Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Scramble Showdown: Saints to Shysters Converge on Midways of Life ...

Oh, where to begin
, it is so so hot here in Oakland, almost as hot as a James Hargrove phone room ... Almost as hot as Lillian Leitzel (above) thrilling a packed tent on an Iowa afternoon. Almost as hot as all the New York press paper alluding to a mementos Big Apple Circus artistic power transfer that already happened.. Don’t believe the latter. BAC is moving thru a long and slow, more tepid than hot transition, with founding Messrs. Paul Binder and Michael Christensen monitoring the process every step of the way. You thought the French guy (Guillaume Dufresnoy) was now, finally, at last, officially -- in charge? Wait another season or two. He’s in there, with other eyes upon him. Next year might be his first real year, or maybe the next. Or? ... The new opus starring the returning Bello Nock, about to uncork, is being guest directed by Steve Smith, who also staged last year's show. From BAC company manger Don Covington, came these precise clarifications. “As far as I know, e-mails Don, "Guillaume still plans to hire a guest director for show 33." End of quote. But, but, seems that Paul and Michael will serve as "creative consultants." As for Show 34, stay tuned for further glacially slow details. Me thinks Binder, wanting to preserve what he honorably established, is handing the reigns over later than sooner, wanting to be as sure as he can. I’m thinking that Binder's chosen protege will indeed preserve the Binder legacy, as Binder preserved Old Europe. Not hot, but solid warm. Perfect for Grandma’s arthritis ....

As hot as a phone room run by Jim Fletcher, outed in the current issue of that sizzling tell all organ, The Bandwagon. Among his many boiler room shenanigans concocted to plant the fear of police rejection into the hearts of Main Street merchants, Fletcher would play a sound track of dogs barking while he dialed for bogus donations. To the victim, sighed he, “Oh, they are putting another one down. You’ve got to help these animals!” Hot hot hot were the coerced dollars our Fletcher fleecer extracted ... Another Ma Bell shyster posing as Grandma Charity was one M. E. Van Dorstan, who made known to those unresponsive merchants on Fleece Street that a check mark would appear next to their name on a big list, because, only because, well (clearing his throat, no doubt, as Barrymore might have), “The club members wanted a list of everybody who said no.” And guess what THEN happened? Up went the heat. Out came the billfold. Jez, I recall as a kid reading The Billboard and wondering, ad after ad, what “phone man” meant. Working press for Sid Kellner, I soon learned.

Let’s turn down the heat a little and, do, what? Bring out Ms. Leitzel the great. Did you know she was a very accomplished piano player, who also had the smarts to realize she would likely not make it on the concert stage, so she stayed in spangles and threw her fate to the Ringling gods and to their 15,000 seat big tops. Did you know she too feared that which she was paid to do? Here’s Ms. L, being interviewed for a story only hours before she took her fatal fall in Copenhagen, that caused by a rigging malfunction. “You have to continue your act and fight the trick that has teased you until you can master it. It is the only way to fight fear ... I can wake up in the middle of the night sacred to death by the thought of not being able to remember how to do a specific trick. But during the act it comes naturally.” Among Ms. Lillian's close Hollywood friends was silent film comic Harold Lloyd. How I would love to have interviewed this infinitely interesting woman!

Mutual Admiration, belatedly reported here in a hot tea tent: John Ringling North II inking clowns Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs for another season with Kelly-Miller Circus. To me, it flatters both producer and performers. Those two guys put up with a lot of mud to bring their talents to audiences, and they must like the man for whom they labor with such dedication. As for North, heading into his senior year as a tenting tycoon, he shows himself as a showman wishing to take a higher road. I won’t detail the lower roads. I’ve already elsewhere on this midway said my mind ... On the other Ringling hand, reading Crash Moreau's 2009 circus visits (there's a link to his blog, over to your right), in which the Shrine Circus shows come out wearing kudos, as does Cole. Bros. Circus of Stars ("probably the best [Cole] performance in years.") and BAC, not so Kelly-Miller. While Crash utters not a negative word, he says virtually nothing about the K-M performance itself, only listing names of the acts and spending his praise on the exemplary physical operation. Which, to me, sounded like somebody singing the scenery on his way out of the theatre. Hmmm. no, no, David. Don’t go there. Whiplash city. Oh it got so hot in here again. All of a sudden. Cooling off on Zeus iced, courtesy of Boyi. I must take my break before it breaks me ...


arlee bird said...

Oh man, you really brought back some memories for me and provided me insight about the methodology used by Jim Fletcher and Van Dorsten. I was manager for Philip Morris's "World of Fantasy Player" throughout most of the '80's and both of them were among the many promoters we used so I had frequent contact with them.
I never really knew about how they operated, I only knew they brought in some big bucks. Especially Jim Flethcer, or Kojak as we referred to him when he wasn't there. Often when it was time to settle up with him on his override (he got a bigger cut than a lot of the promoters because he was so good), he and I might spend a couple hours just conversing about this and that. He liked to drink Drambuie chased by beer -- always had it on hand. I recall once when he got busted up in Kamloops, BC for working without the proper papers (we on the show always made sure we got our working papers, maybe Jim had other issues). I had to go to court which was interesting-- it was like the English courtrooms you see in the movies with the barristers in robes and white wigs. He got off and was told not to come back to Canada, but I'm sure that didn't stop him from returning. I was sad to hear of his passing (I think it was in the '90's). He seemed like a real loner, but I always found him to be rather affable in his crude way.
Van Dorsten was also an interesting guy with some crazy stories to tell. We called him Col. Sanders because that's who he looked like. He was getting up there in years when I knew him and could get kind of cranky. He had a much younger female traveling companion, his wife perhaps, who was named Amanda. I used to feel kind of sorry for her because she just seemed totally out of her element--never really could understand that relationship. I wonder what happened to Amanda. I never heard what happened to Van --do you know?
Those promoters were a crazy and odd bunch. I enjoyed them, but often didn't really trust them. I was kind of close to several, while others I just kept my distance and kept it all professional.
I'm new to this blogging world and just learning the ropes. Found your blog looking for stuff about the circus. You do a good job and maybe can help me later find some info I've been trying to locate.
If you wouldn't mind, please check out my blog:

Perhaps you can give me some pointers. As you might see in my picture and from some of my postings (there are only a few so far since I just started this last week) I am a juggler and came from a juggling family, THE JUGGLING JACKSONS. Check it out if you would and if you can add your name as a follower and recommend me to any others that might be interested then here's a big thanks to you. I guess it's important somehow to have "followers". And I guess it's nice to know that you're not just writing to yourself.

Arlee Bird
a.k.a. Lee Jackson

Showbiz David said...

Hi Arlee, I will try to ad your blog to my links to the right. I am not the best person to ask for advice on blogging, since I never set out to try to be the most popular blog. However, anybody will tell you that you should post everyday and try to engage with other blogs. The phone room bits that so fascinated you were taken from a very in-depth Bandwagon story in the May-June 2009 issue. You might want to purchase your own copy: Write to Circus Historical Society, 1075 West Fifth Ave, Columbus, OH 43212. Thanks for sharing, and Good luck!