Yes, it's been a while. Don is back. While reigning in my clutter, as I periodically do (I hate clutter), I came upon a bulging folder of his yet-to-read letters, and, looking through a few, was put back in a certain mood. All it took was something out of the ordinary to reboot my interest. Once in a while, something jumps out.
Today, from his of March 5, 1984:
"Did you watch the TV show on Ringling last night? If so you already know what I am going to say. For at the end they named three books viewers should check in their library for in order to learn more about the circus. One of these was 'Behind the Big Top.' So, I thought that was a pretty nice plug. Also shows some recognition that you might not have thought about."
Was I ever flattered to learn of that! Not sure if Don's letter got to me before a phone call from somebody else delivering the same news. Was hard to believe.
Behind the Big Top was my first book, and I suppose the first book is always the most exciting, as long as it does not flop. Mine earned enough enthusiasm from most book reviewers and readers to give me a genuine feeling of accomplishment. Amazing, considering the incredible number (it would be too embarrassing to say) of typos and misspellings that are in it. This alone should land me in the Guinness Book.
In Don's three page letter (his flawless typing is so impressive) here is what surprised me the most:
"Oh, almost forgot to tell you - I've lost almost 300 subscribers, so guess I have to figure out something to improve and make CR a bit more appealing. That's a pretty big loss over the past few months."
The understatement may tell you something about the man's cool, at least on the surface.
He had been "laid up" for a time, probably for medical reasons, and wondered if that was a reason. In fact, he constantly struggled to get new subscribers to replace departing ones. He sent out free samples every week to a good number of prospective takers, drawn from circus fans lists. Now, it seems, the fan magazines were listing far fewer newer members, and thus Don had fewer people to pitch to.
Here is another of his disclosures that could surprise me. "One thing that would help is to have better reports on shows and such. It is too bad when you have to depend on gratis reports, also too bad that like the one review when the fellow says the bad was bad that so much uproar results."
Yes, indeed, same then as now. Dare criticize a single element in a circus program and you're a traitor to the big top.
"Then that musician [I've no idea who he is talking about here] opens up a can of worms by saying that anyone can become a performer with practice but not so a circus musicians. Well, if nothing more it makes some interesting copy, I guess."
I think that awareness of "interesting copy" was one reason why Don had little trouble reporting on both sides of such contentious topics as the emerging animal rights movement and Cirque du Soleil. He seemed easily able to report what came down the pike, often drawing from the AP. No, no real circus reviews, but hard news, yes. That impressed me.
So, how does he close off on March, 5, thirty years ago?
"Well, got to get back to work."
Heck of a nice guy, Don. We talked many times on the telephone, not just about circus but about issues of the day, and how refreshing it was to hear him take on a subject without politicizing it. Being open to considering all points of view out there. I never quite figured out what his political party may have been.
Maybe he didn't either.