Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Morning Midway: A Big Top Giant Who Might Have Been ...

Circus owners, remarkable considering all of the struggles they face, are remarkably enduring. Most of them.

Here was one who showed such great promise -- Sid Kellner, seen here in this 1969 newspaper photo with his son George, 15, when the Kellner name spelled the promise of a great success ahead. Today, while purging my "archives" (I hate clutter), I came across this picture. Such a radiant reminder of how a dream can seem so real in the beginning.

At the time, I had just finished handling "national press representative " duties for the show on its 10-week summer tour, driving a Ford Bronco (oh, what I did when I was young) from west to left coasts and back. Only job I ever had that got me one of those little business cards. I stayed in the cheapest hotels, never giving out cheap hotel phone numbers to city and feature editors at newspapers along the route.

Near the end of the tour, I pushed Sid on the idea of going out on rails in 1970. This fantasy made it into the pages of Amusement Business, and tickled Sid, though I doubt he ever gave my grand idea much attention.

By then, Kellner had been out on the road for thirteen years, most of them mediocre at best. I remember him playing the Grace Pavilion at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa and, after the show, with Don Marcks being friendly and supportive. Distinctly I recall Sid taking down a popcorn machine off a table to load it into a truck. Such youthful magic animated his smile and gait that night.

By 1968, he produce a cracking good show, rousingly scored, under the old Mills Bros. top which he'd just acquired. The performance rocked. Tom Parkinson loved it. I loved it. I think everybody loved it.

The next year, after I wrote a celebratory article about this up and coming Sid Kellner for The White Tops, Mr. Kellner warmed up to me, and I got the press agent's job that Eddie Howe had handled during the high-water 1968 tour. The compensation I was offered felt almost flatting: $250.00 a week plus use of Kellner's Bronco; I would pay for gas, hotel and food.

Now, James Bros. was back in buildings. Show was at least fair, but the magic of that sparkling 1968 performance was gone. Blame it in part the absence of the tent.

My best publicity coup, looking back over my notes, was getting major exposure in Philadelphia. ABC outlet WFIL-TV, on a Wed. at 8:00 AM. My memo sent ahead to company manager Chester Cable specified "One Baby Sue, the Woodcocks and Harry Ross or another clown." I played this one up: "This show has the highest ratings in this time period. All kids in Philly watch it. It tops Captain Kangaroo! [well, that's what somebody told me.] Miss Bresset wants a baby elephant, so let's get her one -- Baby Sue, the star!" Truth be told, I can't remember Baby Sue. I only remember my favorite, Baby Opal.

Kellner Kellnered on, a man of dynamic charm who could turn sour and vulgar on a coin, casting profanity from one end of the tent to the other. And in the presence of sponsors.

What did him in? The boiler rooms he operated so ruthlessly well. I am not even sure if he is still with us. His sons George and Matt went on to disgrace themselves in phone rooms practicing skills learned from their father.

Still, I have such fond memories of sitting across Kellner's exciting desk when he was considering me for the job, and of feeling his impressive entrepreneurial power. Both he and I merged personal dreams that would go no where.


1 comment:

Sarah Kellner said...

Some beautiful things are scorned by their potential. I would love to talk to you about this "Kellner Kellnered..", and your involvement with the Great London Circus.
If the opportunity is available over email or in person, I would love to take advantage and pick your brain!
Sarah Kellner