Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sunday Morning, Looking Back: Circus Compensation Blues, A Tough Tea to Swallow

This first appeared on March 5, 2008

In order to face the task at hand, I’ve finally taken a crack at Tribute Pu-Er here at L’Amyx, which Will has been needling me to try. It’s strong enough to give me extra muscle, assuming I don’t end up in ER.

Oh, yes, the main topic at hand: Those mysterious wages dolled out to circus performers by the owners who are said to carry on like cheap low down capitalists.

Showbiz, 1A: Very few people with a few cells in their noggin expect to become rich and famous in the spotlights. Most of us sooner or later wake up to the realities. We can do it “for free” in local community groups. We can go out on the road and make a decent living, maybe, doing what we believe we were born to do because, to quote the ballet impresario from The Red Shoes, “we must.”

At the top of the perilous pile are the lucky few — screen idols, pop stars and certain wild animal trainers. THEY are, Wade of Burck, the rare MINORITY. And they always will be.

Down here with the majority and below, there is me. Where do I fit in? The author of seven books, all ‘em put out by royalty publishers who fund all the costs and pay me a standard royalty of 10 percent of the retail price, I have made a little money. Had I ever tried to survive solely on my royalties, I might have done it living in a tree house, shopping with food stamps, and mugging on the side. I have no regrets. I know I am not Norman of Mailer or Ernest of H.

Some interesting points were raised in a hearty barrage of comments left by the practicing three or four of you (for which my thanks) on the post preceding this one. Like the idea of establishing rates for various circus skills. I only thank God that James. C. Petrillo, who unionized musicians into the world’s second oldest profession, kept his greedy hands off of the ring stars who have thrilled me since my boyhood. Why? Because, for many reasons, they have a way of now and then showing up under smaller tents, which makes circus going an adventure in discovery.

You, Wade, show fearless courage in revealing your pay scale. Why not others? Most of them, like me, might not like flaunting what we don’t make. Get my drift? I feel your zeal over this topic, but I can’t see it ever much changing. Perhaps everything we can know (and already kind of know) comes through in these penetrating comments by you and your pro cohorts. And I don’t think it is that much a mystery. If you want to try uncorking a greater number of confessions from your peers, you’d likely do better under Buckles Big Big Top. I am just a concession stand, although lately it’s been a little crowded around here. I await my 15-minute stampede. Maybe I’ll have to hire a kid assistant for a percentage of my non-profits. Remember Hubert Castle once stating that he made more money performing than producing. Fake humility?

Hey, let’s take a look at the comments: Business Side is a real person known to me. Comparing sports players: They work in an industry for which putting a circus out would be mere pocket change. I thank our circus owners who, working on shoestrings and against herculean obstacles (PETA for example) somehow manage to bring affordable entertainment to American audiences, even if they often let critical me down. Sure, they are going to pay as little as they can, which is the way of the business world.

I’m just a guy who buys a ticket (and I really do) and sits down, hoping to be entertained, hoping not to see another hula hoop act or another painfully protracted audience participation filler. In the positive, if I am correct that performers can and do negotiate directly with producers, that might be why I am on record many times pointing out that, at ANY circus, there is a good chance you will see at least one or two very fine acts. Maybe they were desperate to tie down a season. Maybe they got the pay they wanted for a string of dates they fancied, or maybe they like the big top boss or are in love with an ex-con turned prop hand on the show. Whatever works.

Lauren Fairchild said what I absolutely believe, returning to my deference to the Red Shoes impresario: “I do think that most performers want and need to work SO bad, that they are willing to work for ANY salary, just to be able to do what they do.” I myself started out, and what luck, landing a testy review of Polack Bros. when I was but 14 years of age in the White Tops. No pay for that. I consider myself very lucky to have gotten published by houses that put up all the costs, market as best they can and pay me royalties. Far from rich. I guess I fall midway on the midway. Trust me, I am not being dramatic when I say that the first three of my four circus books each came agonizingly close to not finding a publisher at all. Each may have found the one house in the world interested.

Now, as for those disillusioned Cirque du Soleil artists exiting Kooza. They have every right to realize it might not be for them, especially if they value a humane working environment, and to try something else like the rodeo circuit.. As in the free job market, so to the big top. And if they want to revert to a counter career starting at McDonalds, that’s their right. In life, I believe there are no absolutes, only options. When I got a job with Wallace Bros Circus, I was thrilled at the age of 20 to be an “usher” for only room and diarrhea (excuse me, food). A few weeks later, they offered me a certain amount of money to replace a clown arrested for getting to cozy under the seats with a female patron. The pay? I’m having a hard time coming clean ... (Okay, a cheap teaser to get you to read on..)

For being just a clown? I think they needed common labor, art being secondary. Besides being a “performer,” I helped pitch the dressing top and marquee, if anybody can believe that (Pete Cristiani, watching me work a sledgehammer, called me "Snow Cone"). Ah, youth! And I helped lug the seats onto and off the trucks (reprising a boyhood gig when Clyde Beatty came to town and I got a pass for helping toss jacks and stringers off a red wagon). And I never felt disrespected. I loved Norman Cristiani, such a smiling face when I climbed the stairs to the office wagon each week to proudly collect my — no, not YET. (Business Side: It did bear income tax info) .

On the up scale, in 1969 Sid Kellner paid me $250.00 a week and the use of his Ford Bronco to be press agent for his James Bros. Circus. What seemed a huge amount of money to me did not suit Eddie Howe from the previous season, whose refusal to return was my opening), even if I paid for all my expenses including gas and YMCA hotel rooms. Thus, no newspaper I called ever was given an incriminating return phone number to call.

So, kids, ugh, this tea is turning as dark and forbidding as a muddy lot at midnight. Will took pity on my facial hints and offered me Flowery White Pekoe. Ah, back from under the earth, into the air. Maestro, if you please...I could fly. Okay, for free.(Just don’t tell anybody, contract negotiations with the Felds, you know....)

That’s about it. Maybe Wade Burck’s daring one person confessional will turn into a crowd scene of shared revelations.

Okay, what did I earn on Wallace Bros. per week back in my youth? $25.00 Can anybody out there bottom that?

[Photos of my part-time career on various midways: Skirt-raising air blast operator and relief ticket seller on the Foley & Burk lot in Santa Rosa during the Sonoma County Fair; clowning with Wallace Bros. one summer; National Press Representative for Sid Kellner's James Bros. Circus -- the only job I ever had that came with a business card. Thanks, Sid]



Wade G. Burck said...

What kind of author are you? It is spelled Burck, not Burke. I was considering contracting you to pen my bio, assuming a yard and a half was adequate compensation. I can't afford a proof reader, so I am going to have to depend on you, or are you going to want cherry pie for that?
I don't know what year Wallace Bros. was, but in 1974 I was paid $75.00 a week plus housing(4 bales of prime Timothy hay) to set ring curbs and lights as a proud member of the Clyde Bros. prop crew, awaiting the arrest of somebody in the animal department, so I could get my foot in the door. But that was alright, as I recalled the advice of my "townie" father, as he shook my 18 year old hand. "Good luck, son. Always remember, if you work real hard, devote your life, and become very good at what you do, you will achieve great wealth."
I guess I should have gotten a second opinion, from a "kinker." But I don't think they would have told me the truth, do you?
Showbiz, stating my salary's over the years had nothing to do with courage, it was a point of reference, and being a second generation "townie", I assumed public record. My hero and inspiration, told me in 1992, "you are lucky, young man. I didn't make that much when I started."
My response, "that was 23 years ago, Boss," didn't seem to compute.
I wish I could ask him today, "how's that 1992 figure look in 2008, Boss?"
Showbiz, don't down play the importance of your site, by comparing it to others. I tried that route, before coming to you, and you addressed the issue 10 fold more. Funny thing though? I just assumed there were more performers out there. I have tried so hard to deny, what has been pointed out so many time's, that embarrassed thing. I have offered the advice of my father gratis, for what it is worth. I don't know if you can use it for this thing of ours or not, but it's there anyway.
Wade Burck

Ben Trumble said...

Jeez Wade, $75 in 1974 for working props was almost real money! In 1977 I spent a couple months working the advance for a carnival that played independently in Georgia, Alabama, and Miss. I got $70 a week salary, and $12.50 a day per diem toward gas, food, and a really cheap motel now and then. It was still more than I'd made as a ticket seller on a circus earlier that summer. My dad thought that I was an idiot, as he would have paid me better working his carnival attractions, and he was pretty tight. One weekend I raced from a town called Social Circle, Georgia down to St Augustine to see my girlfriend and ran into Ross Allen, a old-time reptile showman at a Sambo's Pancake House. He offered me $45 a day to do his rattlensnake show at the Alligator Farm on weekends. So I returned the van to the carnival, hitch-hiked back to FL and I've tried to stay off "the advance" ever since.

henry edgar said...

one of the most important pieces of advice i ever received came from the late clyde beatty, when i was 14 and telling him i wanted a career in the circus. "don't ever work cheap because if you work cheap once, they will expect you to work cheap the rest of yoiur life." i follow that advice today, even though i'm too old to do much work of any kind. beatty was only paid $100.00 a week in the hagenbeck-wallace days because he was under contract and he also didn't own his cats. once he got his own cats, he followed his own advice and never worked cheap again, nor should he have, since he is the only circus superstar in history to actually draw crowds with his name.

when i first started working for bill english, i didn't really appreciate how lucky i was to work for someone with so much integrity. he treated all of his employees with respect and paid them according to their worth. that seems to be standard circus scale -- you pay a headliner more than you pay someone who works an end ring. over the years, as i've read books like the hoxie book and heard stories from other people, i have really come to appreciate how well we were all treated -- financially and otherwise -- by bill and others on the corporation shows. no one got rich but some of our performers were paid almost as much in 1965 as similar acts were paid on ringling in 1975. one of my closest friends was ofered a center ring spot and half a railroad car on ringling but declined because "i couldn't afford the cut in pay." at one point about 10 or 15 years ago, i was ready to go back on the road but couldn't find anyone who would pay what i made in 1965. (and instead of paying my motel bills, they wanted me to buy a camper to sleep in. nothing wrong with campers, but that is NOT the way to impress the press)

i have admired wade's honesty and willingness to voice his opinion when others say nothing since the time i interviewed him right after he joined ringling. even then he had a mind of his own. he was concerned because he wanted a second arena for the cats to use for exercise and play, and was told no, there was no room on the train. as far as i'm concerned, it required almost as much courage to ask for that perk for the well-being of those white tigers as to go into the cage itself. wade made points with me at that point because he wanted to do do everything he could for those tigers instead of just letting them sleep in those small cages all day and night when they were'nt performing. wade knows a lot more about animals that he's ever been credited with. even on these blogs, i've learned to admire wade's willingness to be the only one to ask a question or challenge things he thinks are not right. i'm not surprised that he released his salary figures. he says and does what he thinks is right no matter what others think.

and david, i've told you before, don't get discouraged because you aren't getting thousands of hits every day. you have a great block that fills a special purpose. like wade, you say whatever you think even if you know others won't agree. (remember, you coined the phrase Ringling peace tigers to descrinbe a lackluster tiger act while you were still in high school) your courage and honesty in reviews were 20 years ahead of your time, but they've earned you well-deserved respect. your blog is growing and will continue to grow. keep up the good work.

henry edgar said...

ben - now you know why i've stuck to newspapers! i loved doing press and if bill english had called the day before i died, i'd have jumped right back. today's owners and managers have no sense of perspective. the only people they want to pay are themselves and the concession people. the last thing they think about is the performance. they would much rather buy a latino or asian family who can stretch out hula hoops, silks and motorcycles for almost nothing than to hire or train a few real performers to do some real circus acts. i did well on press because i had a great show to sell. only 12 performers and two elephants, but we had a cat act, a riding act, a great single trapeze, a wire act, dogs, ponies, horses, jugglers, webs, ladders and rola bola AND a huge hippo in the sideshow tent. nobody got rich but we were all paid enough to live on and we were happy working for a show we could be proud of. (note: NO hula hoops! NO motorcycles! and NO depending on imported working men to move the show) i would love to go back on the road if i could find a show that would (a) pay me enough to live on and (b) not bring in a performance that would embarass me.

good luck this season. as i've read your comments on these blogs, you have really earned my respect for doing your homework and knowing this business. i think you are an assett to this business and anyone who hires you is lucky.

Ben Trumble said...

Henry, I've been treated pretty well by most of the people I've worked for. I paydays I feel just fine untl the phone rings and my wife tells me where to find a Bank of America and how much "allowance" I get to keep. My father was a great "patch" and I was lucky to have him as a teacher.

I have to say, one of the most enjoyable parts of the day on an outdoor show is the early afternoon when the tent is empty and inside there are are children learning circus from their parents, or their friends on the show. They represent the future, and I do hope that we can keep it economically viable for them.

Wade G. Burck said...

Henry and Ben,
Welcome. I knew you'd like this "not as famous" gem once you were here. I'm not even going to ask Showbiz, what my "pc", is for starting the "hey rube" in an effort to fill the seat's. He'd probably only embarrass me anyway.

Don't bring that Clyde Beatty Superstar, sold more ticket's then anybody nonsense over here. I thought we worked it out to MY satisfaction in that other auditorium. I still have my Gunther Gebel Williams gun, armed and loaded, so think twice before you start that skirmish again.
Because I like and respect you Henry, I am going to assume that shot I heard was just you cleaning your gun, and let it go at that.
I appreciate, and am humbled(but not a lot), by your kind words. But in a effort at historical accuracy, you speak to 1984 when I was "attempting" to get more exercise room for the tigers. I was informed in 2004, by a cute little blonde college that it was actually the European nations who initiated the "more room" idea, in 1991, after cage acts had been shut it down in Great Britan, her country in 1989. She became a "European style" trainer shortly afterwards. I don't appreciate you making me admit I failed, Henry. You should have remembered my honesty deal, and not made me go there.
Your friend,
Wade Burck

Real short for you, because you said it all. The future and the hopes that it will be economically
viable for my children and their children, should be the soul purpose of any parent or performer/producer/agent who truly loves this thing of ours.
Collecting awards, getting a piece of what you think is yours, and leaving the mess for future generations, to do the best they can, is pretty shabby, self centered, greedy, and uncaring.
Wade Burck

Showbiz David said...

Hey, you guys. Just back from my day job. Gotta read your comments soon. I think it's neat that your chatting it up on my midway. Wade, my apologies for mispelling your name. it is BURCK. I'll correct! I'm learning a lot by these comments, and I hope nobody every feels like they can't say whatever they please on my midway. As you know, I can dish it out, so I respect all points of view from others. More later ... Have yourself some lemonade tea on me...

Wade G. Burck. said...

Appreciate the offer of "tea", but realizing Henry Edgar(who I love) and the press are lurking some where, I have this "macho, he man Animal Trainer" deal to think about. So if it's no problem coffee black, no cream and surly no sugar, would be fine.
Wade Burck

Casey said...

Another court to double dribble on!
I am a fan of the topic for sure. I feel every thing circus pay related should be common knowledge, to anyone trying to play the game. It benefits all parties. If I know what this guy and this guy get for their cat acts, I know where the fence is to hit a home run.
Mr. Showbiz,
this is my first visit to your corner of the net. I don't know how I missed it. It seems rather "heated" in this barn, but its ok, I brought my asbestos trench coat, I can take a little heat if I must. I will pass on the lemonade tea though, sounds a little to cutesy for me. I will pour another SoCo and diet instead......Cheers
Mr BurckE,
This could be the promise land, how censor happy is the guy with the deny button? My grandfather had the same line your father used ("Good luck, son. Always remember, if you work real hard, devote your life, and become very good at what you do, you will achieve great wealth.") If he were here today to listen to me rant, I would look him dead in the eye, and tell him, sorry you were wrong. I am hoping switching tracks on the nice nice stuff could bring an increase.
Mr. Edgar,
I have been fortunate I guess, in the sense I have worked for several people who made less money running their show, then any one of the acts (if anyone doubts, research Robert "Red" Johnson. The man lived at poverty level for years, trying to build a great little circus. Lumping all the show owners together as "only wanting to make themselves and a few concessionaires money" may be unfair to a couple, not many, but a couple.
Mr. Trumble,
How did you lose the $45 a day gig? Any chance that guy is still hiring?

Ben Trumble said...

Mr Cainan, I'm sure I got drunk one weekend and didn't show up for work, I was 20 then. Nah, seriously I worked there for years whenever I was between other things. Casey, you are certainly right, there have been some great show owners through the years who always put the show and their employees and performers first. Lots of shows claim to be about some broader "family" and some really are. But there are the other guys too. We all know that you have to pay your "dues" here and there, but as Wade likes to say "in this thing of ours," God help the bright eyed kid who cuts his/her first deal and assumes everything is as good as it gets because discussions are taking place at somebody's kitchen table in sunny FLA and the kid has just come in from snowy Michigan. First offers are first offers and if percentages are involved that kid better ask, percentage of WHAT? It isn't always that producer owner XYZ is a bad guy, he just reckons if you don't ask there's no obligation to tell. Imagine how bad that gets with a international corporation where there may be an actual incentive to keep you in the dark.

Showbiz David said...

I left some tea-free junk food out on the midway for whomever. Enjoy. I'm off to my hula hoop lessons.

Wade G. Burck said...

Good points. What if the bright eyed kid asks percentage of what and is told, "none of your business. Nobody ask's, and no buddy care's, so do you want the deal or not?
What if the bright eyed kid ask's around and find's that they really do not care?
At what point does the bright eyed kid, accept that it is the illusion of, as opposed to the reality of, that fuel's this thing of our's, and the illusion doesn't even care.
Do you recall, Ben a couple of years ago, where there was talk of starting a retirement fund, similar to the film industry, sports world, etc. for this thing of ours. Even ran a couple of pleas for help in Circus Report, etc. It was shut down, never to be raised again, due to lack of interest, after a couple of months. What business/industry has survived with everybody "getting theirs, forget tomorrow". The immigration deal is a real baffler, as you have suggested. How many act's/performers are given paper's under the "illusion"(theres that thing again) that like talent is not available here?
Speaking of illusion's, didn't you always assume there were a heck of a lot more artist's in this thing of our's? I know I did. I thought at least one or two from this new Solei deal would come, and offer their insight, it being fresh in their mind. A couple of international "award winner's" would have been great for another viewpoint. Hopefully something different then "I had a ball participating". That's old and tired, and a lot like a grade school science fair's. Something along the lines of thousand's of competators world who say, "I had a ball participating, plus I got that huge fat check/endorsement to go along with this goofy trophy." Me personally, I keep hoping and praying somebody does care. My pride, and love of this thing of our's will not permit me to believe that guy at the kitchen table. I know he is wrong.
Be safe,
Wade Burck

henry edgar said...

unions nearly killed the ringling show at one point and i'm not sure that many smaller shows could survive with unions today. but i think either unions or company benefits could do a lot to attract people to this business and keep them here. at one time, if an act had an accident, or even a working man injured himself, the shows paid the hospital bills and did everything else they could to help. there was a feeling unions were not needed because the shows would take care of you. does that feeling exist any more? i'm sure it does with some shows, but how many?

is there any incentive for an act to get better when they see what the best of the best has to offer -- and what they pay? could that be why a lot of things slide past -- an act with no finish trick, what i've always called the "hey, wow!' factor, or a finish trick that is a throwaway in a similar act? if more show owners cared, and would pay even $25.00 extra for a great act instead oif a good act, might that encourage people to be the best? we are in an age where physical beauty is admired, and gymns and work-out programs are popular every where, but how many of our top performers -- whom we would assume to be in great physical shape -- look like they spend too much time at hardee's or mcdonalds? people whose routines demand tights and spandex, but whose bodies should be seen in caftans? what happeneed to the people who would suggest that someone might want to lose a few pounds if they wanted center ring? (I admit i'm fat, very fat, but i'm in a job where nobody cares what i look like. and i'm 64 years old.) i'm not saying everyone should be gymn bunnies -- but on the other hand, why try if you know your act will get paid x amount of dollars whether it's good or its bad, whether you look like a million dollars or you look like 2 cents.

i'm running out of space and i've still got plenty to say. next comment coming up!

henry edgar said...

SOAP BOX CONTINUES. Are there any retirement programs in our business? how many offer 401c plans? what happens when we get too old to throw a triple? most companies with as many as 20 employees offer retirenment and health benefits. Are there even programs where performers can even pay the premiums themselves rather than go with the costly single plans? i agree at this point that many, probably most, shows can't afford to do much here. we've tried giving audiences less and less. we think they should be happy if they get tigers instead of elephants -- what happened to giving them both? high wire or flying? dogs or ponies? teeterboard or trampoline? and forget about bareback riders, once the royalty of the ring. since prices are going up everywhere any way, why not raise prices a little -- not doubling or tripling, just a little -- and trying to give people a show they WANT to see? a show where parents don't say 'that's not the kind of circus i saw when i was a kid." in dates of several days, continue to pad opening night with discount tickets - but give them a show they will talk about the next day.

if more shows even gave the illusion of caring they might be able to siphon off some of cirque's talent. like it or not, that's where you will find many of the best non-animal acts we have. why not invite them to other shows- and offer them reasons to make the switch?

maybe if people even cared enough to let people know they cared, it might help.

i don't mean to be so negative, i've said it many times -- i love circuses -- and i'm not saying i know everything about running a business, when i had my theater company, we played to full houses and one night an audience of four -- two pairs of comps. i've made my own mistakes.

but i think it's time for more people to stand up and say "i care. i want a better show and i will try to create a better show." the show is what we offer to the public. the public expects more quality today and the shows should do what they can to improve the quality; if they can't afford to pay much more, at least pat the performers on the back and say thank you for trying.

Ben Trumble said...

You're certain right about some of the illusions. I laugh out loud once or twice a year when somebody runs an ad for aerialists offering $7.50 an hour with a 35 hour work week. God forbid anyone should actually apply, because then it would be so much harder to get a visa for somebody else based on "nobody wanted the job." Smoke and mirrors. I remember when the retirement fund was suggested, and a few stabs at groups plans for buying health coverage, which didn't catch on either. It's no secret that only a very few shows give anybody a shot at a health plan. Shows are pretty good at picking up hospital bills when there's a show related injury, but often the closest thing to insurance many working and people and even performers have is a Medicaid card from the state where the show winters, and the income requirements to qualify for medicaid says a lot about what some families live on. I know one very good elephant guy staying home this year looking for a town job with group medical. I don't blame circuses per se for that, but as an industry it's a bit ironic that OABA gives you life insurance when you send in your dues, but no access to medical.

Henry, you right. Unions killed off live music. And small shows could never survive unions. If nothing else if the business was unionized the Teamsters would step in and snag everybody with a CDL. The real argument, if there's an argument at all, is for a modicum of transparency. At the very least After somebody has been around for several years I would hope that they've figured things out and they're doing alright or they've decided that the compromises are worth it. It's the "screw the first of may" thing that's sometimes so damned overt I have to laugh because the alternative is to be utter appalled. This is a business where there are working guys who don't clear $150 a week and then get $50 a week in winterquarters on a few shows. The argument justifying that hasn't changed much in the 30 years since I first heard it. "Oh they drink. Pay them more and they won't stick around. They get to spend the winter in Florida." And none of those arguments are entirely untrue. But where do those guys end up when they can't work anymore? And they're as with it and for it as anybody. I believe in the H-2B program. I believe in cutting costs to pay for diesel. Or taking out four elephants instead of ten. But in this brand new Century human resources can't be overlooked. Workers and performers alike. If we don't think it through a few years from now all that we'll have are circus school performers who spend a few seasons underpaid by a corporation, "stars" coming in from Europe for a few seasons for those same corporations, and managers. The families, at least here in the US will be gone.

Casey said...

On your last comment I used to think the same about the working guys pay. Then I found through trial and error, you can pay a goof, 150 a week up to 400 a week, and he will do the same amount of work, have the same loyalty, and blow for the same reasons (70% woman)The only difference you make really, is how MUCH trouble they get in when they get in trouble. There are exceptions to this rule,, but they are very few.

Ben said...

Casey, I don't disagree with you. As I said, the arguement hasn't changed in 30 years. And even before that most of the guys my dad would hire to work carnival set-up and tear-down would only last a few weeks before they blew. And some of the guys who stuck around were walking punching bags. The thing is, when somebody makes the argument that low wages and hold backs are protecting working guys from themselves the implication is that it's a "kindness" and not just cost savings... That's a stretch. Better to be upfront and call it what it is. A kindness is giving guys like that a couple savings bonds along with their hold back and bonus at the end of the season, something of value ten years down the road.

FULL DISCLOSURE: The author himself quit several jobs over women in his own wayward youth.

Wade G. Burck said...

Ben, well put and good point about the savings bonds. And welcome Casey. Another performer, who loves this thing of ours, point of view. They have been poring in like water out of a half frozen water hose. Courageous as alway's, I am hoping we are not going to have to accept that as a reason why it has never changed, regardless of what that guy at the kitchen table said. But it may be justifiable to add his statement to the long list of reason's for the decline of the American Circus.
Wade Burck

Wade G. Burck said...

Henry Edgar,
I think the only thing the unions may have killed was the large band's we used to enjoy performing with. That's assuming that making the circus admit that if they had to "pay" for it, they didn't need it, can be called "killing."
Henry, I keep getting shut down on that other blog. Send in your list of standards for judging who is the Greatest of all time, and maybe we can work out the Gebel/Beatty deal.
Your friend,
Wade Burck

henry edgar said...

Wade – here's my book. all I have been saying is that having seen most of the major cage acts since the 50s, and based upon what I know of circus history back through the late 20s, I consider clyde beatty the greatest superstar in circus history, and the feeling seems to be shared by most who were around during beatty’s time.

I don’t blame you for being a bit skeptical, since beatty had left us before you were born and you never saw the excitement of beatty performing live. The movies don’t hold up well and neither the movies nor the videos show beatty at his best. In comparison to ggw, who was fortunate enough to have his act filmed on network tv where everything is as close to perfect as possible. I’m not trying to downgrade the work of ggw; he was an awesome performer. As far as actually teaching the cats how to do the best tricks, I think josip marcan and charly baumann are tops. When ggw mixed tigers and elephants and horses, nobody ever acknowledged that beatty mixed lion, tiger and elephant, and describes breaking the difficult act in detail on one of his books. He also said he would never try to do it again. I understand that you also broke the same combination for cueno, so you are in a position to know just how difficult it was. I do know that the original anna may, who worked with the lion and tiger, was not only a superb performer but also the gentlest, friendliest, most intelligent and best natured elephant I have ever been around.

Ok, here’s my answer to your point by point:

For sheer thrills and excitement, the beatty bouncing lion just couldn’t be beat. On a training skill level, I don’t know how it compares with double hind leg trainers. Many trainers have done many more tricks than beatty but none has been able to grab the audience like he did.

Again, for sheer showmanship, beatty’s exit into the cage, staring the lion down and re-entering to send the cat out was truly terrifying. Even if you knew it was simply a trained and polished part of the act, it was still breath-taking. I understand that leopards are much more dangerous than either lions or tigers, but again, other trainers have draped the leopard over their shoulders. Even buffy did it. i disagree strongly with the powers that wouldn't let you exit with a tiger around your shoulders. that should have been a show-stopper. and if it overwhelmed ggw's leopard, i'd have said bring you ckloser up to his level-- don';t make me take his away.

Beatty never worked but one act and often never appeared in spec after he became a star. In the early years, he worked bears and mixed acts with a bigger variety, including hyenas, and he also had a large polar bear act at one time.

It was a great stroke of showmanship to have ggw with tigers, horses and elephants, but I find it interesting that elephant trainers considered him a cat man or a horse man who just dabbled with elephants. Horse trainers weren’t sure if he was a cat man or an elephant man who dabbled in horses, and cat men felt he was a horse trainer or elephant man dabbling with cats. What this tells me is that the whole is greater than the parts. That his versatility may have been a bigger thing than actual training ability. You yourself are also a triple threat. I know you are terrific with tigers, the only time I’ve seen you with horses was the big and little act, which you handled well, and I’ve been impressed lately with how much you know about elephants.
Almost any performer is a good athlete. Many people have dodged lions and tigers and many have done the teeterboard with an elephant. I personally enjoyed benny Williams better than anyone else, though I thought graham chipperfield was also quite good. I don’t think this is a valid comparison.

I’ve never thought of either as a zoo director.

Prettiest wife? Gunther hands down – twice. I knew jeannette fairly well at one time, and at the same time, Sigrid was perfect for the role she played as ggw’s wife. Both women are still very beautiful.. few men marry two different women who are both so beautiful. And I agree – Sigrid is a saint.

Beatty was truly a matinee idol in his day. There was no tv at that time, but beatty was on all the top radio shows – in fact he even had his own radio show. He was on the cover of Time magazine. If you were alive between the 50s and the earlty 60s, you knew who beatty was. Nobody ever referred to him as “that blond guy with the tigers.” They knew his name.

I loved all of beatty’s books and I also loved GGW’s book. Beatty’s books were not written by people hired by the show to write his book and he didn’t have any errors that I caught, though I did catch some in gunther’s book. Beatty’s books were written by both beatty and another wel-know writer so I’d give them more credibility.

TV personality? Ed Sullivan or Johnny Carson . beatty actually gave ed sullivan a scare and he cut to the audience because of problems between the cats. Beatty wasn’t around for Carson but he was very charming in interviews.

I wouldn’t call either a singer. I don’t like all the singing to the horses and talking to the cats.

Box office revenue? Beatty’s name sold tickets for at least 30 years. Gunther’s name was rarely used in ringling advertising. Allen bloom once told me “we have only 7 stars and they’re all dead,” referring to the ringling bros, barnum and bailey. He said he would never use a name in advertising because so much could happen – and what if? Probably a reflex from the buddy holly thing.

Ggw was undoubtably a more hands-on trainer, beatty hired others to look after his cats so he didn’t have to. I think this is where o many “beatty never trained his cats” stories came from. He still probably trained many more than any of his assistants, no matter what the assistants claim.

Did beatty ever acknowledge PIS?

Beatty had problems with the humane society but was always able to overcome them. He caught them at the beginning and took care of them. Different time, to be sure. I don’t remember ggw having too many problems with peta. It’s elephants they’re after, not cats. So far.

I always enjoyed ggw. But I will always believe that without jack ryan and Irvin feld, and later jerry digney and the other ringling press people, ggw would be remembered as a great performer but within the same boundaries as charly baumann, whom I consider the best of the tiger trainers. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. With the right people in your corner, you could have been as big a star as ggw. You, too, work with cats, horses and elephants. Your white tiger act is one of the most impressive I’ve ever see. You had a tremendous amount of charisma and you had the act to back it up. The way your act was staged, you didn’t need the fighting but if you had chosen I’m sure you could have pulled it off.

Wade G. Burck said...

Henry Edgar,
They did use Gunthers likness to full advantage, in advertising. Enough so that in 1984, I actually had to tell reporters, many times, that there were actually two show, the red and the blue, and not the Gunther unit, and the blue unit. Many didn't realize there were actually two. Thats a fact. Mr Blooms statement may have meant, like Buddy Holly, if something happens, what would we replace it with. I don't think anyshow that that when Beatty went independant.

I't is a sad day in our world of the circus when censorship occurs, as has happened on the neighboring blog. Despicable is the not letting through of information,you don't feel is right, but to delete and destroy postes already recorded, because you deem them unsuitable, histroy, our history, borders on Hitlerism.
An absolute monarchy has been deemed unjust, our president has a series of checks and balances, as does a CEO, with a board so that one does not rule. So don't give me well it is his blog, he can do as he pleases. Not if you want facts and history Henry, on "what happened here" in our circus. If I buy an airplane, that does not make me a pilot, Henry. A favor Henry. If I leave this earth before you, and my children ask you, "Is it true Mr. Edgar what they joke about and say, that nobody cared?" Tell them for me Henry. Your father cared. He cared with all his heart and soul.
I will enjoy debating and exchanging thought with you, and any else, on this site Henry. If you want to reach me personally, my email is Wburck3@aol. 3 is for three wonderful son's, who I want a great world for.
Your friend,
Wade Burck