Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Morning with Don Marcks: John Strong Versus John Ringling North

1957 was a terrible year for John Ringling North.  Reviled by angry circus fans for having struck the big top for good the previous summer in Pittsburgh, now there was another reason for acute discontent: having to watch the show, in many towns, not even indoors but around a ball park or in front of a fairgrounds racetrack grandstand! 

Grown men hated what Mr. North had done. So could I, a kid, not also complain?  I turned from fan to foe overnight. 

In 1957, John Strong was still in his relatively innocent era, before high power phone men got a hold of his little show and exploited it to hell in possibly  the most corrupt boiler room operations your average American towns had ever suffered.  At our local county fair in Santa Rosa, I loved sitting inside the little tent while ringmaster Strong held court. Simple.  Home made.  Charming.  What a fizzy splash John made with his big heart and friendly chatter!

Here, from Don's letter to me dated August 9, 1957:

"Was happy to know that you had seen the John Strong Circus and also I was glad to know that you liked it to. I think that this little show is about the best there is all things considered.  Certainly the folks and all go away feeling happier and glad that they saw a little performance.  Also it is so close, everyone's personality is great and everything just sort of blends together there for the entertainment of both children and adults."

Later in the letter:

"This last issue of Life magazine has a small article with some pictures on this years Ringling show - the Circus without a tent. Think that I would be disappointed in the thing seeing it outside.  Of course if they do finally end up and play in the Cow Palace it might not be too bad since we have seen it inside before [since 1948].  Only thing with cutting down the show and then playing the Cow Palace, it seems to me they might be lost more than ever there."

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