Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Morning Looking Back, with Agent A: Why the "Flying" Wallendas? ...

UPDATE, June 24, 2012:

"Daredevil celebrates after death-defying high-wire stunt," heralds the media.

Not everyone bought into the recent sham display of mock heroics aloft when Nik Wallenda crossed Niagara Falls on a wire. The circus has digressed a long way from its authentic risk-taking days. And nothing better exemplifies this reality than the curious downward trajectory of the so-called "Flying Wallendas."

Karl Wallenda, who led the original pack with a fearless commitment to the art of risk-taking, died walking a high wire down in Puerto Rico. He did not "fly." He walked. Nor did he attach himself to protective lifelines of any kind. During an interview he once granted me, the Wallenda of Wallendas openly disdained the "marionette" aerialists who performed with mechanics.

I missed Nik Wallenda's highly hyped walk across Niagara falls, although I doubt I missed much. Perhaps more talked about than the walk itself was a tell-tale "tether," a cable rigged to his feet securing him to the wire, upon which he was supposedly demonstrating great courage and resolve. However, watching a clip of his performance following the fact, the tether makes him look, strangely and impotently, like a rather timid participant engaged in some sort of post-operation physical therapy.

Seems to me that in recent times, as I vaguely recall, when a branch of the fractious Wallenda family hoisted itself into a revival of the famed seven-high, it did so with the use of mechanics.

No, for your snickering apologists, I am not out for blood. Never was. I do rather respect and appreciate, even sometimes thrill to, the spectacle of great aerial art in which risk makes greater demands on the artists life-saving skill. Think about it.

So, the "Flying Wallendas," it appears, are helping to further decimate the circus of its once-famed image for true daring do. Did Nik Wallenda really have to use that thick industrial-looking tether, as was alleged, causing millions to suffer a withering skepticism? Or was he himself, in fact, in on the decision? Whichever, to my eyes, this flying Wallenda neither flies nor truly walks a wire. He is one very effective attention grabber. And, at least on this sterile occasion, a gutless one at that.

So, here, a posting from November 28, 2010.

A most vexing issue that has long vexed me is the apparent willingness of the Wallenda family to tolerate this egregious misnomer of what their act on the high wire is about. Karl Wallenda must be worn out six feet under from spinning in frustration. Nothing better exemplifies this shameless injustice to the legacy of one of Spangeland's greatest circus families than a cheap sit-com crack: "I don't give a flying Wallenda!" Horror of horrors that the survivors of the tragic Detroit fall should have to be subjected to such colossally crude insensitivity. But blame, yes blame a fractured family in part for the crack having been uttered.

The best answer I've so far got was that "flying" attached itself to the image of their Detroit fall back in 1962. And still, the Wallendas themselves have made no effort, to my knowledge, nor for that matter has the circus community itself, to set the media straight.

Finally, I have an answer if not the answer, thanks to a brief encounter by the ice house near the railroad tracks as Agent A drove by in an unmarked black limousine, ostensibly on his way to another encounter with colleagues, the subject of which I was not informed. Down rolled a window, forming a split through which Agent A delivered the essentials, smoothly and to the point:

There are two divisions or factions of the family -- one arm ruled by Ricky Wallenda, the other by Tino. Each is vying to establish itself as the true heir to the legendary act formed and supervised by the late Karl Wallenda.

Ricky calls his group "The Great Wallendas," a name he may have registered for exclusive usage under trade mark protection.

Tino uses the offensive descriptor for 2 reasons. In a conversation with Agent A, Tino once disclosed that, Reason One, he actually adopted "The Flying Wallendas" because of the public's familiarity with the term. Which I find callously expedient and more than monstrously misleading.

Reasons Two, said Tino to Agent A, he was apparently impressed (to me, it sounds amused) by how a reporter, framing a story about his troupe, made it sound as if, indeed, they were flying. Which strikes me as the lamest of rationales from a family member who should know better, that is, unless his wire walkers are so inept aloft as to resemble baby birds testing their tiny wings in trial flight patterns close to the nest, their balance poles flailing about like so many steel feathers.

But when I queried Agent A on this point, up went the window, and off sped his limousine into the murky darkness of a dawn that would neither deliver a circus train or a bright sunny morning.

In the abrupt parting, Agent A did shout back the word "Zerbini!" Leading me to ponder that perhaps he has something to disclose about another famed circus family.

The High Wire Zerbinis?



Margaret said...

..You crack me up David..LOL..

Showbiz David said...

Dear Margaret,

At last, somebody telling me I made them laugh on this blog. A First-Time-Ever. A mighty milestone, triumphal threshold, buffoonic breakthrough ... I should crown you Most Valued Visitor of the Year. Sometimes I laugh or giggle to myself when I'm composting these posts, which makes the whole thing fun, dot dot dot; I've been known to make friends, even congenial strangers (though not muggers), laugh, but here, the audience feels deadly serious.

A fanfare for your your funny bone, Chucking Crack Up of the Year!!!!

John Herriott said...

I was in Detroit with the circus when the seven pyramid fell and the immediate news release from Detroit papers did inadvertently refer to them as the "flying Wallendas". A retraction wasw never made public, so the name stuck. I believe the reporter assumed all aerial acts were Flying and did not understand the difference, but they have always been before and after as "The world renowned, The Great Wallendas" John Herriott.

Showbiz David said...

Mr. Herriott: You witnessed history in Detroit. The most thrilling circus moment I think I have ever had was when, as a very young kid, I saw the Wallendas do the seven-high with Polack in the early 1950s. I was spellbound, I could not believe it. That one moment,if any, seduced into the powerful magic of the big top.

Say what I might about Nik, the name WALLENDA lives on. I'll bet it's now the most famous circus name in the country. in fact, possibly the only circus name widely known to the public, other than, of course, Ringling, etc.