The Last Ringling big top, Pittsburgh, PA, 1956The 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.
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 issues: Are the clowns creepy? The animals abused? The daring aerialists too daring, or their rigging too hazardous?
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.