Friday, July 19, 2013

Big Top Shout Outs: I Wish I Were as Good a Writer as Bandwagon Makes Me Out To Be ... and More!

UPDATE ON TY TOJO, 7/20/13, 9:15 am PST

Thanks to Jack Ryan, who tells us that although juggler Ty Tojo was born in Japan, he grew up in Las Vegas, where he was trained by his renowned juggling step-father, Ohio-born Dick Franco.  Thus, I'd say that the kid is a product of the U.S.A. Jack also assures me that, yes, Rob Torres is really from here.

Nothing as flattering as getting misquoted, that is, in words you never even composed in the first place that are words that impress you - pardon my provisional narcissism. Now, that's how it struck me when I read in this new issue of Bandwagon, something I'd allegedly written about Ken Dodd's lively and creative clown alley when he helmed the funsters for Beatty-Cole in the 1970s.  Lane Talburt has a full and engaging report on Dodd's big top career, in which my discovery of such in 1972 informed the first article that I landed in Variety - "Circus Flight Thrills in Moon Age, But Clowns Seen as Obsolete Species."  That season, 1972, there'd not been a single buffoon on Carson and Barnes.

My story came out in 1973, not 1975, as Talburt indicates.  The first paragraph as quoted  is spot on  correct; the second one, in which I appear to be describing a Dodd takeoff on The Godfather, spot off. Where this came from, I don't know, doubtfully from me for I have looked around in vain, and I can't recall ever using the words "ducts' or "considerately"    ... Nor, as Talburt reports, did I dedicate my book Fall of the Big Top to Ken, nor did I interview Ken for that book.  In fact, I quoted Kenny on one or two occasions from previous interviews over the years.  I dedicated my most recent effort, Inside the Changing Circus to the generously sharing Kenny.

Produced by Kenneth Dodd: His Bonnie and Clyde movie parody on Beatty-Cole Circus, in the late 1960s.

On the positive side, Dodd's canvas career seems to be well covered.  But it all ended some 20 years later, when he went home to care for his ailing mother, and while there, evidently fell out of love with trouping, for he never went back ... You might say he turned himself into a professional circus fan, hanging around the Circus Vargas show, getting chummy with Mr. V., who wanted him to take over clown alley.  Back in Florida for good, Kenny became the Roddy McDowall of Sarasota, forming many warm relationships with circus vets (among them, legendary Art Concello), and compiling such an awesome collection of photos and videos.  Strangely, he refuses to go near a computer.

 Lucille Ball poses with Ken Dodd on the Cristiani lot, Los Angeles, 1959.  This and the above photo are Bandwagon, from the Kenneth Dodd Collection

Good grief, we are snared once again in Ringling country!  In the same new issue of Bandwagon, which arrived six months late (they might be making up five or six days with each new number), Bill Taggart resumes his intimate memoir of his days as a ticket seller for the Big Show.  Mostly mundane day to day stuff, and honest accounts of great business the show for the most part was not doing. Not after boffo crowds in New York and Boston, and here and there on rare days.  And then, the big drama up in Minneapolis when the working crews walked out on strike just as the evening performance was beginning, the tent went dark, customers ushered out.  For moments, the whole thing looked doomed, dead. In an eerie limbo. Feisty don't-mess-with-me fixer (aka: legal adjuster) Noyelles Burkart came onto the lot, and roused dormant crews back into action, and got the big top down, the train loaded for St. Paul, the show back on the road.  

When I interviewed dynamically decisive Burkhart about that eventful night, he told me that John Ringling North thanked him the next day, but never talked to him again.  Not so, according to Taggart's Bandwagon account, in which we learn that, according to Burkhart's wife, North asked her husband to manage the show, but he, Noyelles, would have insisted on a drastic reduction in size, as had ArtConcello before walking out at the end of the 1953 tour.  Whom to believe, what Burkhart told me or what his wife told somebody else?  Sigh, I'll go with what the man himself, very bitter, had to say in my presence about North, some of it not printable.

John Ringling North in a more flattering light: makes a cameo with actor Charlton Heston in the movie The Greatest Show on Earth.

Okay, let's take a break from Big Bertha, okay!  And let somebody else get onto the lot. Glad to see Big Apple Circus's new show in the making, LUMINOCITY, splashed in a press release now going out.  Virtually a whole new slate of artists from around the globe, including 15-year-old Japanese juggler  Ty Tojo (welcome back to the ring, Japan!), and from the USA, returning animals trainer genius Jenny Vidbel, also the cracking good physical comedian Rob Torres, who wowed us all - my sister loved him - on the company's brilliant Dance On!   This circus alone - I'll say it again, a national treasure -  makes a trip to New York city damn near irresistible.

Nice touch: Luminocity to be directed by Michel Barette, who co-crafted the masterfully wrought Picturesque (2004-2005 season), and who ringmastered for Cirque du Soleil's first show to play the states and seize world class overnight acclaim - We Reinvent the Circus.

Truth in spin: How refreshing to hear a PR person coming clean on box office pulse. That would be Phil Thurston of Big Apple, when I wrote asking for the Queens 2014 dates and wondering how the show has been doing, and Phil's answering back with such candor.   It's been up and down, he says. "We were doing quite well in Boston until the bombing. Queens was good but the engagement in Charleston was flat & Lake George is about the same so far."

 Zhang Fan on the slack wire with Legendarium

"I wish there were more ticket buyers," says Phil  "This year's show is one of the best (in my humble opinion, based on thirteen seasons' experience) and I wish more people wanted to see it. It's circus!  Not interactive video, post production special effects, two-dimensional entertainment.  That being said, I do think there are audiences for our art, we just have to work harder to reach them."
Big Apple's season of unfortunate box office-crushing events, from bombs in Boston to nature's wrath along the east coast, was well profiled in a recent on-line issue of Ernest Albrecht's Spectacle.


Lane Taburt said...

Sorry if I took your name in vain or misquoted/misinterpreted my notes, David. I'm attending CHS in Peru and will check my backup material when I return to Connecticut. I should have checked my source with you, will do so in future. Best to you and your candid critiques. Lane

Showbiz David said...

Hi Lane,

Unless I really wrote about Ken's Godfather gag, my best guess is that it came from Amusement Business (formerly the Billboard), which had a more skillful way than I of technically describing an act.

Your article, to its great credit - quoting Kenny - took on the issue of how American circus owners will sometimes foist almost anybody onto a clown alley.

When Ken retired, only after 20 years, that was a great loss.

Harry Kingston said...

Hi Dave,
The latest issue of the Bandwagon is the best issue I have ever seen.
Just full of great stories and those beautiful Kodachrome pic really sell it.
On Mr. Burkart, I wrote him and have letters from him on the St Paul, Ringling incident.
He got the old Cole hands on Ringling and got the show moved down the road.
On the July 16, 1956 Pittsburgh I still wondered why John North let Bundy do the dirty work of telling the employees instead of North.
North just stayed in his private car and sulked.
He was a manager in 1938 but North ought to have seen what was going on in 1956 and done something about it before it closed.
Concello could have saved the show from closing.
Harry in Texas