Friday, April 14, 2017

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

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!
STILL offered by Amazon for only $10!
(Hurry!  Hurry! Amazon can end sale anytime, when book will go back up to $17.95)

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

While the sale lasts, you can have your very own  big top typewriter for just $10!  (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.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Big Top Bits: Redoubtable Carson & Barnes to Open in Paris; Show Has New Routing Agent on Advance ... Cirque du Soleil Still Hunting for More $$$$$$$

Way Back When ...

Alex, a star of Carson & Barnes Circus, returns in 2011

All is well in the variable world of tent shows: Carson & Barnes, reportedly routing its new season behind the skills of a new agent with fresh ideas and maybe angles, touting its engagement, via Las Vegas, of the Rinny Family from Buenos Aires (a little Evita music, please), who work "a never before seen" act involving juggling and unicycles. "King of Comedy" Alex returns -- he, I know, has amassed something of a fan base. I recall liking him a lot, though not so much when he had to interact with an overbearing ringmaster ...

So, where might Barbara Byrd's big top be headed? I'm hoping they return to my sinking state of California; my dreams of the ultimate circus experience under any-sized top never die. I'd like to take another look at Alex in action ... This I can report: C&B opens a series of three one-day stands come March 19 in Paris (TX), leading me to wonder if I had it right -- that they might scale down to mostly one dayers; there are also some multiple day sleepovers in the early season frame. Still, I'm feeling like a provisional prophet, if you'll indulge my overworked ego ...

Cirque du Soleil may end up needing much more than a new routing agent. You may remember when they sold 20% interest into some Dubai investors; bye, bye, Dubai? Original expansionist plans on hold. King Guy Laliberte now telling the press, "There has been no contribution to growth from that partner." Heck, I don't hold an MBA, but, was not the check itself (to the tune, I believe, of $400 million) not the "contribution"? The King expects follow-through on new venues promised, in which, presumably, new CDS shows would play to, well, who? "They can't sell their shares without our approval," says the King, who also says he is open to selling off another ten percent of his empire to yet another investor or two. This all from the London Daily Telegraph by way of the Covington Courier, only adding to the impression that CDS is walking its own perilous corporate high wire. It may well be hurting for cash, what with contracts for new shows at Radio City Music Hall and the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood ... "To protect against over-expansion," says Laliberte, "we have made a decision of not creating more than three new tours or permanent shows a year." Know what I think? This guy, a poker player on the side, has a dangerous habit.

No need for liability insurance? Lady Circus elephants

An Actuary's Price on Peril: New niche shows out there getting regional attention include Lady Circus, out of Brooklyn; Aerial Angels of Kalamazoo, Michigan; and the Imperial OPA Circus in Atlanta. As reported by Lauren Cannon in INC.Com, a spin-off issue concerns personal- versus company-funded accident insurance for performers. Workers Comp, which Big Apple Circus artistic director Guillaume Dufresnoy believes every troupe should have, is expensive, he acknowledges. This results in many circus owners requiring their artists to sign waivers of liability. Dufresnoy "scoffed" at the common use of waivers, albeit a little hypocritically. "We use them, too. I think it's a first line of defense, but they're easily challengeable." The man's candor impresses. Me, if not his superiors.

So glad I simply sit out in the seats, even without a policy covering against getting bonged on the head by a falling tent pole or a backfiring clown act. Suggests Anya Sapozhnikova, founder of Lady Circus in which she performs, "If you're really paranoid about getting sued, you probably shouldn't be a circus performer." Another Big Reason, I assume, why the Mexican Family Plan can be so attractive to our struggling shows.

End Ringers: Happy days down there in Oklahoma, where an abundant flow of happy Hugo families in force held the first International Red Nose Cafe fundraiser, proceeds to benefit the construction of a new building for the Circus City Museum and Park. Home to three tent shows including Carson & Barnes and Kelly-Miller, Hugo's been a mighty little circus town since 1942 ... Craig Voise, nephew of famed Harold Voise of the Flying Voises -- or Harolds, e-mailing me about his new blog featuring photos many should enjoy. When Harold flew for the Clyde Beatty Circus in '52, the program magazine, treating him like a Codona god, claimed he was turning -- "what no other aerialist even attempts -- triples. Very very young then, I saw the show, but can't recall such high drama. Two trap troupes worked, the Voises and the Harolds. Give Craig's blog a fly! Here's your connection: ...Swiss daredevil, 46-year-young Freddy Nock, knocking down high-wire records with clean aplomb. Now attached to his name -- highest cable walk in recorded history (who knows what those creatures who came before us did): 10,836 feet high. The down hill stroll itself, from one mountain station to another, covered a distance of 5,249 feet! A first attempt was aborted by bad weather. AP reports playing up Nock's not using "a harness of safety nets." Just how would he, were he so inclined? I can't imagine he was insured, and I'm starting to feel belatedly, if you'll pardon my chronic naivete, why so many circuses are so willing to tolerate if not mandate the use of lifelines. And why, on PBS, we watched Paul Binder fretting over the slightest hint of a performer approaching an accident. Safer? Yes. A boon to the box office? You tell me ... Oh, so many things out there to emasculate the ageless delight!

The Jose Michel Clowns at Circus Sarasota earned a so-so nod from the Herald Tribune's Jay Handelman in his generally upbeat review.

Ouch! Turn off the Dark, Spiderman: Early reviews out for the new musical on Broadway that trades on circus dynamics are positively dreadful. From the Washington Post, "a formidable contender for the worst musical ever."

First posted February 7, 2011

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Ringling's Two Darkest Hours Recalled in New Book

The Last Ringling big top, Pittsburgh, PA, 1956
The sudden closing of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, its final performance scheduled for May on Long Island, will mark one of the two darkest turning points in Ringling history, both recalled by Showbiz David in his new book, Big Top Typewriter: My Inside Adventures through The World of Circus, due out this spring.

Never could he have imagined, says the author, that there would come a day without the Greatest Show on Earth.

“I expected Ringling to be the last circus standing.  Circus owner Kenneth Feld is a multi-billionaire, and the Feld family, who have a genius for adaptation and change, have long prided themselves on being stewards of the famed Ringling legacy.”  The late Irvin Feld, father of Kenneth, above, bought the circus fifty years ago, this November.

For the most part, public response to the news, noted the author, has been “surprisingly indifferent,” with the loudest voices coming from animal rights activists claiming a major victory.    But audiences have changed.  “Americans once flocked to big tops for guilt-free amusement. Now, their minds are weighed down with conflicting issues about traditional circus staples, from clowns to animals." 

The other traumatic Ringling season, recounted in the early chapters of Showbiz David's  new book, occurred in 1956, when John Ringling North struck the big top for good.  “The public and press went into mourning, reacting as if the circus had died forever. North was reviled as ‘the executioner’ – the man who killed Santa Claus. But he did not send the circus into the history books, only into arenas.”

Then a young boy, David, who had seen the Ringling circus under its big top but only once, the year before,  poured out his grief in a letter to the minority Ringling stockholders, after they launched a national PR campaign to bring back the big top.  One of them, Stuart Lancaster, called him from Sarasota, to float the idea of his being hired to serve as a young
person’s Spokesman.  But nothing came of the offer, or of the Lancaster lawsuit against North.

For a spell, the heart-broken young letter writer thought of himself as David Ringling Lancaster.  “Another short-lived thrill that left me equally distraught.”
Coming to Amazon on World Circus Day, April 15.           

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Big Top Bits: Melha Shrine on Elephants Return ... Montreal Disdain on Animal acts ... Don Stacey on Monte Carlo Highlights ... Paul Binder ’s Silence on New Big Apple Circus Owners ...

 And you thought the elephants were on their way out?

Not so fast.

Come early May up West Springfield, Mass way,  Melha Shriners to bring back the Big Foots, after going only one year without them and suffering a big loss in patronage. Make that over 25% fewer spectators, not to mention those who demanded refunds after learning program had no animals.

Cheering applause, please, for Melah’s fearless circus chairman, Al Zippen, our stand-in Barnum for the moment.  He telling AP that, minus performing pachyderms, the 2016 show suffered its first loss in its 75 year history.   What the public was offered instead, something with a theme called  “circus with a purpose,“ apparently purposed itself into irrelevance.   When will the classroom be once and for all run off the lot?

Six thousand five hundred fewer ticket buyers last year helped bring them to their sawdust senses.  “The first year we lost money,” said Zippne.  “We went in the hole,” to the tune of $65,000.

What gives the story legs is that the Shriners are behind it.  And as one Temple goes, so, too, may others in time.  Know why?  I think it’s adults wanting their children to be exposed to the magical inspiration of how animals can be taught to interact with human kind and with each other.

Montreal mouthing off again: Nothing like being lectured to in times of storm and stress by the poohbahs of the age of big top enlightenment. In this scintillating instance, allow me to quote Cavalia’s founder Normand Latourelle, on the subject that dares not speak its name in the sacred environs of all-human circus land to the North.  Speaking with Craig’s Chicago Business,  claimed Latourelle, “To get elephants and lions and tigers to perform, you have to abuse them ... You have to train them using fear, with whips.  So they are always either chained or caged or scared.”

Compared to which, of course Latourelle’s pampered horses enjoy, it would appear, Waldorf-Astoria stables.  In the words of the reporter taking it all down, they spend only  “half the performance unencumbered by saddles, riders, bits or reins.” Might their employment package also include a daily massage and coiffure?  And, per chance, do they also enjoy the right to put in for time off?  To have final say in contract renewals?  I can’t help but wondering what sort of hidden hypocrisy might lurk behind such precious self-superiority.

Onto the sanity, the courage and the greatness of Monte Carlo’s embracement of World circus: UK’s  Don Stacey, with little patience for a few ho-hum entries on this year’s bill, yet has ample accolades to offer the stand-outs, he sharing his sharply discriminating views on the latest festival from Monaco in Circus Report, in a three-installment, of which the first two have been printed: Among some of his favorites, from part 2:

* From Russia’s Trussin teeterboard troupe, one member turning a quintuple somersault onto a mattress, another, a triple on one stilt!
 * The Quebecois couple of Alexandre and Emilie with a “thrilling aerial cradle number.”
* A Swiss group, The Holmikers, on parallel bars with “superb comedy acrobatics.” In Stacey’s opinion, a Gold should have been theirs.  Only a Bronze would it be.
 * Upside down walker Alex Michale, from Brazil, among a few acts winning standing ovations.
* A Noah's Ark from Circus Charles Knie, presented by Marek Jama contained — how this tickles me to read — Camels, Llamas, a Kangaroo, four zebras, and "five horned beasts of burden comprised of a zebu (what’s that?) Watsui, and a Hungarian cow.”

I envy anybody who can make it over there in the bitter cold of winter.

Paging Paul Binder!  Is he anywhere in the tent?  I’ve been following Paul’s’ blog, to see what he has to say about the sale of the show he founded. About those who bought it in bankruptcy.    Hoping to learn that he and Michael Christensen may play a central role on the artistic end.  So far, only silence on Paul’s blog.  I think the new owners risk a precarious road ahead if try a radical break from well-established Big Apple Circus traditions and the company’s special relationship with New Yorkers.   What does this show really need?  Tight budgetary control of the kind I doubt it has ever had, even if this means giving up the Lincoln Center date.

END RINGERS: Circus Historical Society holding its 2017 convention in July in DC, part of the agenda to take in a Smithsonian circus themed exhibit on the National Mall ... Sarasota Ring of Fame plaques, this year, to Henry Ringling North, Dora Fostser (“Rogana”), Alen Bloom, Reggie Armour, the Pedrolas, and the horse Starless Night ... Sing to me, oh blessed pig!  That would be pot-belied Oink, with Cruzin Grump’s Pork Chop Revue at Carden International ...  Also on the Carden card, Ryan Easley’s tigers ... At the Met Museum of Art in NY through the next year, Seurat’s Circus Sideshow features two paintings and 16 drawings by the famed French artist, augmented by scores of sideshow paintings by other artists ... LATE BREAKING:  Disney World dumps Cirque du Soleil