Thursday, June 28, 2007

Circus Chat from Ellington to Feld to Ruffin and Vargas ...

Out of the past: From June 28, 2007 (remember 2007?)

We start out on no particular lot. Nothing big to hype or snub. Maybe let’s give Big Bertha big top dreamer Craig Johnson the mike. In answer to my Circo Caballero post, alluding to a dangerous Oakland journey en route, e-mailed Craig, Get myself a mug, fill it with soda pop, pop up a ton of corn, let my DVD of The Greatest Show on Earth roll and "be safe."

Staying safe, I could miss what’s under the Caballero canvas hood. Might call ‘em up early Saturday to see if a 3 p.m. show is on tap for sure. I guess they do business as the crowds — or the tarot cards — move them. I’m guessing they take the light weight, modestly charming route of the Zoppes. Not banking on a return in spangles of co-owner Ruben Caballero, who once flew nearly as high as Miguel Vazquez.

Craig, by the way, who loves Merle Evans as much as he loves jazz, might like this one: I’m nominating Duke Ellington’s 1937 classic "Caravan" as the most famously effective (or effectively famous) song ever played for big cage acts. It’s a driving exotic marvel that makes love to the restless rhythms and the primal power of the big cats. Composed by the Duke himself in collaboration with Juan Tizol and Irving Mills, some call it the first jazz piece. The Big Top thanks you too, Duke, even if Maestro Evans inexplicably never played your ditty, or did he? (Do I hear a comment out there?) Other big cage tunes I miss: "Poinsettia" and "The Breeze and I."

There’s a certain lady of style in Sarasota (I can’t mention her name or disclose too many details) who now and then sends me tasty slices. Recently pouring through the contents of a local library, she came upon an old newspaper clipping about Irvin Feld’s death at age 66. What makes it particularly poignant is that only an hour or so earlier, Feld had delivered the eulogy at a Venice memorial service for a chimp trainer, felled at 44. After the service, the robustly engaged Irvin suffered a stroke in the parking lot. That was a Tuesday. By Thursday, the mighty showman was gone.

Have you seen the latest Bandwagon? Clyde Beatty’s black cage boy, Manuel "Junior" Ruffin shares fond reminiscences with Lane Talburt about his days working for the Great One, who took him on at age 12. In the film Ring of Drek (excuse me, Ring of Fear) Beatty comes through so likeably, I can see him being warmly tolerant of an ambitious kid, no matter the color, who idolized him. Ruffin went on to work cats for Hoxie and then, latter, supervise the canvas for Vargas.

End ringing it in the same story, Ward Hall talks about the stranger-than-life "Mr. V." Here comes a gaser: When Mr. V’s inner generator got overheated, he had a ‘Vargasm." Oh, yes, I once provoked a Vargasm (innuendo not intended), stupidly thinking I was about to interview Mr. Volatile himself. (he had said, come look me up) but instead being obnoxiously brushed aside. Actually, rather exciting --- if only the band could have been playing "Caravan." That day, Cliff Vargas was too busy selling his own concessions. How I miss his glamorous spring openings in the parking lot of the Hollywood Bowl.

Covington connected, as in Don: He sends news of Cirque’s Guy Laliberte being feted World Entrepreneur of the Year at the Ernst & Young Awards ceremony in Monte Carlo. Perfect setting. The guy is truly a modern-day genius. In his own way, yes another Barnum or all five Ringling rolled into one amazing force.

Toiling in the shadows of Cirque, ex-Carson & Barnes boss Jim Judkins made a valiant effort with his Circus Chimera to bring an affordable Cirque experience to the common man. Although he is shutting down early to retool for next season (how many times before have we heard that), the prospects don’t look bright. Still, I’m not counting the Judkins Chimera down and out yet. The optimist in me is betting a few daring dollars on Jim's return.

The Jomar, per reports, awaits restoration funds to restore it. Owner Bob Horne, himself a collector and preservationist and vaguely related to Rudy Bundy through a marriage that ended in a divorce, has already restored three Ringling-Barnum Pullmans. Can he revive the Ringling big top, too?

And that one’s for you, Craig. Get yourself some popcorn and a mug of ice cold coke, go down to the runs and wait. And if the flying squadron fails to show, your favorite flick will have to do the trick. You can't have a Vargasm every day, kid...

Let’s call this a Little Bertha wrap, okay?


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