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.