Sunday, March 31, 2013
Sunday Morning with Don Marcks: Catching Cliff Vargas on a Good Vargas Day
Of all the big top bosses I have observed, the most exciting figure among them, by far, would have to be Cliff Vargas. His unpredictable moods combined with his relentless drive to make his circus the very biggest and best is what enamored him, most will agree, of virtually everybody in the circus community.
How I miss just being able to spot him slipping across the lot, like he did that rainy morning at Farmers Market in L.A as the big top was rising, accompanied by Joe Muscarello. Vargas looked weary and worn down, but a man who would not stop. Within several years he would no longer be with us, another tragic victim of AIDS.
He could be boyant; he could be nasty. Somehow, his greater desire to deliver trumped the many moods when "Mr.V.", as they called him, came onto the lot.
Southern Californias will fondly remember the show opening in the Hollywood Bowl Parking lot on Highland. What glamorous openings they were. One night, just returning from the Bay Area, I made a mad dash over to the lot, intent on taking in the show again. In fact, I would usually see the show more than once during its golden years in the mid-1980s, they were that good. "Sold out" a man standing near the tent told me. The only other time I can recall being turned away at a circus was at the Moscow Circus in Oakland in 1967.
Here is Don Marcks, in a letter to me dated May 18, 1983:
"I then spent the next two days with Circus Vargas and do you know what. The attitude was different than it has been and in fact the people seemed different and so I enjoyed it. Was in Wally Naughtin's trailer when there was a knock on the door and in walked Vargas. He acted like he was happy to see me. Another time he was going through the backyard and came over to tell me that he had been selling tickets and said, do you know those people who buy the tickets are crazy. He was certainly in a good mood. To say he has a good show, etc. is to repeat so many others but it is true."