Oakland to DC: Strike up the Bella Band!

Oakland to DC:  Strike up the Bella Band!
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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Morning with Don Marcks: Frank McClosky Without Walter Kernan

Frank McClosky has forever remained the most faceless figure in my image bank of big top personalities.  I could never get a sense of any kind of a personality about the man other than a stern indifferent toughness, to the point almost of disinterest.  He was one of the few who kept the Clyde Beatty show on the road after it folded in 1956.  He had been fired off the Ringling show the year before, allegedly for refusing to buckle under to the wishes of John and Henry Ringling North to end corruption in ticket sales and skimming among ushers.  One of his close partners was a guy he'd grown up with working props for Ringling, Walter Kernan.

Several have said over the years that it was Walter Kernan who passionately cared about the performance.  If so, I have him to thank for the Clyde Beatty Circus that I saw in 1961, for it ranks among my top 10 all time favorite circus shows.

And what did McClosky care about?  When I've tried to engage others in this subject, they had little to say, other than lend the impression that he preferred staying away and letting others manage the show as long as they turned a decent profit.  I suppose he could have been as happy selling used cars.  Maybe he did, on the side.

From Don Marck's letter to me when I lived abroad, dated July 30, 1963:

"You know that fellow Kernan, one of the partners on the show died.  He was I gather more interested in the performance while the other two people are interested in the front end of the show.  Well this I guess could account for a lack of interest in the appearance and production of the show.  Also heard that the two men [one of them, no doubt, McClosky] were trying to kick out Mrs. Kernan, so will be interested to see how long she stays with the show."

I've had the privilege of either observing in action (Louis Stern comes to mind) or interviewing up close a number of big top movers and shakers, among them John Ringling North, Art Concello, Noyelles Burkhart, Cliff Vargas, Floyd King, Paul Binder.  Most of them tended to display distinct idiosyncratic personalities.  None could be accused of being bland, although I'd say that Johnny Pugh would be the nice guy of the bunch.

And of those who I've never watched in action or talked to over the phone, usually, in reading about them, I'd get a sense of a real person. 

Not so, Frank McClosky.  It may be unfair on my part.  Perhaps in person, he'd be engaging, but in my talks over the years with Kenny Dodd, who was producing clown on Beatty-Cole, still, I come away with absolutely nothing.

He must have done a damn good job setting up props and keeping a low profile.  I strain to recall a familiar  PR photo of Frank McClosky with a cigar in his mouth - which mangages to make even the cigar look lifeless.

8.25.13

5 comments:

Harry Kingston said...

Hi David,
I called a long time circus fan friend Mike Piccolo of Pittsburgh who was introduced to McClosky by Edna Antes.
Mike had many passes signed by him on the Beatty Cole show.
Mike said he and his brother Silvius stayed and watched the tear down talking to McClosky, who answered there questions and was very nice to these two fans.
Edna Antes told me when the Beatty show was in Canada they made lots of money and her and McClosky were in the ticket wagon putting it in $500 stacks.
I bet Johnny Pugh could tell us some great McClosky stories.
Harry in Texas

Showbiz David said...

Thanks, Harry.

You are helping to put a face on the man.

Already, my attitude has been adjusted a little!

Harry Kingston said...

Walter Kernan was Bob Snowdens mentor.
Snowden used the King Bros title one year and it was on account of Kernan that he got to use it.
Bob has passed now but he was in on the deal they were going to put out two Beatty Cole shows a West coast and an East coast.
Now this is way before Ringling had a blue and a red unit.
Now what would it be if they had pulled that off.
Harry in Texas

Showbiz David said...

Interesting, that the Felds were not the first to put out two units of the same title.

Polack had the Western and the Eastern units for a number of years.

JRN, according to Irvin Feld, was supposed to have raised the roof over the thought of two Ringling units, but JRN for a short (not meant to be short) time, had another unit down in Mexico, and at one time, a unit in Europe and one in the works for the New York's worlds fair, which did not do very well.

Dick Dykes said...

I have to agree with you.
The 1961 Edition of Clyde Beatty Circus really impressed my brother and I.
We were senilrs in Hiugh School then and I think that show was what really lkighted our fires on the Circus! Dick Dykes, The Balloonman