On the Ringling Midway, 1898

On the Ringling Midway, 1898
and on their way to guilt-free amusement. They did not enter the big top with "issues."

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Old Tops to New Tops: Barnum & Bailey Crackers Fall ... English Circus Takes America ... Felds Get Their Day in New Book ...




Animal Crackers to What?    Hula hoops?  Spin the bottle?  From my nephew, Jeff, this picture of the old perennial  Barnum's Animals Crackers.  Now to be a thing of the past, blame it on the passing scene --- you know who and you know what.   Cry, Jumbo, cry.

A Scottish circus man to America  Comes this, from Douglas McPherson in London town, "Did you know today (Friday, yesterday) is the 222nd anniversary of the first American circus, presented by John Bill Ricketts on the corner of Market and 12th Street Philadelphia, April 3, 1793?"

No, Sir Douglas, I did not, but thanks for reaching out.    BTW:  Over the last few years, another British big top Lord, George Sanger, has finllay rattled my brain into proper respect.  Sanger tried three-rings on the public, but did not succeed, BEFORE Barnum & Bailey ran with the idea, a few years later, and gave birth to the Great American Three-Ring Circus.


Barnum & Bailey & Feld  I’ve read Ernest Albrecht’s new book, From Barnum & Bailey to Feld: The Creative Evolution of the Greatest Show on Earth.

This is I can promise you.  If you are a Feld fan, there is nothing here to fear.  Everything to gild your idyllic regard for the triumphal Irvin Feld & Family story. It appears that the extensive access and cooperation granted Albrecht by the Felds has been generously returned in coverage that essentially sets in stone — at least in this book — the way they wish to be known by the public at large

The problem is, when you fictionalize your own legacy, you may diminish that of others.  Of many examples, here is but one.

"There was also much antisemitism as well, directed at the Felds, who were the first Jews to play a major role in the American Circus."

I remember Kenneth Feld raising this issue to the press during the roll-out of his ill-fated one-ring Cirque du Soleil-inspired Barnum's Kaleidoscope (not mentioned in the book), down in Florida.


Was that really so?  Once again, I looked up the names Irving J. Polack and Louis Stern; they were Jewish, were they not? Yes, it seems they were. Their top-drawer Polack Bros. Circus, something of an artistic revolution launched back in 1935, reintroduced American society to the one-ring format.  Made a big spread in the Saturday Evening Post.  So good did their shows become, that some people preferred Polack over Ringling.

Still, maybe they were not Jewish.  Fearing egg on my face, I googled them again, this time landing  on the Circus Historical Society's History Message Board, and into a discussion dealing with Jews in the circus.  To my surprise, not only were Polack and Stern among those mentioned, but a number of other names were tossed around as likely Jewish – all of whom came before the Felds.  Among them:

Jess Adkins (Cole Bros.) and  Si Rubens (Rogers Bros. Circus).

And let us not overlook Samuel Gumpertz, who managed Ringling-Barnum quite well for five years (1933-1937) during one of its most difficult periods.  I would say he played a major role.  

When I was a kid in Santa Rosa and Polack Bros. Circus came to town, I was so entranced by it all, I knew who the boss man was from his picture in the program magazine.  He ran the show.  He was always there.  Once, at around the age of eleven,  I went up to him after the show and pointed to a picture of the Karrel Troupe (a second Wallenda act, on ladders), in the magazine, and said, "I didn't see that act, sir?"

He grumbled back, “Yes, they were there, sure!” and walked away

Louis Stern.  His great showmanship, working with Barbette on productions,  was a key factor in my succumbing to the spell of circus.

Was I  disappointed in Mr. Albrecht's book?  Considering my high regard for his general approach to circus reviewing on his website, Spectacle, especially his discriminating critiques of acts competing at the Monte Carlo Circus Festivals; considering that I have quoted from his well-received book, The New American Circus. Yes, I was disappointed.

Surprised?  Sorry to say, sad to stay, no, not exactly.

4.4.15

3 comments:

Wm. B. Hall said...

The late Col. Bob Morton, co-founder with George A. Hamid, Sr., (also deceased)of the Hamid-Morton Circus in the 1930s, was Jewish. And we think Mills Bros. Circus owners, brothers Harry, Jake & Jack Mills, were Jewish. Thanks, David! -- Wm. B. Hall

Showbiz David said...

And thanks for sharing!

I thought of another obvious figure who played a major role, and I put him out there;

SAMUEL GUMPERTZ -- unless I am wrong.

Harry Kingston said...

My long time circus friend Mike Piccolo who new all three of the Mills Bros for many years and attend there opening stand and meal said they were Jewish.
Harry in Texas