Friday, March 06, 2009

From Out of the Past: Fri. Nite L’Amyxery: Kelly-Miller’s 4 Shows-A-Day Blitz ... Feld's Troubling Testimony ... . Peanuts and Clowns, and a Word for Irving J. Polack ...

First published March 6, 2009

Spring is tenting up all over, on grassy lots (sometimes) and weeds, and in ominous courtrooms ... Covington Connected, I’m looking with sad concern at an AP report of Kenneth Feld’s candor in a courtroom, answering charges of alleged bull-hook abuse. Aside from the Big Man’s affectionate deference to those audience-pleasing elephants (he claims they are "the mainstay" of the circus), I was surprised to hear him concede, under cross examination, that, according to the story, “the company has no policy to make sure he’s personally aware of abuse investigations.” He also admitted having reprimanded an employee back in 1994 for using a “hot shot” (electric prod), but keeping the guy on the pachyderm payroll. Men who can control the bulls are hard tome come by, said he under oath. Let’s let this one pass; it’s not the sort of news I would have hoped to hear ...

John Ringling North II wants lots lots lots of shows, and that would be four-a-day for the upcoming great circus parade gig in Milwaukee. Yes, I said, not three, but four. I’ve never heard of such a stretch, have any of you? Who other than Frank Sinatra in his prime did such duty? A certain mysterious source, commenting here under the shingle “Clark Kent Reporting,” rumored that in one of the early K-M dates, performers were modestly tipped for a fourth show and weren’t jumping cartwheels to the bank. How might they feel about the Milwaukee marathon? ...

Pity the Peanut. About my anger-inducing confession of having been devastated by the news that North II condones his Kelly-Miller clowns pushing coloring books and peanuts, what a parade of divided feedback flew my windy way, most of it minus profanity, thank you. Here, just for a sampling, are a few comments that reflect a range of views:

From Casey McCoy Cainan: “Wow!!! A man’s ability as a showman is being judged by having clowns sell color books.” Well, not exactly, Mr. Cage Man. Yeah, I did shamelessly bleed my depression over what seems an affront to Ringling blood, calling it a "clue" (but not a final judgement) to Mr. North’s showmanship. I haven’t yet seen the show, and if I do, perhaps I will attend under the witness protection program, or go, for the first time (there’s always a first, no matter one’s age) in drag. Whew...

From Greg DeSanto: “I am completely against clowns in particular, but really performers in general, having to work pitches as part of their art ... Can it be done in a less invasive way to the performance? I'd like to think so.” How about inserting these pledge breaks into the ever-expanding intermissions?

From Johnny: "If BAC Circus does put on a performance without having to resort to a pitch in a one ring show, why can't KM?"

Now, from Paul H. came the most persuasive sentiment, and perhaps I should adopt Paul’s retro attitudes: “I’ve attended and loved mud shows all my life. The pitches, concert announcements, banners (Remember those? -- yes, Paul) are all part of the ambiance.” I found Paul's unabashed support of a stagnating tradition actually rather charming, and I might try making it my new and improved mantra.

Our resident sawdust scholar, Ben Trumble, promises, re the above topic, to delve into the history of this revnue-enhancing ordeal that Hugo shows seem determined to keep alive until life ends not with a bang -- but with the last peanut pitch. “I fully intend to write about the storied history of the peanut pitch from George Washington Carver to George Washington ‘Popcorn George’ Hall.” A mighty U. of Hugo monograph maybe, Sir Ben?

Yes, Irving Polack, Yes! My tribute reaped a little grateful respect. This from John Herriott recalling one of the most underrated and forgotten circus kings: “I J Polack was a gambler and loved a crap or poker game in the mens dressing room and one time he lost the whole circus on a throw of the dice to Bo Bo Barnett and later Bo Bo lost it back to him on another turn of the dice."

“No greater group of outstanding acts have ever been or ever will be seen in the American one ring circus," says says Herriot, mentioning such icons as Unus, Frances Brunn, Victor Julian. I saw them all, so young and yet not too young to instinctively sense their greatness. And their greatness has haunted my circus going days every since.

End Ringers: Cirque du Soleil now mounting under David Shiner's direction what looks like a nuevo vaudeville show for a New York stage (they are calling it Vaudeville), yet extending its tentacles into other venues. I have to wonder if Cirque ticket sales in Dubai and Vegas aren’t hurting a tad or a ton ... Alberto Zoppe, loved by so many and of that great riding family, onto the Big Lot on March 5 at the age of 87. Zoppe once headlined with Polack, and again, I am reminded of the gifted wizards over sawdust who have inspired me so. Whatever happened, while we’re at it, to Cuccilo? ... A London township lifting an animal circus ban, and perhaps the tide is really turning back in favor of a full-service menagerie ... And blind kids getting the rare chance to touch Ringling’s mighty mammoths ... And Cole Bros Circus, still produced by John and Brigitte Pugh, whistling up its 130th anniversary edition on March 20 in Deland. And the Dalli Lama continuing on, I think, over there in Pat's eccentric Clown Alley. He’s more inspiring than my in-house philosopher, Krishnamurti ... But my man will gladly lecture four or more times a day. He loved an audience. Maybe they made it easier for him to believe in his bewildering befuddlements ...


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