Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rethinking Ringling '56: The Acts

Widespread turmoil, from the striking Teamsters union to shaky management turnover, had engulfed Ringling-Barnum during the 1955 tour and was continuing to plague it as it headed into New York City for an April 5 opening at the Garden. As a consequence of all this, circus owner-producer John Ringling North had spent little time the previous summer, as was normally his custom, touring European cities for new acts.

Nonetheless, the 1956 lineup included a number of "first time in America" imports: Victor De Jonghe's monkeys in "high flying antics;" comic acrobatics from Rebertes; jugglers Della Chiesas; and a five act display of diversified novelties, featuring the Three Canestrellis, the Five Verdus on "Giant Balls," head jumping Titos, high ladder exploits from Les Arturos, and, center ringed, "Equilibristic Stars From the Far East" Dschapur and Rutha. That lively spread calls to mind some of my fondest circus going memories when a burst of simultaneous action could be so hectically exciting to watch. Of course, such would not be as welcome in today's one-ring environment.

In total, not counting clown workarounds and productions, there were 50 separate acts spread strongly across some 27 displays. Whatever cash-flow problems North may have been having, and he had them, he did not cut back on talent.

The majority of acts were fairly well known Ringling names by now --- among them, The Four Nocks on tall sway poles (a cumbersome workout that left me unthrilled); The Alazanas, the Flying Palacios, the Fredonias, Justino Loyal Troupe, et all. Pinito Del Oro, one of North's all time favorites, was making her seventh consecutive season starring in the aerial ballet, Mexicanorama.

The layout of acts seems to have been more effectively arranged for escalating dynamics than had been the case the previous year. Alfred Burton, Jr. (above), who in 1955 came on very late in the show with an impressive though slow routine, was blamed by some for causing walkouts, the argument being that his turn should have been spotted earlier in the performance when patrons are more receptive. This they did in the '56 show. Another good programing move was the placement of the lively pachyderm production, Ringling Rock N Roll, spotted only five displays from finale. This is sure to have enlivened any restless or sleepy customers down the final stretch. Following that modern romp into the realm of popular music came a steady stream of powerhouse turns: the clowns, Alzana, the five-act display heretofore profiled; the Four Nocks and the quick bright finale, Hoop Dee Doo.

Next: The Reviews

[photos, from top: Pinito Del Oro; Naukos; Evy Karoly; Alfred Burton, Jr.]

To read my previous Rethinking Ringling '56 posts, type "Rethinking Ringling" in the blogger search window at the top left of my blog.



Evy Karoly's cousin Ilonka performed simultaniously in the other end ring, doing a similar act.

Both were an exciting "feast for the eyes" for a young "first of May".

Showbiz David said...

If you by chance SAW the 1956 show, might you share your impressions with us? I would love to hear them.