Monday, April 23, 2012

Oh, To Read Myself As Others Read Me

It's always energizing, when it happens, to receive high marks from fans and writers for my work. My latest effort, Inside the Changing Circus: A Critic's Guide, is generating promising early reviews and feedback, which gives me measured hope that the book has a future. Now comes actor, director, former Ringling clown and author of the well-regarded book on Dan Rice, Dave Carlyon, e-mailing me his welcome satisfaction -- "I enjoyed your element-by-element approach, especially the rarely discussed elements of producing and criticism." David holds views that differ from my own on topics such as Dan Rice and Circus Maximus (was it really in any way a circus? No no no, insists he). Surprisingly, Carlyon seems almost relieved and/or surprised with my pro-stance on circus animal acts, as was Herbert Ueckert in the latter's boffo review of my book in Circus Report. All of which leads me to wonder if a growing number of writers and even fans are beginning to question the viability and future of performing animals ...

My one quibble with Ueckert's review, if I may, is the notion that I seem to be writing down to "the typical poor hapless circusgoer." That surely wasn't my intent, although, while penning away, I wondered if the serious and savvy buff might find much of what I have to say all too obvious. I imagined myself addressing a wider audience. Thus, to my delight, my sister Kathy, a non circus fan who is combing the text for spelling errors, expressed pleasure over the approach. For her, one of my primary goals seems to be working ... Particularly on-target, I feel, is this from Mort Gamble's notice in Spectacle: "... everything you want to know about the circus business today but are too timidly nostalgic to ask." How amusingly apt a summation of my coverage; perfect jacket copy.

... As others see us. As other reads us. Thanks to everyone who in one way or anther has affirmed the book's value to them. It means a lot, trust me.

Me and Mister Mistin, Jr.. I was intrigued to discover, in the latest issue of Circus Report, perennial SoCal columnist and one-time Ringling clown Chuck Burnes writing about the kid prodigy xylophonist, whom John Ringling North lured to America in 1953 and lavished a huge ballyhoo upon. Reading Burnes, I wondered, was he reading me? I came upon some vaguely familiar words: "he was merely a very good, very young xylophonist." Yes, directly from my book Big Top Boss: John Ringling North and the Circus.

Okay, I might not have said a thing, except that Chuck, in quoting me (without attribution), actually misquotes me, and thus, feeling a duty to history, I am inclined to offer a correction. Mistin was evidently quite a showman. The reviews were mixed, but a tape recording I have of his performance reveals a skilled manipulator milking a crowd and the crowd milking back. In fact, the crowd's reaction was not "only so-so," as Chuck recalls. The term "so-so" was actually used by the Billboard in its reaction to the act itself .... A photo of Mr. Mistin riding a spec float as a pistol-toting cowboy, which appears in my new new book Inside, shows a plucky little showman with plenty of attitude ... I have no evidence that his impact on the crowd was only so-so. What I hear is what I wrote: "He pulled strong sustaining applause sprinkled with cheers."

By the way, Chuck was one of those who, with his wife Bambi, graciously granted me an interview for Big Top Boss; we met for dinner over a rolling tape recorder at an old Hollywood dining room just north of Hollywood Boulevard on Cuhuenga. Our chat took place exactly 25 years ago this June 24. Great Circus Vargas days, the Paul Eagles Luncheon Club for fans and pros a weekly destination at Phillippe's restaurant -- itself, the true soul of L.A.

And that's me reading you reading me ...


Jim Evans said...

I saw RBBB twice in 1953, once in Madison Square Garden and once under canvas. As a young circus fan of 18 I was disappointed, not so much in his performance but in the fact that he was even IN the circus. If I had wanted to go to a concert I would have, but I was at the circus and expected to see "circus" acts. I believe the rest of the audience felt the same way as the response was tepid.
Jim Evans

Showbiz David said...

Jim, how lucky you were, to have seen the show at the Garden and under canvas. The tape I heard of Mistin perhaps was made on a very good Mistin day.

Anonymous said...

David, You noted "non circus fan" after my name, but I'm not sure that is accurate. Actually, when we were growing up, I remember getting pretty darned excited when I knew the circus was "coming to town". I know I'm just a big "kid at this day", but who doesn't like to be a kid and totally escape into the land of wonder, fun and excitement. I don't think I realized how much I truly missed this experience until I read your book, and it just gives me so much wonderful information. I had to stop reading for a while, as I'm taking care of some family business at the moment, however, I can't wait to get back to your book David. AND I CAN'T WAIT TO GO TO THE CIRCUS AGAIN!

Showbiz David said...

Anonymous is my sister Kathy, who usually leaves her name at the end of comments. Sorry, Kathy, to call you a "non-circus fan." I was being a bit too technical. Of course, your praise for my book is the most objective and impartial of all reviews, if only you were writing for Kirkus, Booklist, or Publisher's Weekly!
Don't let one misspelled word get away with it, my spell checker divorced me.