a make-do tie to frame my mug in), once I reached Mr. North many floors above,  he bore a certain air of impatience, as if I had failed to dress for the king of England. A good interview followed.

* John Strong, sitting in the front row while I, all tangled up in my notes, gave a shaky address at the Circus Fans Convention in Scottsdale, Arizona.  The awe on Big John's face as he looked up at me was so much like my own, when many years before, sitting under John's  tiny tent at the county fair, I was charmed by  his fo;ksy ringmaster style.  John gave me my first interview, and I landed a big profile of him in The White Tops.   How could you not love Big John?  Those days of youth were the best days.

* His thundering knock on my motel room door in Sarasota, a half hour earlier than I had expected him to arrive.  When I opened it, there he stood: “Hell, David, I haven’t got time to waste. Let’s get this over with!”  It was Noyelles Burkart, a former Ringling legal adjuster (fixer) who had moved the show off the lot on Minneapolis in 1955, after the crew suddenly went on strike, leaving a tent full of disoriented spectators in stark limbo.  He, no fan of John Ringling North, spoke of his darker side, but would not let me quote him in Big Top Boss.

I had great luck with circus man Merle Evans, who gave me one of my best interviews, and publicist F. Beverly Kelly, who penned a foreword for my book Behind the Big Top

* Miguel Vazquez, quad prince of the flying trapezes. Since he had caught his first quad on my birthday, I had a particular feeling for this incredibly gifted artist: Before a special screening of Phil Weyland’s film, The Last Great Circus Flyer, Weyland had arranged for my trek up the stairs to the highest reach in the balcony.  Into a small reception room I entered.  And there sat the famous flyer,  rising to his feet to offer me an elevating hug.

* May Wirth, then in a Sarasota convalescent home, speaking to me while I tape recorder took it all down of her love for her horse Joe, and of John Ringling, whenever he was on the lot, demanding a complete act, no matter the weather, come hell or high water.  She liked Charles  Ringling a lot more.

* John Ringling North, somewhere in the luxury condo on the Sarasota Keys, the afternoon I had arrived to meet and interview him, thanks to his brother Henry have secured the arrangements. But where was he, I wondered, and when would he appear?  While speaking with Henry, who was in the kitchen behind an open bar, I happened to glance back in the other direction, and there stood the man who had thought up the ballet for elephants -- as if he had alighted from another sphere, smack dabble in the middle of the spacious living room, smiling brightly, his eyes twinkling, as if having entranced me with what felt like a magical entrance.  Scripted?  The Wizard of Circus.

* Alexi Sonin, director of the circus in St. Petersburg bursting into my box during intermission, having been told of my high regard for the show bringing me back to see it a second time.  Now, he was coming to introduce himself to me! With Sonin came a humorous young prop hand to supply rudimentary translation, and through a few words and overly active body language, what a time we had.  The great director directed the two of us into some dramatic posturing while a camera snapped away.

Alexi Sonin,  right, and museum director Alexander Levin, center, during my 1979 visit to the circus in Leningrad.  

* Barbara Byrd, recalling while we spoke by phone of how her dad, Dory, loved sitting under the big top and watching his show, day after day,  whether there were "200 people in the seats, or two thousand people in the seats."

* Irvin Feld: My one brief and accidental sighting of the indomitable showman at the DC Armory in 1972, during the great circus war between Ringling-Barnum and Circus America,.  Brief, and yet  how vivid did his personality come across.  Can you image this Irvin ever retiring his beloved circus from the road?   

* So many others, too, were I lucky to meet or observe in action, close up. Among them: Merle Evans,  Art Concello, Jane Johnson,  Cliff Vargas, Johnny Pugh, La Norma, Louis Stern, Paul Binder, Richard Barstow, Pete and Norma Cristiani, Kenny Dodd, costume designer Miles White, himself full of juicy tales he later recanted on.