Oakland to DC: Strike up the Bella Band!

Oakland to DC:  Strike up the Bella Band!
One of the best scored circuses in America. Scroll down to see the full story.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

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 Amazon consumer review

Douglas McPherson, Circus Mania

-- James Royal, American and European circus manager

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Monday, June 19, 2017

America's Community Circuses to Have Their Day in the Nation’s Capital

Thank you, Smithsonian for your upcoming Folklife Festival.  In particular, the impressive calendar of  circus shows to be given by various student-oriented troupes.

Finally, I have gotten my arms around a movement that has been in the works for many years, a movement I have only paid passing attention to  — a burgeoning number of smaller circuses based in local communities, often connected to a high school or college, that provide an outlet for the young wishing to experiment with circus arts

Most of these groups will be giving shows at the Festival, from June 29 through July 9.

Although most of them are student-oriented, not all fit this category.  Some include adults and some, the occasional guest professional act.  I would not be inclined to call them fringe, or experimental, or alternative, or even youth. All somewhat constricting. Here is my own new classification, which I am adding to the list of label categories on the sidebar:  Community Circus

How does that sound?  All-inclusive?  They are not commercial circuses.  They do not go out on annual extended tours.  They feature the talents of younger performers, most of whom, far as I know, will never go on to pursue professional circus, and may have never harbored such dreams in the first place.

I am thinking of how they operate like community theatre, although most community theatres sustain longer seasons, and present productions that come close to regional.  I have seen talents in community theatre that I could see playing the parts on Broadway.  But acting, I would argue, is far easier to master than the dexterity of fine jugging, acrobatics or aerial work.  

I am thinking of the Gainesville Community Circus, that, according to the Texas State Historical Association, “began as a project of the Gainesville Little Theatre in May 1930. Bingo!  Its name makes perfect sense.

Here are the shows appearing at the festival, all presenting performances, and some demonstrations a well

Sailor Circus
Wenatchee Youth Circus
Circus Bella (from my own neighborhood -- Go, Bella!)
Circus Juventas
Circus Smirkus
Happenstance Theater Theatrical Circus
Circus Harmony
Make A Circus
Bindlestiff Family Circus
Cirque des Voixx

UniverSoul Circus


What does not make sense is the inclusion of UniverSoul Circus on the bill.  This is  clearly a commercial circus, even with any funding it may raise on the side.   Big Apple Circus technically is – or was — a non-profit, as is Circus Vargas.  But who would argue for any of these three shows belong in the  “community” class?

Is there a future for community circus?  Why not?  They rely on local funding, and have strong support from the communities they serve.   I imagine that most of the performers serve on a volunteer basis, that audiences are naturally tolerant and forgiving, given the student factor in play.

But even they have been known to face hard times.   Word is out that Circus Flora, is reportedly hurting for money, its future in doubt.

This Smithsonian Festival marks a milestone for our community circuses.

Long may they prosper!

Photos, from the top

Circus Harmony
Wenatchee Youth Circus 
Circus Jeventas
Circus Smirkus
Bindlestiff Family Circus
Sailor Circus
   Circus Bella     

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Joy of Circus, The Rising Value of Monaco -- Why Doesn't PBS Pick This Up?

Gold to the Duo Shcherba-Popov from Princess Stephanie, right, and Prince Albert, left. 

They are hip. They are cool.  They are dancerly.  They are very personal, wearing their own faces, not masks.  In total, the kind of an act that makes you a believe all over again in the sheer joy of circus art.

They landed the Gold Clown at the recent Monte Carlo International Circus Festival, along with one other winner -- the Bejing Acrobatic Troupe.

They are two Ukrainian fellows, the Duo Shcherba-Popov, who brought off a remarkably fluid and choreographed  routine [I'd call it acrobatic equilibristics]  to a tune from the Great American Songbook, "Singin' in the Rain," from the soundtrack of the movie starring Gene Kelly.  The resulting impression is a glorious, quite personalized display.   Here is Liz Arratoon, reviewing the event in London's The Stage, describing  the act in detail:

"It [the display of juggler Alexander Koblikov] may be a hard act to follow but hand-to-hand duo Shcherbak and Popov are more than up to the task. Again they have characterized their act beautifully, while keeping the skill level sky high. Set to Singin’ in the Rain, they perform as Depression-era sparring workmen and create the most staggering display of holds and balances, including head-in-hand, head-to-head and spread-eagle planches. To finish, Nikolay does a one-arm handstand on the back of Sergey’s neck, while he is balanced on his hands. This high-standard act is the sort you long for and the jury awards it one of two Gold Clowns."

Monte Carlo: Best Kept Secret in the Entertainment World?

They are also a reason why I have such profound respect for the Monte Carlo Circus Festival.  I realize, of course, the festival may not be a perfect selector of talent. What is perfect?  On balance, it certainly seems to honor the highest achievements, no matter where they come from. Naturally, opinions are going to differ. For instance, juggler Alexander Koblikov, who works with ten balls successfully, and is working on 14 (not so lucky) landed a Silver Clown, was deemed the "best act" at the festival by Arratoon.

A true global reach -- as far away as North Korea

Talent from the far corners of the world as well!  I did not know, until learning that a North Korean act had been awarded a Gold or Silver Clown a year or so ago, that North Korea was even into circus at all.

The entire Festival generates competitive inspiration world wide, and thus gives many nations (China, certainly at the forefront, seen her receiving yet another Gold Clown) the additional incentive to strive to be the greatest. When I was in Beijing and interviewed Chinese acrobatics scholar Tain Run Min, he told me that much.

Where is PBS? 

Good grief, Pledge Break Society hauls out, over and over again, every last over-the-hill rock and roll act known to man.  They give a platform and a shill audience to all manner of self-help gurus. They televise  competition ballroom dancing, no less. The televised a rather dreary behind-the-scenes look at Big Apple Circus.  They've stitched together footage of Cirque du Soliel acts from Vegas.  So, why not a few hours from the annual Monte Carlo Circus Festival?  Who's to blame -- PBS, or a tone-deaf PR department in the land where Princess Stephanie holds court?  This best-of-the-world circus showcase cries out, screams out for PBS coverage.    Is anybody there?  Is anybody listening? Does anybody but me even care?

You can watch Duo Shcherba-Popov at:


My thanks to Jack Ryan for sending me the link, also the photo of the duo.

Princess Stephanie, center, with daughter Pauline, left, and son-in-law Louis Ducret. The circus world is lucky to have such generous, such glamorous, and such devoted attention and support. 

first posted 2.3.13

Monday, June 12, 2017

Ringling Drama that Never Makes it to the Screen: Can Barnum or Lillian Leitzel Make it Happen?

P. T. Barnum, the subject of a new movie, The Greatest Showman, about his life and showmanship, due out in December,  said to be raising a “buzz” in Hollywood, some hoping it will be another La La Land.   It's a musical!  The Broadway musical,  Barnum!, gave us at least a great score from Cy Coleman.  This new treatment will put the popular Australian actor Hugh Jackman in P.T.’s scheming shoes.  Jackman made a huge name for himself when he played the role of Curly in the brilliant Brit staging of Oklahoma.  If you like Rodgers & Hammerstein, it’s a must see. 

Coleman's Barnum! had little patience with historical accuracy, turning P. T. into a skilled low wire walker in order to symbolize the many gambles he took -- reaping acclaim from Tom Thumb to Jenny Lind, and then, in concert with James A. Bailey, the first three-ring circus, brought out by the partners in 1881. They called it The Greatest Show on Earth.  You may have heard, it recently bit the dust.

And so the idea of another Barnum musical disappoints me to a degree.  Such amusements  tend to place comedy over drama. I am still waiting for a great American circus film -- that is, a tautly dramatic one.

Now comes, also, another big top flick currently in production at Warner,  Queen of the Air, this one based upon the 2013 novel of the same name, about the lives of  1920s Ringling stars Lillian Leitzel and Alfredo Codona.  Margot Robbie, above, to play the tempestuous aerialist.  Here, the producers and writers have a chance to dig deep into tragedy, and as deep into circus atmosphere and conflict serving as a compelling context.  Can you think of a famous circus showman of the period whose life in the end was just as tragic?  Hint: think brothers.

Here is my Big Question:  How does a film maker, in dealing with that circus and that time period, recreate this:

In its favor, Warner is behind it.  Another promising sign is the film's producer,  Andrew Lazaar, who handled Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper.   This gives me hope for high drama.  There was plenty of that in and around the Ringling big top when Leitzel and Codona flew.  I'm hoping for the kind of  movie that can capture the epic atmosphere of the circus then, while daring to plumb the depths of Letizel and Codona story.

And so I wonder: Will either of these movies evoke the American circus in, let's say, Masterpiece Theatre fashion?

From other entertainment forms have come classic films. Ballet gave us, for example.The Red Shoes; movie making, Day of the Locust and Sunset Boulevard, to name a few.  So has  television (think Good Night and Good Luck, think Quiz Show).

Will the circus ever deliver, dramatically?  Other than the great flick, Trapeze, in my estimation a genuinely fine movie  --and, you might argue, Disney's long-ago Toby Tyler -- what has Hollywood given us?   Recently, it gave us the wretchedly sadistic, historically dubious, Water for Elephants (60% on Rotten Tomatoes).

Once again, I’m waiting for the Big One on screen.  And this time, please, hold the songs.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

America's Got Circus, Too! ... Rooster at Xylophone Rocks First Frame of Simon Cowell's Talent Show

Barnyard Showstopper Sends America's Got Talent into Early Orbit

Back opening another season of America's Got Talent, first act to hit the stage, Jokgu the Chicken, peeked out an impeccably precise God Bless America (I think that was the song codified on the farm).  And God bless the egg crops, too!

Never have I seen so accomplished a critter at a keyboard.

Simon and co-Judges were brought to their giddy feet. "This is historic!" proclaimed Simon.  And what Simon says is what Simon goes.  

The quirky act made me wonder if Jenny Vidbel had a hand --- or paw --- in it.

First show on the new season came out of the gate like a Big Apple Charivari  with series of CIRCUS ACTS flashing across the screen.  Oh, how I love these fearless judges, all returning from last season. They have a keen taste for the down-and-real sawdust scene.  And aren't afraid to show it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Beat of the Big Tops: Ringling Goes Out with a Whimper ... John Ringling North II Thanks PETA for Free Publicity ... HBO Smiles Upon Smaller Circuses ... Past CFA President Critical of Feld’s Hasty Fold

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey may be gone, but John Ringling North II is not.  And he’s not going anywhere but up the road onto the next stand for Kelly Miller Circus, the mid-sized tent show he bought ten years ago.  Interviewed for a segment by HBO about the collapse of the circus his uncle’s helped found, said North, “I don’t think it’s a circus without elephants.”

Bring It On, PETA
This Ringling is tingling with heart, and with a rare sense of humor.  He whimsically antagonizes his antagonizers from No-Animals Central:  “They generally help  business.  They get press coverage and people know we’re here,  I often go out and thank them, which they hate.”

Love it, Sir John II!

Unlike most TV networks , HBO spread some sunshine through the clouds left hovering over the last Ringling stand in Uniondale, New York. 

“The demise of Ringling bros isn’t the end of the road for the circus,” noted reporter Kristin Fraser,.  “Small circuses still cross cross the country.”   Adding to the hopeful theme, said Kelly Miller Ringmistress. Rebeca Ostroff, “We bring the circus to people,  and it’s easier for them to see us.”

 "People like tradition,”says the last Ringling on the lot. “Even if they've never been to see Ringling Bros, they know the name.”

I was so depressed the morning after Kenneth Feld’s spectacular fold, so engulfed in a void of desolation, that I hadn’t the heart to move on the first draft of a post I was doing about my feelings.  How I hungered for a sliver of good news.  Anything.   And then came the HBO story, and a YouTube of it linked my way by Don Covington.  And my favorite quote from  the unflappable North:

“But circus isn’t dead, we’re coming.”

How I’d love to be there when Johnny the Second personally thanks his animal rights opponents for the publicity and patronage they are helping to promote.  Gosh, could you ever have imagined it coming to this?  A circus owner thanking PETA?   Only from wryly amusing John Ringling North II.
His five famous uncles must be smiling down on him and his twelve-hundred seat tent, fully twice the seating of theirs when they opened in Baraboo in 1884.

Super Fan Takes on Kenneth Feld

He’s Pete Adams, past president of the CFA, seen here at his home in Sarasota.  He’s fearlessly unafraid to say how how unhappy he is with the actions taken by Kenneth Feld, only a multi-billionaire who could have – chump change to him – kept a smaller unit of the show on the road, with trucks, something he had already done with his Gold Unit.  I saw one of its one-ring shows at Coney Island -- one of the very best circuses I'd seen in years.

Not with a Bang, But a Whimper ...

About the sudden close, it didn’t have to happen, Adams implies, as I have asserted on this blog, and how refreshing to hear a super CFA-er take on the most questionable circus axing of all time.   Had Irvin Feld been around, Pete Adams does not believe it would have happened at all.  ”If his dad was still alive, he’d be very disappointed in his family. I truly believe they made their money to buy the operations they have today based upon what they made originally from the circus.” 

This is a story that will only get more interesting — hopefully more revealing — as the embers of a tragedy cool and people begin digging  through the ruins for deeper clues into what really drove the Feld of Felds to take such dire action.  There are already conspiracy theories floating around.  One thing is certain: It was not for lack of money. 

And, know what? I don’t feel so bad after turning this one out.

Call me a super circus fan!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Oh, Happy Day! Grandma Returns to the Big Apple Circus

 Photos for New York Daily News by Andrew Savulich

So, let’s all sing a happy song for a change.  Like a glorious MGM sunrise on the big screen, comes a burst of good news, and let’s hope it marks more good news yet to come.

Grandma’s on her way back, to rejoin the re-organized  Big  Apple Circus!    And that’s, by far, the smartest move the new owners could have made.  I'm impressed.   New Yorkers now have a strong sentimental reason to return in droves as the show goes back on the road, come October at Lincoln Center.  Having stood in ticket lines and sat with local residents though several Big Apple shows under the tent in Queens, I came to learn of their enduring affection for one of America’s legendary clowns.  

Next smartest move the new owners, Sarasota-based Compact Partners, can make would be a royal reinstatement of Big Apple’s founder and personable ringmaster, Paul Binder.  Even after his official “retirement” in 2008,  Paul has labored tirelessly to help raise funds needed to keep the show on the road, season after season.  In my book, he is still the heart of this national treasure.

In ringmaster red, Paul would be the perfect host to greet loyal New York patrons back into the tent.  As a ringside announcer, he is one of the best, neither bombastic nor bland.  Informed, gracefully enthused, most of all— gracious.  He recently served as Celebrity Ringmaster for the New England Center for Circus Arts Circus Spectacular. 

Another big plus, where Paul a part of the mix, is the natural, understated chemistry in the ring that he and Barry Lubin (Grandma) share  The presence of the two would lend a feeling of a family tradition reunited.

Already, with Grandma signed, Compact will enjoy, and well deserves to enjoy, enormous respect from the city, and this move will give them, I believe, an emotional toehold into the town's very psyche.  Bravo, Compact!

In other promising news, down Baraboo way Circus World excitedly awaiting a new and bigger tent,  said to offer twice the seating capacity, for the summer circus shows. Says top man Scott O'Donnell  to the Baraboo Republic:  “We’re thrilled to have a tent with a larger capacity with the upcoming homecoming and all those crazy events – it’s going to be a well-used space.”

While the Ringling funeral trains rattle down tracks of finality, back to Sarasota for the last ride, while curious onlookers along the way rush in to snap selfies and to wonder why, and while others with a lifetime of memories shed tears over the most devastating chapter in American circus history, the circus world is not about to fall over and follow the Feld script.   The circus world is still finding ways to adapt, to downsize if necessary, this when an emerging class of more vocal Americans are beginning to make their more populist voices known in the court of public opinion, too long dominated by small bands of activists.  Say the new dissenters in growing mass, We want animal acts!

On this critical subject, writes Barry Lubin on his Facebook, as quoted in Circus Report: “There is only one American circus that god rid of elephants last may and is closing this May. It’s a big one for sure. It was my home base for 5 seasons.  I feel terrible for those losing their jobs .... but may I make a suggestion: If yah like circus, go see other wonderful shows crisscrossing the American landscape these days.  The living breathing American art form we call circus ain’t dead!

Show us the way, Grandma!

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Big Top Typewriter is Coming to the Circus World Museum

Excited to announce that my new book, Big Top Typewriter, will be coming to Circus World’s gift shop, ready for the summer crowds and the opening of the circus show on May 19.

I can't think of a more idyllic setting for the book and buyer to meet.  The enchanting town of Baraboo itself.   The walk down Water Street past original Ringling brothers buildings, and onto the grounds, where the magic of what the five brothers gave us lives vividly on.

Here is where the most famous circus title in the world was born.

Also the perfect setting, given that the young up and coming circus kings make a rare and rousing cameo in my book -- a cameo that I could never have imagined when I set out to begin writing it many drafts ago.

While working on the very last draft, but still mired in a critical chapter that I believed needed a stronger ending, suddenly there it came, from out of nowhere --  the nowhere of my mind — Al,  Alf T,  Charles, Otto, and John entering to deliver it:  They were just beginning a glorious new chapter in their own remarkable rise to  the top of the big top.  How surprising it all happened – exactly what the chapter needed! Exactly what we all need now, I believe, as we face the depressing day of a world without Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

So, what better place on earth than Baraboo to purchase your copy of the book -- or, if you already have, maybe an extra copy or two for others, come birthdays or holidays?

Thank you for the honor, Circus World!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Save ONE CENTS on Big Top Typewriter! ...

Hurray!  Hurray!  Amazon dropped the list price down from $17.95 to $17.94! .... 

Causing a run on sales ....

Catapulting Big Top Typewriter back to  #1 on Amazon's Hot New Releases in Circus Performing Arts!

Buy now!  Sale may end at any time!

Price could rise any time soon! ...

The world may end any time soon! ...

Dare you live the "complete life" without your own big top typewriter?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Celebrate World Circus Day! - $10 Opening Day Tickets to Big Top Typewriter! ...

(The sale has ended)

4/20: ... LATE ...  BREAKING ... FROM ... ABROAD! ...

Blasting through with colossal kudos
from Blasting News: 

 "Compelling ... 
Behind the scenes look at the workings of the circus industry and the author’s encounters with its stars and showmen ...  
A thrilling roller coaster ride through his career as a writer. I was cheering him on all the way through this breezy page-turner of a book."

STILL # 1 on Amazon in Hot New Circus Titles!

Step right up to Showbiz David's new tendentiously tickling tanbark triumph, Big Top Typewriter!

"Eye-opening! ... Amusing! ... Anything but your staid story of  circus, " says the Midwest Book Review!  
"Here's a book with glue on the cover...
I couldn't put it down!"
- Douglas McPherson, Circus Mania

Go beyond the banner lines with your very own copy of Big Top Typewriter! (sorry, peanuts not included)

Monday, April 10, 2017

"Highly Recommended" -- Advance Critical Acclaim for Big Top Typewriter from Midwest Book Review Promises Readers Something Very Different ...

#1 on Amazon: Hot New Releases in Circus Performing Arts

 "Amusing ... Eye-opening ... A rare coverage that stands out even from the plethora of big top histories and performer biographies. Big Top Typewriter is anything but your staid story of circus animals and performers ... Highly recommended for readers who like circus exposés, and aspiring writers who struggle to find, project, and publish their own unique voices and styles.” 
 –- Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

We're riding a big top high over this first review of my new book, due out on Amazon by World Circus Day this Saturday, April 15.  

The full in-depth write up will appear in the May issue of Midwest Book Review.

Photos of La Norma.  She's the star of the cover.  Among many photos I referred to book designer Brian Pearce for his consideration -- as well as linking him to Tim Tegge's archives -- to my delight one of Brian's  selections was La Norma, and best of all,  he placed her in what I think of as the center ring ring spot.  And he spent some time making a rather grainy image less grainy.

Another welcome surprise, and I had nothing whatsoever to do with this, the three photos Brian selected represent the three staples of circus: Animals, acrobatic daredevils, and clowns.  I love the parade of showgirls and elephants!

Sunday, April 09, 2017

A Pig Goes to the Circus, and the Circus Comes Home

  Elmo Gibb and his Teeny Weeny Circus -- no pigs yet, but there's a mind-reading pony.

Full disclosure:  Nothing at a circus delights me so much as a very unusual animal entering  the ring, even if it only does, well, almost anything   All it need do is something unexpected, and I’m a happy fan.  Yes, a bag of popcorn please!

Perhaps the sheer elation, the humor and joy of it all reconnects me to how the circus can delight children.  How it, I suppose, delighted me in my boyhood.

It’s a reason why I love the more bohemian animal acts of Jenny Vidbel, who’s been a regular of late on the Big Apple Circus.   A while back, she had, did she not, a rodent and a performing skunk?  Critters off the beaten big top path.  And she had them snapping to and fro on cue.  Now, that’s entertainment!

When my friend Boyi Yuan, who went to Ringling’s Out of This World with his girlfriend, told me about the experience, I asked him what he thought of the show.  He twisted his face in frustrated  ambivalence.   “I wish there wasn’t so much stuff going on,” he said, stating his preference for watching the acts in a less overdone format.   He thinks the show might please the children more than the adults

And then his face brightened fully. “I loved the animals!” 

I told him how much I agreed, how they had, for me, made the show, too. 

“The pig!” he said.

Around a pig Boyi and I could rally a shared joy.  We talked about how it reached the top of the slide and stood there for a moment, looking down in hesitation, and then on all fours, and ever so cautiously, made the slide all the way down.

Boyi, raised on a farm in China around barnyard critters,  wondered, in a kind of awe,  how it could have been taught to perform as a it did.

So did I. 

Up there at the top is a photo found and linked my way by Don Covington, of the Teeny Winny Circus, whose mover and shaker, clown Elmo Gibb, presents it at fairs.  It reminded me of the old John Strong circus when it played county fairs under a tiny little top, when John greeted the audience as an ambassador of great and looming gratitude. “Oh, look who I see in the crowd!  Well, how are you!  Hey, there’s Art!” 

When he coached a gaggle of home grown mutts through their boisterous basics.

When he touted big moments in his humble ring.  “Got a good hand, Muster the Clown!”

When he even once had a little elephant, Nina, in his mighty little lineup.

Boyi and I fell into accord over how the animals at Ringling made the show.

In my opinion, they rescued  a shaky space voyage. When all else fails, bring in the dogs.  Even better, give us a pig fit for the greatest show on earth!

originally posed September 14, 2016

Friday, April 07, 2017

Across My Big Top Typewriter Rolls a Spangled Parade of Star Troupers ...

Fond recollections of  some of the many circus people I have been lucky to meet across the seasons, most of them making appearances or cameos in my new book, due out on World Circus Day.

* Barbette: His eccentric attire and manner while directing  production for Polack Bros. Circus, opened my very young eyes to the strange bohemian ways  of the big top and its people   How I would live to regret never having sought an interview with Barbette. 

*  Sid Kellner, who hired me to work the James Bros Circus advance as press agent..  He could be charismatic and warm, and, on one shocking occasion, something quite different.   I ended up with an affection for my one big top boss, and with  haunting regrets over the great potential that Sid, in my view too addicted to the phone rooms,  never quite realized.     

* Henry Ringling North, when finally I was admitted  through at New York’s Yale club, having been stopped at the sign-in desk for lack of proper attire (they found a make-do tie to frame my mug in), once I reached Mr. North many floors above,  he bore a certain air of impatience, as if I had failed to dress for the king of England. A good interview followed.

* John Strong, sitting in the front row while I, all tangled up in my notes, gave a shaky address at the Circus Fans Convention in Scottsdale, Arizona.  The awe on Big John's face as he looked up at me was so much like my own, when many years before, sitting under John's  tiny tent at the county fair, I was charmed by  his fo;ksy ringmaster style.  John gave me my first interview, and I landed a big profile of him in The White Tops.   How could you not love Big John?  Those days of youth were the best days.

* His thundering knock on my motel room door in Sarasota, a half hour earlier than I had expected him to arrive.  When I opened it, there he stood: “Hell, David, I haven’t got time to waste. Let’s get this over with!”  It was Noyelles Burkart, a former Ringling legal adjuster (fixer) who had moved the show off the lot on Minneapolis in 1955, after the crew suddenly went on strike, leaving a tent full of disoriented spectators in stark limbo.  He, no fan of John Ringling North, spoke of his darker side, but would not let me quote him in Big Top Boss.

I had great luck with circus man Merle Evans, who gave me one of my best interviews, and publicist F. Beverly Kelly, who penned a foreword for my book Behind the Big Top

* Miguel Vazquez, quad prince of the flying trapezes. Since he had caught his first quad on my birthday, I had a particular feeling for this incredibly gifted artist: Before a special screening of Phil Weyland’s film, The Last Great Circus Flyer, Weyland had arranged for my trek up the stairs to the highest reach in the balcony.  Into a small reception room I entered.  And there sat the famous flyer,  rising to his feet to offer me an elevating hug.

* May Wirth, then in a Sarasota convalescent home, speaking to me while I tape recorder took it all down of her love for her horse Joe, and of John Ringling, whenever he was on the lot, demanding a complete act, no matter the weather, come hell or high water.  She liked Charles  Ringling a lot more.

* John Ringling North, somewhere in the luxury condo on the Sarasota Keys, the afternoon I had arrived to meet and interview him, thanks to his brother Henry have secured the arrangements. But where was he, I wondered, and when would he appear?  While speaking with Henry, who was in the kitchen behind an open bar, I happened to glance back in the other direction, and there stood the man who had thought up the ballet for elephants -- as if he had alighted from another sphere, smack dabble in the middle of the spacious living room, smiling brightly, his eyes twinkling, as if having entranced me with what felt like a magical entrance.  Scripted?  The Wizard of Circus.

* Alexi Sonin, director of the circus in St. Petersburg bursting into my box during intermission, having been told of my high regard for the show bringing me back to see it a second time.  Now, he was coming to introduce himself to me! With Sonin came a humorous young prop hand to supply rudimentary translation, and through a few words and overly active body language, what a time we had.  The great director directed the two of us into some dramatic posturing while a camera snapped away.

Alexi Sonin,  right, and museum director Alexander Levin, center, during my 1979 visit to the circus in Leningrad.  

* Barbara Byrd, recalling while we spoke by phone of how her dad, Dory, loved sitting under the big top and watching his show, day after day,  whether there were "200 people in the seats, or two thousand people in the seats."

* Irvin Feld: My one brief and accidental sighting of the indomitable showman at the DC Armory in 1972, during the great circus war between Ringling-Barnum and Circus America,.  Brief, and yet  how vivid did his personality come across.  Can you image this Irvin ever retiring his beloved circus from the road?   

* So many others, too, were I lucky to meet or observe in action, close up. Among them: Merle Evans,  Art Concello, Jane Johnson,  Cliff Vargas, Johnny Pugh, La Norma, Louis Stern, Paul Binder, Richard Barstow, Pete and Norma Cristiani, Kenny Dodd, costume designer Miles White, himself full of juicy tales he later recanted on.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Ringling's Two Darkest Hours Recalled in New Book

The Last Ringling big top, Pittsburgh, PA, 1956
The sudden closing of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, its final performance scheduled for May on Long Island, will mark one of the two darkest turning points in Ringling history, both recalled by Showbiz David in his new book, Big Top Typewriter: My Inside Adventures through The World of Circus, due out this spring.

Never could he have imagined, says the author, that there would come a day without the Greatest Show on Earth.

“I expected Ringling to be the last circus standing.  Circus owner Kenneth Feld is a multi-billionaire, and the Feld family, who have a genius for adaptation and change, have long prided themselves on being stewards of the famed Ringling legacy.”  The late Irvin Feld, father of Kenneth, above, bought the circus fifty years ago, this November.

For the most part, public response to the news, noted the author, has been “surprisingly indifferent,” with the loudest voices coming from animal rights activists claiming a major victory.    But audiences have changed.  “Americans once flocked to big tops for guilt-free amusement. Now, their minds are weighed down with conflicting issues about traditional circus staples, from clowns to animals." 

The other traumatic Ringling season, recounted in the early chapters of Showbiz David's  new book, occurred in 1956, when John Ringling North struck the big top for good.  “The public and press went into mourning, reacting as if the circus had died forever. North was reviled as ‘the executioner’ – the man who killed Santa Claus. But he did not send the circus into the history books, only into arenas.”

Then a young boy, David, who had seen the Ringling circus under its big top but only once, the year before,  poured out his grief in a letter to the minority Ringling stockholders, after they launched a national PR campaign to bring back the big top.  One of them, Stuart Lancaster, called him from Sarasota, to float the idea of his being hired to serve as a young
person’s Spokesman.  But nothing came of the offer, or of the Lancaster lawsuit against North.

For a spell, the heart-broken young letter writer thought of himself as David Ringling Lancaster.  “Another short-lived thrill that left me equally distraught.”
Coming to Amazon on World Circus Day, April 15.