Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Flip Flops: Brother, Can You Spare a Ring?

Digging for the truth over Dragonwell here at L’Amyx, let’s start out simple, and see where simple goes, okay? Rumorhazit (as Billy Barton would say), that John Ringling North II loses use of the Kelly Miller Circus title end of the season. Not anywhere near, says show manager Jim Royal. “The title came with the corporation, so we have it permanently. Like so many rumors, I have no idea why it started.” So there! Now, as for whatever became of that Feld Entertainment lawsuit against JRN II daring to flaunt his family name on show property, all I could extract from Sir Royal was this: “It was settled to the satisfaction of both parties,” and what's more, both parties agreed not to disclose the details. SO, we are free, for what it’s worth, to rumorize away. I must have been onto something, noticing “John R. North II Presents” on the program magazine cover and surmising it to be the work an intricate treaty ... And yet North’s full name appears in less conspicuous locations here and there, and I’ve heard it still graces the trucks. In tortured legalese, here's my summation: "Counseling lawyers stipulate variable truncations of contested name contingent upon contextual relationships to contractually mandated key words, henceforth pursuant to and as follows" ... All in all, looks like JRN II won some key wiggle room to flaunt away.

More bothersome are the revelations in Bandwagon about a structured short-changing operation on Big Bertha that allegedly flourished in the last canvas days. I earlier wondered what part the great late Art Concello may have played in this lucky boy racket. Turns out he wasn’t around when young William Taggart was tutored inside a bar by a light fingered pro on how to move money along ... Taggart’s commendable confession, you see, was unfortunately laid out in such a way (unintentionally so) as to make it appear that he was indoctrinated in 1953. No, the year was 1954. Mr. C. was gone. Until evidence surfaces to the contrary, I’m standing by what Phillip Hall , who worked the inside pass exchange booth, told me about Concello’s aversion to customers getting the Ben Davenport treatment ... And I’ve got much more about this sad fractured chapter to hyperventilate over up the road. Or would that be “down the road,” or — in the road?

Sure, it’s not always a sunny lot, is it. Ugly Anti-Semitism, for reasons unknown or unreported, strikes the Circus World Museum, and how terrible to see it happening in sleepy Baraboo. Fires lit late nights. Nazi symbols and slogans plastered in spray paint across the barns of history following similar vicious assaults since June, says exec director Stephen Freese to the Baraboo News Republic. “It’s just disgusting.” Not a word in the story about a motive, nor did an apparently under active reporter ask ... Subsequent reports point to white supremacy and anti-immigration movements in the area.

Let’s let some sunshine onto this murky midway. How about Big Apple Circus’s new talent spread, e-mailed to me by p/r staffer Phillip Thurston. On paper, program looks loaded to excite audiences big time. I see a tentbuster going up: Flying trapeze returns along with more gusto in the air, and riders on horseback! Now, all they need is a neat trio of cute and charming elephants. The band comes down around the ring, which sounds bandific. How I envy you who live on the east coast. Why, oh why, Paul and Michael, won’t you ever haul your sterling goods out to the west coast. We are NOT Chicago. Just stay clear of precious San Francisco — or board your star animals at the St. Francis Hotel and parade ‘em around town in special limbos.

Hard times ahead? Sorry it turned dark again so soon out here. As Wall Street jumps out skyraper windows and DC struggles to prolong America’s strange obsession with credit-diseased spending sprees (when will the entitlement madness ever end?), I reflect on the inherent goodness of hard-working circus folk, who troupe on for the love of it. Yes, as Alan Cabal reminds us. “If you’re in the circus to make money, you’re in the wrong line of work.” When did an actor ever help set or strike a set? When did a dancer lift a flat? Or a piano player move chairs around? Circus stars, when need be, will do that and more to keep the show on the road.

End Ringers: Wade Burck referencing the best opening ever for any circus book I ever read, which is how Henry Ringling North, in his great work with Alden Hatch, Circus Kings (just reprinted by the way) calls the circus “a jealous wench,” just for starters. Carson & Barnes playing Will Rogers Arena in Ft Worth for the Shriners, and Logan Jacot blogging ruefully about reports that C&B “closed today for the last time under canvas with a three ring show ... Is this true?” That’s what they say, Logan. October 5, where the 70+-year-old circus pitched its tent for the last time this year at Tucson, Arizona, could mark the end of an epochal American era which began back in 1872, when the crowds for P.T. Barnum’s tent show grew so large, they just had to add another ring. Now, they’re subtracting rings for reverse reasons.

Watching Circus Osario recently, the minimal experience reminded me of a day at John Strong, and it helped humble my future expectations. I’m ready to expect and appreciate less, ready to maybe invest in a lawn chair and prepare to sit around a topless circle marked in the grass by pins on a simple summer day, and watch young upstarts cavort as best they can. Ready to count my change and count my blessings, and wonder where it all went.

Brother, can you spare a ring?

[Big Apple Circus photos, from top: Christine Zerbini, by Maike Schulz; The Flying Cortes, by Bertrand Guay; LaSalle Brothers, by Bertrand Guay]

First posted, October 10, 2008


Anonymous said...

David, I never made it appear that short changing was in 1953 when you say Concello was there, Fred just place my comments about ticket selling in the wrong order, it was what I wrote about the 54 season.

But your are very naive to believe that it did not happen when Concello was there. As I told you before Nina Evans once told Feld, "Mr. Feld we all made money when Concello headed the show."

Logan Jacot said...

My Mom always said "Things will hit rock bottom before they reach to their glory days again," so hopefully this is rock bottom and the circus will start to grow again and more rings. Or maybe I'm just a wishful thinker.


Showbiz David said...

Logan, I'm in your camp, kid.

Anonymous said...

I'm surely with you too Logan, and David, and my heart is hoping that this is truly "rock bottom" for the circus, and that it will start to grow and grow again......bigger and better than ever. WE NEED THIS WONDERFUL, EXCITING MAGIC, ESPECIALLY IN OUR WORLD TODAY!!!!


Logan Jacot said...

I completely agree, that's one of the reasons I am hopeful that the circus is ready for a comeback. The world needs an escape from all of this turmoil we're facing today.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Showbiz Dave:
You keep mentioning the lawsuit between the Feld Organization and JRN II. It is my understanding that the orinal purchase by the Felds from JRN included language pursuant to the prevention of any future family members using the Ringling Name in Show Business, but the rub came when Irvin sold the show to the Mattel Company. That venture negated the original purchase agreement, thus the clause relating to the use of the Ringling Name by any future family members. When Feld bought the show back from Mattel (for pennies on the dollar), the new purchase agreement had nothing to do with the Ringling Family, thus the loophole was born. JRN II and his legal team made a mad dash to jump through that loophole and sure enough, they came up with the prize! The Ringling Bros. title is trade marked, so JRN II cannot use the "Ringling Bros." title, but since his name is Ringling, he has the right to use it and the Feld Organization lost it to future family members because of the Mattel resale. Ah legalities...
Neil Cockerline
Minneapolis, MN

Showbiz David said...

Thanks, Neil. Absolutely fascinating!

Wade G. Burck said...

Great, great stuff. Thanks for sharing. What's this I hear about the Feld Corporation on "lock down" due to a number of upcoming legal matters.
I hope you are well,
Wade Burck

Anonymous said...

What are these "subsequent reports" that point to neo-nazis in Baraboo? I'd like to know.