Too close to the show to let go of stale programing and personnel? John Ringling North II regularly watches every performance when he is traveling with the circus.
He will not be able this time to accuse me of misquoting him, or to point out that, although I quoted him accurately, the reporter from whom I derived the quote got it wrong.
Recently, I quoted John Ringling North II as stating, shortly after he purchased Kelly Miller Circus in 2006, that he wanted to bring "a little Ringling magic to the show." No, he wrote me, he never said that. Then came Jim Royal arguing that the show's intent was far more modest, even if he, Royal, may have made the "Ringling magic" remark to a small Texas newspaper when they took control of the show. Combined, their communications lent the impression that they were proudly defending a tepid status quo. And that maybe I should just back off and retire into the mist of an unrequited dream.
But now, JRN II is being anything but shy in reasserting his original posture. To Lane Talburt, who interviewed him on the Kelly Miller lot recently, stated North (his actual words):
"We still hope we’ll get even better ... I want to own the best circus in America, and that is still my ambition."
The best circus in America. Might that not entail importing a little Ringling magic, or some other form of magic, certainly a more active turnover in the cast?
I saw modest evidence of North's creative inclinations in the 2010 edition. Two years later, Ernest Albrecht, reviewing in Spectacle, saw perhaps a little less evidence. And for the record, to shoot down any conspiracy theories out there, I have never met Mr. Albrecht, although on a few occasions he has e-mailed me to correct something I had written or offer helpful information. Nor do I read his reviews, for the simple reason that I do not wish to be unduly influenced by his own thoughtful critiques of circuses that I might myself see and review. Since I had not planned to take in Kelly Miller this season, and since Mr. Albrecht sends me a link to his on-line version of Spectacle, I decided to read the review and write about it. Steve Copeland reprinted it in full on his blog.
I can already feel some agitated souls on the Kelly Miller lot, possibly at their keyboards ranting out their put downs of yours unruly. Sign your name to them, avoid profanity, and I might put them through.
Now, as for all the empty seats you will see in the Talburt K-M videos, so sadly typical of what we encounter all too often at the circus these days, take heart. From the boss man himself, we are told, "Actually, we’ve had the most ticket sales so far this year of any year.” That's good news, if it's not pure spin, because it should embolden Mr. North to try harder. And, if, indeed, he wants to own the best circus in America, he will have to try a lot harder.
Although Lane Talburt, in general, will rarely if ever take on the more probing realities of the American circus scene -- actual attendance and performance quality, both taboo subjects in this very small, very insulated little world -- at least we owe him a degree of gratitude, because, when it comes to filmed evidence of acts and attendance, his camera, so far as I know, does not lie.
So, just when I was about to give up on this latest Ringling incarnation, maybe I will allow myself the fun of expecting more and risking the fallout of reporting when I am unduly let down.
A bonus Talburt tidbit: John Ringling North II was at one time led to believe that he would take over the Ringling circus when his uncle retired. That day never came. And why it never came has never been adequately explained. Here, he tells Talburt that he did not like the indoor show set up at all, so, instead of trying to become the replacement Ringling for his famed uncle, he was offered the cattle ranch, and went with that option. It's a nice little thought, but I have to think that JRN I was so impressed with Irvin Feld's ambition and money, that he easily gave up on his ill-prepared nephew. Moreover, when I interviewed JRN II many years ago on the subject, he vaguely alluded to his father and uncle having told him that running a circus was no place for a family man -- by then, he had married -- and offered him the cattle ranch to run. So....? We can only hope that, one day, JRN II will shed more light on this murky chapter in Ringling family history.