Monday, June 14, 2010

John Ringling on Al Ringling:

He was the family's egotist, by far the most reckless of the brothers, who ended up powerless over the affairs of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

He was, of course, John Ringling.

In 1919, he shared his feelings (that is, if they were not written for him by others) with The American Magazine, and some of Mr. Ringling's thoughts strike me as remarkably revealing. Not that a die-hard Ringlingphile would be surprised.

I had already come across this story in another source. It appears in a welcome format in the new Bandwagon, just out.

Ringling, I believe, might be spot-on, more than merely blowing the family horn, when he identifies Al Ringling's genius for assembling a group of acts into a terrifically paced program. Other writers of the time have acknowledged this talent of Al's, and I've come to consider that perhaps it was Al Ringling who gave the American circus its high-energy pulse, that certain something that Al's successor, Fred Bradna, defined as "snap."

Remarked John with obvious affection for his brother's showmanship: "If I may be pardoned for seeming boastful, I should like to say that in my opinion Al was the greatest producing showman the world has ever known. He knew instinctively what the public would like or dislike, and his big success was in his ability to choose good features ... Al clung to the idea of neatness, clean performances and fast movement. In the circus business he had the idea of speed and 'pep' which George M. Cohan brought into the theatres. With a dozen rather mediocre acts, by proper staging, by 'doubling,' and keeping the action fast and continuous, he made the show appear better than some of those which cost twice as much to stage. He invented, brightened up and developed some of the most successful features known to the circus."

How impressive was John in recognizing those critical elements of speed and momentum, which his brother may well have introduced to circuses.

I recall the early indoor years, watching the Ringling show and usually marveling at at how, like a smooth running machine, it moved with such confidence and pace relentlessly forward. In John Ringling's words, praising late brother Al, "...the action fast and continuous."

Amen, Mr. Circus!

1 comment:

david wojdyla said...

Words of praise for his big brother, second father?!

To me, this seems out of character for John. Kind of makes me wonder what his real agenda was. Your thoughts?

(Maybe I should read the entire account. Can you provide more info on what issue of Bandwagon it appears? Is it May-June 2010, Vol. 54, No. 3?)