Sunday, January 27, 2008

SUNDAY MORNING OUT OF THE PAST: Following Those Ringlings Forever ... and Ever ... Can Become an Addiction ...

Hey, did you see over there on Buckles Blog that photo of the five ticket wagons on the Ringling-Barnum midway in 1955? And, by the way, John Ringling North II is now in Hugo active in production plans for Kelly-Miller’s next season. JRN The Second, I hereby declare, is no longer a first of may. He is now a fully matriculating apprentice tycoon.

Give ‘em Ringling, and they’ll come. Give ‘em Al or John, even Otto, and their ears perk up. Give it to ‘em plain or fancy, fanciful or factual. Fans (and I plead guilty) have an insatiable appetite for all things Ringling ... Read on, you hopeless insatiables ...

Jack Hunter, a card carrying JRN buff, e-mails me “I have started reading your new book for the second time.” That would be Fall of the Big Top, and thanks, Jack, for the compliment (my check is in the mail), and while Ringalinging on, Jack raises a fascinating idea (not raised before to my knowledge), that the life of John Ringling North (the original) might make a fine movie. Jack can see Clint Eastwood's production company tackling the story ... Hollywood writers, on strike, how about it? ... My mind went into Ringling overdrive, and here I am, blogging out another Ringling post: I can see shades of the Great Gatsby in the suave though sedate playboy image that North gave off. Shades of even North himself. He trouped through so much drama: Gets circus back into family hands, ballyhoos Gargantua the Great and creates a three-ring ballet for elephants. . Five fabulous years later, gets kicked out by envious relatives so cousin Robert, his opera career on the skids, can happen .... Hartford happens. Hoffa happens. And Pittsburgh soon happens, bringing on the saddest day in American circus history when, were was the man who struck the big top for the last time? Cooped up in his private car, the Jomar.

...Hold on, Art Concello groupies. Yes, your crusty idol, who was adored (I believe) by Johnny North, who helped him regain control of the circus in '47, who gave us those marvelous seat wagons and who brought sanity to the unpredictably eclectic North vision, will co-star. And what a pair! One, aloof, serenely hands off; the other, cigar-chomping Man of the Midway ...

“JRN was truly a great and complex man,” notes Hunter. Complex, deceptive or actual, I agree. Got me thinking again, as I have pondered before, what made him so mysterious is that since he was not your compulsive hands-on producer, we are left forever to speculate on just how he influenced those who worked for him. We only know what a profound impact he had ... “There will never be another like him,” says Jack. Now that is the true mark, is it not, of a remarkable figure?

Ringlings yesterday, today, and now, tomorrow. John Ringling North II has proved many promising Ringling things his first season out. For one, he is no Richard Ringling, son of Alf T. who went out with a show not tilted Ringling, as did JRN II, but did not last a single season... JRN II toured Kelly-Miller from spring to fall, and he is back in Hugo, still in charge, engaged in production talks for ‘08. Repeat: ‘08. And what sort of a Ringling is he? ALL of the five founding Ringling bothers were so different. In JRN II, I do not see John Ringling. Do not see Alf T., who surely would have had a much more aggressive website up and running by now. Look here, Kids. I see shades of two Ringlings in JRN II, who, according to reports, is now revealing perhaps a more active hand in the creation of the show itself, but who also last season displayed a warm friendly compassion for his staff. So I see a little bit of Otto — careful with the books — and maybe a lot of Charles, loved by everyone and the Ringling who took a keen interest in the creation of the circus itself.

By the way, Bank of Howard Tibbals: Instead of restoring ten more tableaux wagons, how about building just one Concello seat wagon, since not a one of them survives? And Baraboo, please: Instead of a thousand Sells-Floto cookhouse menus, I'll gladly take that one rare handwritten note JRN scribbled out up at his Waldorf Astoria suite shortly after opening night, '51, bluntly expressing his reaction to the show and advocating some changes. Okay, men in white, shackle me up and haul me off to the Ringling nuthouse for Ringlingholics Anonymous. But through the pa system, might you play a tape recording of Merle Evans and band blaring out the 1951 score?

[photos, John Ringling North, above, likely by Ted Sato; Arthur M. Concello and Cecil B. De Mille; John Ringling North II, by Beverly Royal]

First posted 1.27.08

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