Sunday, March 24, 2013
Sunday Morning with Don Marcks: What He Really Thought of Ringling-Barnum, 1955 -- And a Rumored Ballroom Big Top After the Big Show
Art Concello, right, with John Ringling North, center, at a spring publicity shoot for Concello's ingenious new seat wagons, Sarasota, 1948
On rare occasions, in his letters and on the telephone, Don would level with me on what he really thought. When Big Bertha rolled down through California in 1955, Don visited the show in four locations - Seattle, Richmond, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Whether he watched it that many times is doubtful, but how I envy him for all his time spent around the last great big top.
Here is a taste of his candor, never revealed in his writings, from his letter to me dated October 19, 1955:
"They had some very good acts, and [I] tbought the show was very good except that it was too slow and too long. Without a doubt it could have been speeded up and cut at least an hour off the time. Boy to sit and watch a circus for three hours for the public is a long time."
It may have been closer to 2-1/2 hours, but others, too, would complain about excessive length. For myself, I was so enchanted by the whole thing, and just to be watching Ringling-Barnum for my first (and, as it would be, my last) time, that I could have sat there all night in circus heaven. In a near full tent at the night show in Richmond, CA, I recall some early exits, though not in droves. But, to a greater problem, continuing ...
"...and I don't care what anyone says those seats of theirs are the most uncomfortable things I've ever sat on."
Right he was. Even in my early teens, I felt cramped sitting on my reserved seat on a Concello seat wagon. The wagons themselves were a dazzling thing to behold in the erection stages, but their inventor, the diminutive AMC ("Little Caesar") must have satisfied only himself when testing a seat.
Okay, what Don did not like about the performance:
"As for the specs, I was rather disappointed in them, for I don't go for too much of that stuff and in my own opinion they could drop them without anyone noticing it. Take for example what did they call it? 'Mama's in the Park' that was supposed to be an elephant number. Except for their running around the track what did they do? Boy if they are going to have an elephant number they better start getting them to perform."
And then, onto talk about the next season, Don's referencing rumors about the show adding a very novel new kind of tent to the midway:
"Oh, well, I'll bet there'll be some big changes next year and believe me it won't be having the Dosey band with ballroom dancing after the show for the public!!"
I remember those dance band rumors; actually, in hindsight, a rather inventive idea, no?