Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sunday Morning with Don Marcks: Concello Gets “Kicked Out” of the Ringling Show... All About that Strange Ill-fated European Tour

 Photos from the program magazine

The recollections of it, depending upon whom to believe, are so wildly variable as to leave one in a complete muddle.  Was it that bad?   Or, no, you say it was quite good, really?  When John Ringling North took Ringling-Barnum  to Europe in 1963, banking on continental acclaim, great business, and  a regular annual our of major Old World capitals, he left virtually all of the planning and delivery to Arthur Concello.  The two had, what would become, a legendary history, something like Barnum & Bailey.

We know the show may have opened in shambles — director Richard Barstow curiously not called over to begin his work until the show was well into rehearsals, under the default direction of Concello’s girl friend, Maggie Smith.  The reviews were good, business fairly good and building.

From Don’s letter to me dated November 13, 1963, when I was in Scotland at the time:

You’ll be interested to learn some information I picked up while visiting James Bros.  Everyone was talking about the fact that North has kicked Concello out of the Ringling organization.  He is reportedly suing Concello for something like $2 million.  As I understand things Concello will manage the New York World’s Fair circus and then his connection with the Ringling show ceases completely.  What has happened or why the sudden outburst I don’t know.  In fact I’m most anxious to learn about this myself, so will surely keep you posted.”

A page from the program magazine. I do not see a dearth of talent.
About the “sudden outburst,” years later, while interviewing Mr. Concello, indoor pool side, in his Sarasota home (he was kind to me, always) when the subject of the European tour came up, at one point in the disintegrating relationship between AMC and JRN abroad, Mr. Concello motioned me to follow him around the pool to a closet.  In it, he reached up to retrieve his diary for the year 1963. He thumbed through it to a page, and held it up for me to read;

“North raising hell”.

He stood there looking a little amused by my serious reaction.  But, in fact, I got a distinct feeling that he had felt very very uncomfortable being around North at the time.  He did not know, although he may have suspected, that, upon returning to the states to work on the World's Fair unit, he was about to be fired.

The two men were equally strong willed, from my observations. Concello’s handling of Ringling in Europe seemed engineered to favor choreographer Margaret Smith (the two later married) over the director of record, Dick Barstow.  And here is the strangest part of the story: Barstow kept waiting to be called over to begin his work, and kept being put off.  Finally, he was notified to come, and when he arrived, the show had already opened. Flabbergasted at the chaotic state of the program that he claimed to have found, Barstow bolted up to JRN and demanded that his name be taken off the program, that he was going back to the states.  North talked Barstow out of it. 

Henry Ringling North, in an interview he gave me at the Yale Club in NY, some years later, called the Paris opening “an absolute disgrace.”  Meaning, I think, the program was a mess, as sometimes they can be the first few performances out.   Based on the program lineup, no way can anybody claim that the roster of performers was not generally top drawer.  But, of course, it’s all in how the whole thing is put together. 

They played a few cities.  Photos show most of the seats filled.  Ken Dodd, who has seen a video of the show, thought it looked very good.

John Ringling North let go of his dream, in my opinion, not wishing to harm his high reputation over there, as he had already done in the states when he struck the big top.  He wished more, I believe, to sustain the peace and respect he had found in the Old World.


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