Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Morning with Don Marcks: The Glory that Was Vargas

In the 1980s, perhaps the most glamorous circus opening anywhere was that of Circus Vargas, when it pitched its blue and yellow big top over a parking lot across the street from the Hollywood Bowl.

Fans came to mingle on the midway, hoping to catch a glimpse of "Mr. V," hoping, better yet, to cut up jackpots with the fiery circus owner.  This man of humble origins stared out a phoneman, and ended up a showman.

The crowds were healthy, sometimes the tent was packed, a rarity for me one night, returning from the Bay Area, after jumping off my bus, hurring over to the lot, only to be told, "it's a sell out."  The show had just begun.  I felt a let down, of course, but also a great joy for the show -- and for the American circus scene.

Here. from Don's letter to me, dated February 8, 1985

"Not much else happening.   I heard that this year Vargas has his best show yet."


"Also, that he is excited about the fact the CFA will use his show as their convention circus this year."

It was, in my book, the best of all Vargas years, a peformance that topped all the others.  He had a five piece band in the tent, riding the charts of pulsing jazz and Latin, interweaving songs from Broadway and the Great American Songbook, with a few old fashiony circus tunes tossed in.  He had a well dressed show, a good balance of acts, a formidable elephant herd.

I probably saw the show three times.  I used to do that, when I liked a show, I would go back.  Did it with Ringling, not recently, though sometimes during Feld years as well as during the John Ringling North era.

Three rings still resonate in my mind.  

Within only a few years, Circus Vargas would begin a gradual slide in performance values, as Mr. V. chased after other markets, and then started appearing in arenas, in direct contradiction to the press campaign upon which he had built his name:  "A return to the circus under the big top, as it once was in America!" 

He cast a spell over the entire circus community.  In my lifetime, I can't think of an owner who was so admired, respected, and appreciated as much as Cliff Vargas.


Harry Kingston said...

I could write a book on Mr. V as I got to know him through the years a what a showman he was.
He told me he had them on the edge of there seats in Florida and all over the US.
I got invited to a party the had here in town and it was January and Mr. V had on his full length mink coat.
I worked at a local tv station and we always gave him the best publicity ever.
He called me one day at the tv station and said Harry I need a favor , ok Mr. V.
I need a set of poles for a new tent and I had a local machine shop build them all.
They shortened the center poles
like 3 feet and I have the section in my circus collection.
Many great acts on circus Vargas and they all were so nice to us fans.
If we could ever get Bill Biggerstaff on here he could tell some great Vargas stories as he was there in the Marquee with as much as $14,000 plus is his money box.
Jerry Cash, got the pic of the two tents put together I think at the Hollywood bowel.
Johnny Pugh was going to buy Vargas but cliff died on him.
I helped every marketing director that he had here in town an the posters they and tickets they put out by the thousands.
Great days of the circus thanks to Mr. V.
Harry in Texas

Showbiz David said...

Hi Harry,
Thanks for sharing.
Such excitement to have lived through!