The Little Circus That Could ... Highest Rated of Them All on Yelp

The Little Circus That Could ... Highest Rated of Them All on Yelp
Currently Reigning Champion at 4-1/2 Stars, Zoppe Family Circus Wins the Crowds with Heart-Warming Tradition

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Morning with H.S.H. Princess Stephanie of Monaco: The Fullness of Circus

"It's nice to have other types of shows and cabarets and all, but we must keep a little tradition. And for me a real circus is live animals and clowns, not only aerial acts or very choreographed acts; you need a bit of everything. We have to evolve, of course, but I think the most important thing is keeping animals in the circus."

-- as interviewed in Spectacle magazine.

Friday, January 29, 2010

SUNDAY MORNING OUT OF THE PAST: Friday Flashouts: Detroit Shriners Cry Homeless! Kelly-Miller Goes "First Time in America,” Ringling Menage, In Vitro, World Circus Day, in Premiere ...

John Ringling North II due in the states on Monday to monitor Kelly-Miller Circus rehearsals and opening dates in Texas late next week. Trucks painted all pretty may wear snowflakes when they reach the Lone Star state — assuming they can find roads out of snow-bound Oklahoma. (Promise; no jokes about you-know-what.) On paper, thanks to manager Jim Royal sending me information, show looks full of promising energy, comedy, novelty – a veritable fun fest in the making. Cast of some 20-plus performers include first time in America turns from Aussie aerialists Nikkie and Carla Oggle, plenty of animals, some from the Rices, the charismatic Poema Family of risley whirlwinds, along with returnees named Torales and Cainan and Oliveras. Costumes being designed by Luciana Loyal. A fifties-themed production number has clowns Ryan Combs and Steve Copleand working as soda jerks. These guys are also uncorking a new exterminator gag and a couple of walkarounds. There’s even a novelty by a woman whose name I misplaced working with flute and fabric. Entire spread sounds like a lively big top energizer ...

Orphans in motor city? “World’s first and oldest circus may now be homeless,” reads a Shrine temple website, hoping to reverse their eviction from the fairgrounds.. Says Shrine Circus director Chuck Baer, they can't understand why. They pay $40,000 in rental fees. Officials eyeing the venue for a job-creating project. “There it is,” says Bear, referencing the empty fairgrounds, “give us the keys.” Indeed, this is the city where the Shrine Circus (but not the oldest in the world) was born, back in 1906. Sadly symptomatic I think of a shrinking number of temples nationwide putting on circuses, and too many of them not being put on well at all.

World Circus Day: It’s now a reality, to be celebrated in some 12 countries. It will happen on April 17, and we can thank the formidable H.S.H. Princess Stephanie of Monaco for her prestigious support. I'd say the Princess deserves her own Gold Clown Award for so honorably carrying on the legacy of her late father, Prince Rainer, who founded the annual Monte Carlo Circus Festival. Sponsoring World Circus Day is the Federation Mondiale du Cirque consortium, founded in 2008. Group's members represent Monte Carlo, Europe, the U.S., Australia, Canada and South Africa, with Asia just admitted. I am impressed! Their goal is to “promote circus arts and culture worldwide.” We can all be proud.

Monte Carlo Gold: Brit animal man Martin Lacey, Jr. scoring for his country its very first Gold Clown. About time, considering that in London Town the modern-day circus was invented by equestrian Philip Astley. And it took our Lacey only a month, rounding up two lions and 12 lionesses and getting them to dazzle the judges. “Wining a gold is fantastic,” said he, “and it’s historic to be the first Brit. But I think it’s also about you as a person, how you work with the animals and we stand out very much. I think people realize how much we care for the animals and love them, and that shows in the ring.”

Artificial insemination a la Ringling produced Baby Barack (a first), who was born the day after Barack Obama's inauguration, such a polite little pachyderm holding off until our new president could have his day in the sun. Now a year old, Baby Barack got a taste of the bright lights on Ringling Blue, and is now en route back to visit his Mom for some quality time together in the shows’s Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County, Florida. Good going, Feld Family! Now, what next on your in-vitro front: clown cloning?

Ryan Remembers: Pat Valdo was way up in years when a very young press agent Jack Ryan, during his first year out, ventured into Willis Lawson’s circus diner at the Venice quarters. Ringling's crack personnel director was not very hungry that morning.

Said Antoinette Concello, "Pat! Eat your eggs. That will put lead in your pencil."

Replied Mr. Valdo, "It's OK, Tony. I don't do much writing anymore."

Funny, I don’t eat eggs much anymore, but I’m still writing.

First posted 1.29.10

The Morning Midway: Betty Hutton Before and After The Greatest Show on Earth

I had known almost nothing about Betty Hutton other than the sweet -- some would say cloyingly sweet -- role she played in Cecil B. De Mille's mega movie, The Greatest Show on Earth. Not until a few nights ago, when TCM aired one of her films, Red, Hot and Blue. Instant discovery! WHAT A FABULOUS TALENT! I'm talking fantastic energetic dancer, VERY funny performer -- two talents that are virtually no where to be found in her De Mille assignment. So, all these many years in my mind I have unfairly typecast her.

And then, after that movie, Betty's career was fast fading. Interviewed in 2000 by Robert Osborn for Turner Classic Movies, and so far far away from the Hutton we knew (impossible to see the old Hutton in this Hutton), she talked from her heart of how horrible she was treated by cast and crew while away from Paramount making Annie Get Your Gun at MGM (I've heard they could treat people with cruel indifference -- think Judy Garland on pills). "They were mean to all their stars."

That experience, she said, killed her love of making movies and was what eventually drove her away from the cameras.

Betty was honest about feeling regretfully alienated from her kids and of finding a saving friend, at last, in a Catholic priest, at one time, down to pennies, working in a kitchen. When she returned to L.A., she hoped to reconnect with her children, and sensed they resented her reaching out; she could identify with aging parents suffering health problems being shunned aside by family members.

This was the same person who brought glamour and vitality to a movie about the American three-ring circus that thrilled millions. who entertained the troupes during World War II, as in this photo to your left.

So strange to understand why the playfully humorous, infectiously fun-loving Betty Hutton we saw in Red Hot and Blue is missing from the Greatest Show on Earth. And so, I had not a clue about her incredibly captivating dance and comedy gifts. Now, fifty years later, she was nearly crying her heart out before TCM cameras, so grateful for the attention she was being paid by Robert Osborn.

Hollywood: it's a heartless place. Betty talked about her campaign to get cast in De Mille's film. She said that she'd heard he was planning to cast a real trapeze artist and teach her to act (that doesn't make sense to me). On her own, Betty had circus people teach her how to work trap tricks. "Oh, Mr. De Mille, please let me try." Answered the director, "Let me see your feet." She removed her shoes and socks. Director looked. Director approved. "Okay, let's talk. What can you do?" A few weeks later, De Mille was watching Hutton amaze him at a circus training location in Los Angeles.

"I don't believe it. I just don't believe that you haven't done this since you were three years old," said De Mille.

"Mr. De Mille, I've done it for a year."

So that's how she got the part.

"Hey, Duffy, off your back and on your toes!"

"He wanted that Oscar so badly. He said, 'Betty, How do I get it?'"

"I said, 'Mr. De Mille, all that stuff you do is corny. But the circus IS corny; don't do anything to it!'"

While Betty was standing on a swinging trap bar filming a scene in Sarasota, De Mille handed his star an award from Photoplay magazine for her performance in Annie Get Your Gun ... the most popular actress of 1950.

"Now, don't fall off! I need you for the rest of the greatest show on earth!"

And they needed her -- until they no longer needed her. Betty Hutton. What a marvelous performer she was. And how touching was her story of finding her way back to a more real world and learning to embrace her dramatically diminished circumstances with gratitude and humility. She died on March 11, 2007.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Next Late Night Round: Who Will Rule -- Letterman, Leno or (No Kidding) O'Brien?

Jay Leno needs upgrades; Dave Letterman, humility; Conan O'Brien, a challenging network to reset his act.

What drama we've just been through. Three late night competitors battling it out for ratings and media attention: Beleaguered Conan O'Brien, gone from The Tonight Show, essentially due to his own poor showing; Jay Leno, a failed prime time host about to return to the coveted late night spot he dominated for nearly 15 years, and the other guy -- acerbic David Letterman, who grudgingly believed all along that he should have landed the Tonight Show desk when Johnny Carson retired from it at age 66.

It's been an amusingly bloody slug fest between these three entertainers. What prospects loom ahead? Moreover, who will now rule? Handicapping the possibilities, here I go:

Jay Leno: When he returns to his old 11:35 spot come March 1, no doubt his most avid fans will be there. And if he can convince them that he is not damaged goods but still the same jovial comic waiting to make them laugh and feel comfortable, he has the best chance of winning this precarious race. He'll need to rearrange the furniture, back mostly to the more intimate Tonight Show set up. I think his biggest challenge will be, at least initially, to pack the show with top-flight comedy, engaging guests and a few novel upgrades, not so much as to upset but to advance tradition. He can't come on looking winded or watered down, or, horror of horror's, old hat, from the wars just fought.

David Letterman: Still not in his favor is the man's edgy mean-spirited personality. And he faces a potentially ugly chapter in court arising out of the bribery charges he has leveled against a CBS producer for threatening to expose Letterman's extra curricular sex life with staffers. He is obviously angry over having to compete once again with his ratings better, and this, too, could alienate viewers.

In Letterman's favor, he comes out looking the most established and enduring of the three personalities. And the image of success can breed continued success. So there is a fighting chance that Letterman could come out on top. This largely depends on whether or not he can soften his harsher side into a warmer and fuzzier Dave.

The question yet to be answered: Will any of Leno's fans who defaulted to Letterman while Leno was away return to Leno, or decide they like Letterman more? No doubt a few, but not many -- if Leno again delivers. Leno is the far more comfortably congenial of the two comedians, so I don't see him having a problem getting back his audience. Still, the ratings difference between the two established hosts should be slimmer, which could make for a lively new late night battle, and viewers will benefit from enhanced material. However, these above forecasts could become clouded if the third party enters the fray:

Conan O'Brien: In a sense, he is the biggest victor out of this well reported mess, for he is far better known coming out of it than he was going in. He turned himself into something of an attraction. The public saw much more of him, they may even have laughed a little (he'll have to be funnier than he has been if he is to draw beyond his narrow fan base), and he will garner some sympathetic attention if he launches another late night show on another network -- up to a point. He's not a particularly winning figure at the desk, even more prickly than Letterman. And his comedy bits -- at least those I tried watching several years ago -- struck me as a little too tortured. Moreoever, a reported rigid inflexibility on O'Brien's part in resisting notes given to him by The Tonight Show directors seeking to improve his performance and audience appeal does not bode well.

The comfort factor will still be easily owned by Jay. And O'Brien, wherever he goes, brings a losing track record; as a brief host of the nation's most popular late night talk show, he simply could not produce. Only Fox might be able to turn him from also-ran into a competitive novelty born of fresh cutting-edge, new age showmanship. Indeed, over at Fox, where he has less to lose and can afford to take bigger risks, he might help network television craft an exciting new form of late night entertainment. But unless Fox's savvy can produce a miraculous turnaround, O'Brien will soon join the scrape heap of failed talk show hosts.

Summing up, across the finish line: Leno, Letterman, O'Brien

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Morning Midway: Does Big Apple Circus Need Better Marketing? Just Ask Forbes ...

I've never exactly regarded New York's own circus as in dire need of cash, although a look at its masthead in the program magazine resembles an out-of-control bureaucracy. Perhaps pink slips to half the staff would bring instant solvency.

In fact, according to Forbes magazine, the economic downturn has hit BAC fairly hard, with the show discounting tickets to fill seats. "It has also had to initiate layoffs and pay cuts for its administrative staff. It is more important than ever for Big Apple, which advertises its shows through direct mail, traditional advertising and social media, to have an effective marketing plan."

So Forbes last September assigned a marketing interventionist (my term) to examine the operation inside and out and make voluntary recommendations. What Linda Sawyer, chief executive of the ad agency Deutsch, found was an organization that needs to better "trumpet its good works through communications and use of its media partners to make sure its audience knows about its community programs." Duh? New Yorkers don't already know? Forecasts expert Linda, "It might sway more people to chose its show over performances by rivals Ringling Bros. and Cirque du Soleil." I was not nervously aware of BAC having problems getting bodies into the tent.

Onward and downward: This might make better sense. Ms. Sawyer suggested that Binder's big top reduce the number of media outlets it employs, "picking the most effective ones and spending more money with them." She advocates "larger, more eye-catching ads." I'll agree to that; the small one they've been placing for several years in The New York Times featuring Grandma looks awfully threadbare and hand-me-down, especially for a New York show advertising in a New York paper. On the other hand, they may have reason to believe that the recurrence of this redundant design identifies their brand by subliminally appealing to the idea of Big Apple Circus as an annual holiday event.

Okay, one more Sawyer appeal, and this one I like. BAC should reward repeat visitors (Hey, that's me!) rather than just those who donate (that's not me) with some of the discounts or benefits offered the latter.

She also slights the circus's presence on the web, arguing they need to be more effective at reaching their target audience of moms and kids. The show was using only 1% of its ad budget on the Internet. Maybe she's onto something.

Now, Forbes & Sawyer, I have your next assignment: How Ringling-Barnum can get more bodies into the seats here in Oakland, as well as, I assume, elsewhere. They play to thousands more empty chairs than does their far smaller rival back there in Gotham.

Really, I'm serious. And after that, I've got a whole list of other circuses you need to take a look at.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sunday Silly: Ringling Reviews Ringling; Walker, Circus Sarasota and Barbette ... All on the Inside!

Out through the moors of Oakland (as in fog), for rice tea and "berry black," a new try too close to English Lipton ... Covington challenged, here I go, I think:

I read a so-called review of the new RBBB Funundrum, in a Tampa paper by a local reporter. Why suspicious? She didn't mention a single act by name. I'll wait for the New York Times or the White Tops(is it still being published?) ... This new RBBB edition uncorked by that new producing team of the Feld sisters, Alana and Nicole. Go, gals, I guess ... Sure, now somebody make something of that. My mind is really on Coney; Will they or won't they? You know, the Gold Unit going back, and even if it does, I fear being disappointed the second night around (it sounds too Feldian for me). Not maybe a Feld fault, but my own eccentric ideas of what makes a sleek circus sleek and tight and fast moving. Am I quaint for wanting pace, pep and speed? ...

Animals In, Animals Out: Johnny Pugh, per reports, has a cat act on the train (yeah, not a train, but it's fun to say) for this year's opus. I'm hoping he tents up on Coney, too. You see, Johnny is my personal barometer of circus health in general, his show let's say mid-range. As Cole goes, so goes the circus? ... Cliff hangers: Eskil Ronningsbakken, who likes perching upside down at the edge of sharp end points overlooking rivers hundreds of feet down down down, got his hook training under the eye of one Peter Jakob of the Moscow State Circus -- and I'm thinking we're not taking Sarasota version. Says Mr. cliff hanger: "I have three loose items under me, and balancing with my back towards the abyss there is no return at all if you fall." Good luck, guy ...

Oh, About Animals Out; Walker Bros. Circus defaulting to domestics "such as pigs and mules" --- love it! -- having been banned by USDA from the exotics for five years and fined $25,000. Hawthorn Circus Corporation, from whom Walker previously leased elephants and trainers, cited numerous times in 2004 and ordered to relinquish custody of 16 elephants, according to animals rights groups. (source: ...

Vague to Victorious: Circus Sarasota, lacking permanent digs the last three years, has finally found solid (at least solid muddy) ground. Agreement signed with Baltimore Orioles for use of county-owned property. Ball games to big top; this is the lot the show has pitched over for a trio of years ... Going for a moment across the great pond. revered Brit ringmaster Norman Barrett, at 73, awarded an MBE (whatever that is, I dug and nothing came up). 25 years with Blackpool Tower Circus, right now performing with Zippos Circus, in Frankfurt, Germany. Says the whistle blower, "As well as being over the moon personally, I am also delighted for the circus industry. Oh, yes an "industry." Somehow, it keeps on rolling along. Let's hear more: "This is a real boost for circus and in my view gives the art form the recognition it truly deserves and, sadly in modern times, so rarely gets."

Now, let's follow that last quote right on through. I might post the entire "comment" left by A* Anonymous in response to my last "Tale of Two Museums.: Maybe this week. You can read it now, or wait for a full-scale midway platform treatment. I agree, but I also marvel at our Tenting Tycoons who keep these things on the road ... I thought about what A* said, and it makes sense. I never discuss circus with my non-circus friends, not out of shyness but it just does not mean anything to them. A lot of other things I discuss. Sad? ...

Okay, how about ending this on a wry note that, but warning, a little irreverent. This by way of Jack Ryan, from whom I hope we get more goodies: Barbette, yes, here he is, at work on a Shrine circus (years ago), and mandating the construction of small platforms for web girls to style and chew gum upon. The Great director arrives at the arena night before opening, and earns the quick attention of the temple Potentate himself: "Hey, Mr. Barbette! They've got me hammering nails. HaHaHa." Our "entrepreneur of enchantment" smiles. "Admirable, my dear man, but hardly surprising. After all, Jesus Christ was a carpenter."

And that's a Sunday wrap. Sun's now out. And here it is, nearly 2 pm and I've put lunch aside just for this? Kelly-Miller, I imagine, warming up Texas mud for early spring start. Johnny Pugh reasoning with lot owners about animals all ok. Ringling working the press. Big Apple ready to hit the road. Well, it could be a whole lot worse! ...

[photos, from top: Alana and Nicole Feld; Eskil Ronningsbakken; rendering of the Ringling Circus Museum expansion]

First posted January 20, 2010

The Morning Midway: Jay Leno's Tonight Show History in His Own Words ...

He ruled late night and was only 54-years old when NBC pressed him to step aside five years hence so that a far less-proven talent could take over The Tonight Show.

How would you feel?

I'm glad I stayed up on Monday night to watch Jay on his soon-to-be-history 10 PM slot, for, sitting behind his desk after the first commercial break, he talked to us without comedy or rancor or spin, simply and graciously discussing his own NBC history with straight forward honesty, taking a sharing approach that can only add to his image as being basically a nice guy.

He never wanted to leave. He was Number One. NBC wanted him to leave so that Conan O'Brien, who was threatening to find a spot elsewhere, could be placated. Jay accepted the inevitable, and shortly after, himself looking for another network where he could continue telling jokes and interviewing guests, was then offered prime time on NBC. He did not believe it would work, he told us on Monday night, but NBC execs kept assuring him it will! it will! So, he decided to give it a try.

One of the reasons he agreed: He could keep intact his staff of 175.

Remember, Jay Leno was at the top of his game in 2004 when NBC pressured him to accept retirement in 2009, when he would then be 58 (Carson stepped aside at the age of 65). And Jay Leno liked to work.

Five months into this new NBC late night reconfiguration, neither Leno or O'Brien are doing well, Jay acknowledged matter of factly. So his bosses asked him if he would accept a half hour comedy show starting at 11:35 PM, to be followed by The Tonight Show starting at 12:05 AM. Jay said, okay, I'll give it a try. He and his entire staff could keep working.

And then Conan balked, going public with his refusal to host The Tonight Show starting five minutes after midnight.

So, now what? So now, NBC re-huddled with Jay, offering him back The Tonight Show.

I think that Leno's addressing what has happened to him at NBC in so direct, non-vindictive and forthright a manner should serve him well.

Conan O'Brien fans fail to recognize how it was O'Brien himself who took steps to advance his own career, which he had every right to do, that would lead to the early first retirement of Jay Leno from the show that Leno ruled.

Although I'm not his greatest fan, Jay Leno has a lot of class. In fact, perhaps more than either Letterman, and certainly more than talent-limited Conan O'Brien, whose overinflated opinion of himself is just another reason why he is likely to do no better on another network. Perhaps FOX can uncork a funnier Conan.

Even then, the real culprit here is the NBC management team that engineered this entire fiasco, in particular NBC President Jeff Zucker, who back in 2004 decided that Leno's days were numbered because he wanted O'Brien in. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Now here comes Act III: Can Leno reclaim his late night dominance? Letterman has picked up many new fans who deserted the O'Brien train, and O'Brien, if he takes his act to another network, will no doubt take his faithful, too. Only one thing seems certain: Late night is going to be a more interesting and competitive place than it has been in a long time.

I'm going back go sleep. Good bye, 10 PM.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Twitter Glitter, Twitter Litter ...Gods and Quads, Tigers and Teas ... Come On In, Please

Showbiz David Out of the Past: first published January 17, 2010

Dreamy rain outside on Piedmont Avenue ... Ella Fitzgerald in here floating another great song over tea aromas ... Sunday morning soft at L’Amyx ...

Circuses sleeping, and I’m hoping they all wake up again. Yeah, I get nervous around this time; I’m funny that way. Really, I want ‘em all to return, even those that may have let me down in times past. There’s always another season to make things right. Another tour to redeem and redream. A young Japanese singer in her own language crooning a country song and making it sound sooooooooooo beautiful, and so wonderfully not country. Yet for her to discover and mine: Rodgers & Hart ... Sorry, if anybody down there in Tex or Ok is reading this; call me a retro elitist, y'all.

How tough is the tanbark still? Let’s talk tiger trainers. Something about the way the attack of Christian Walliser by three charges after falling in front of five, that “nearly killed” him, stirs boyhood memories of Clyde Beatty. And, oh, am I sorry that Henry Edgar could not have lived a few more months to share with us this ersatz Beatty Big Cage peril from days past when newspapers front paged Beatty's mishaps and the stitches that ensued. The "circus" in circus is showing its muscle these days. The pachyderms, given a reprieve by some DC judge (honest or paid off, but who will ever know?), the tiger man, and ...

And the Quad is God again, thanks, at least while it lasts, to Ivo Silva, Jr., of the Flying Caceres — did they not recently field a female flyer who flew the triple? Quad prince Ivo is now infusing Funundrum, Ringling latest, with the kind of excitement that may only thrill the buff class. Nor does it seem to have garnered national attention; that went to Miguel Vazquez back in the excellent eighties. Funundrum itself is landing high marks from bloggers. It has voice authority: I peeked briefly at a YouTube teaser, where the voice of returning Jonathan Lee Iverson in red hat sounds like I hoped it would -- full and solid, unique to the sawdust and shy of his older gossip hall shadings. He has the potential to achieve greatness.

So, we're talking a little tough stuff again, right? Cheers to Christian and Ivo! ... But why must Feld Entertainmentt not allow its photos to be “saved to.” I could only, when preparing this post, extract one image of Ivo, and not a good one, from a hectic internet search. Would Ringling not welcome my undivided attention in Oaktown? Feld Central: You want publicity? PUT SOME PHOTOS OUT TO THE PUBLIC ... [Documentary film maker Philip Weyland came to my rescue, sending me a link to a couple of photos embedded in a story.] The question now is, can Prince Ivo make a career of his great feat as did the magnificently accomplished Miguel? The story is back in motion, and Weyland, at work on a bio of Miguel ("The Last Great Flyer") may yet be challenged to amend. I’m actually looking forward to Funundrum ...

We gotta go in reverse, back to the tiger man’s tale: Fearless Christian is already out of hospital, appearing with Circus Barelli in Augusburg, donning a “complicated splint” and a redoubtable smile on his proud face ... Now here’s the moment for circus fan Andrew Wightman of Charlottetown in Canada, e-mailing me to ask, “Did Terrell Jacobs who trained more than 50 Big cats for the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey train the big cats the same way as Clyde Beatty or did he do it like the Hegenbach's did?” Not sure if Andrew has reaped an answer from The CHS website, to which I directed him, but I told him I’d post the question right here. Anybody has an answer?

Relax and smell the smog. “I didn’t know what time it was, till I met you,” sings Ella, and I’m waiting for Rod Stewart, whose music I danced to in disco days gone by, to sing, "my funny valentine, sweet comic valentine ..." Of many younger singers addressing the Great American Songbook these days, Stewart's treatment is positively authentic and sweetly lyrical. A+++

Speaking of Broadway tunes, Great White Way vet and one-time Ringling ringmaster, Eric Michael Gillett to guest direct the next Big Apple Circus banquet to be served up come autumn in New York (couldn't resist that). Gillett bringing with him a stellar staff loaded with Tony credits, among them Todd Rosenthal on sets, Ann Hould-Ward on costumes and Peter Pucci on dance. What a "wow!" of a production shakeup. Leave me alone, New York! ... And the soft rain out there reminds me that, at any moment, a Kelly Miller Circus truck bound for mudsville might flash up the street ... I’m wondering about a noted aerialist whom John Ringling North II was said earlier to be in negotiations with for a stint. Wondering if the guy has signed, been fitted for flood boots and handed a shovel? Okay, Okay, balance here: Jim Royal last season reminded me that once upon a season, Ringling-Barnum also appeared in the mud. My one visit under Big Bertha’s blue big top came with trucked in sawdust. So spoiled was I.

Ella’s soft, sweet pipes float on under a tea tent... Only bogus Bay Area rain out there, Sorry, Kelly Miller, we tried to secure you suitable quicksand for a day of high adventure at the circus, and failed. Can you do concrete?.

Tweet twot twat twer tttttttttt ...... Anybody still there? I'm going out to practice my single ...


Sunday Morning With Octavie La Tour: The Courage of Circus to Soar ... The Courage of Ivo to Continue ...

In the spirit of honoring Ivo Silva, Jr., of the Flying Caceres, who completed a quad into the deft hands of catcher Danidel Simard, with Ringling-Barnum's new Funundrum during its first week in Tampa, I would like to quote from words written over one hundred years ago by a 20-year-old French girl, Octavie La Tour, who drove Barnum & Bailey's somersaulting auto, thrilling crowds with what one newspaper reporter called "automobile flights." In 1905, the daring "chauffeuse" La Tour contributed the following to the New York World . Her eloquent words, I believe, are a tribute to all great rings stars everywhere who, like Ivo, inspire us with the majesty and power of their super-human feats:

"Human daring has but one limit: human imagination. Human courage dares all, and there is no task, no feat, no exploit of bravado you can suggest that it will not venture ... Demand what feat you will that requires physical skill and physical courage, and we in the circus will attempt it. Nay, we will perform it successfully ... get your mind fermenting; give your imagination free play; and invent the real limit of human daring. Show us how to fly to the moon; direct the way to Mars; point the signboards down the roads of human daring. And I for one will go."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Morning Midway: But Why Bash Jay Leno?

NBC exec Dick Ebersol on Conan O'Brien: "An astounding failure."

And there's Jimmy Kimmel spoofing Jay Leno. I agree, Leno's opening hand shake ritual is sooooooo second-coming smarmy.

Look. I've never been much of a fan of any of them. I've gone back and forth between Jay and Dave, rarely watching either of their shows all the way through. Sometimes I think Letterman has the better monologue, but other times Leno.

This big media ruckus is rather ridiculous, and not a little contrived. But what a comedy harvest; both Letterman and Leno are hitting the heights tossing wicked little darts at each other, mostly at the brain-dead NBC guns who engineered this programming chaos. Latest, arising out of Conan O'Brien's uppity refusal to go on after midnight, is that NBC boss Jeff Zucker, "is threatening to ice Conan." That shouldn't be hard. Heck, I think I'm funnier.

And even if the NBC movers and shakers are pitifully inept, Ebersol is absolutely right about the O'Brien fiasco. Look at how poorly he has performed. So poorly, that NBC is reportedly handing this spoil sport $30 million just to leave; boy, what a talent he must have. One thing he doesn't lack is an inflated sense of importance, believing he is owed a slot he can't attract a decent audience to. (He just backed out of a sold-out San Francisco show this weekend.) This guy's already damaged goods, and I'm predicting he's soon to be starring in that junk heap of failed late night talkers. You either produce ratings or you don't produce ratings, period, pull the flush chord, please. Okay, I'm having my own devious fun.

Why should we feel sorry for the fate of any TV host, given the millions they've made? I tried Conan a few years ago, wanting to find a late night personality both amusing and likable. I was dumbfounded at how numbingly unfunny Conan was. Maybe I just didn't get it, or maybe he's improved. In truth, I am still ruing the exit of Johnny Carson, and more than that, before that my idol Jack Paar (who combined comedy and conversation as nobody else). I thought I found a potential new Carson (good easy-to-take looks unlike Leno or Letterman, classy grace at the desk and a bent for creative humor) in Crag Killborn. Wanting to be a movie star, he turned his back on his late Late Show and chased after a career in the movies that went no where.

But why bash Leno? He was the king of late night, and O'Brien is pulling in about half the audience. Several reckless years ago, when NBC made known their plan to ease Jay out (before he was even 60; Johnny retired at 65, I think), I thought, how incredibly stupid. Especially given O'Brien's limited assets. Why push out a clear winner for a half-talent??

When Jay returns to the 11:35 PM slot, I will be up to watch it. He'll probably wrack up all-time high Tonight Show ratings. And then I'll turn the TV off and go back to sleep. And forget all about it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Morning Midway: Circus King Irving J. Polack From Out of the Past ...

Remember Polack Bros. Circus? The two men who produced it, Irving J. Polack and Louis Stern, were mid century American circus giants, re-introducing audiences to superlative one-ring entertainment.

They have been shockingly overlooked by most historians and writers. They were a major force leading up to the gradual evolution back to a single ring. I am continually amazed at how many historians who should know better, as well as some highly touted "experts" and fact checkers, seem not to have understood the part they played. Neither Polack nor Stern seem to have been honored within that dubious circle of paid-for recognition in Sarasota.

This is such a wonderful photo (circa, 1948), sent to me by a Polack family insider who wishes to remain discretely anonymous. I feel like I'm posting it on somebody else's banner line where great images from the past are raised daily. Mr. Polack is the gentleman standing in the back, fourth person from the right. Seated in front of him is his wife, Bessie. To Polack's right is Sam T. Polack, next to whom stands tall concession man, A. E. Howell.

Such a happy looking group of people. Possibly some of them helped infuse my boyhood with the magic and power of circus when the great Polack Bros. shows graced the Grace Pavilion at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa during the remarkable fifties.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Morning Midway, taaaaaaaaaa -- tweet! This Vincente Minnelli Book -- Is It "Junk" ???

Hold onto my earlier praise for the book on Vincente Minnelli by Emanuel Levy. Was I too deceptively impressed? Half way through, can't believe this writer, (Ph.D from Columbia, a teaching post at UCLA) would not understand the significance of Lerner and Loewe's first hit, Brigadoon. He berates it, arguing that critics failed to understand its "secret charms." Wait a minute, sir. When it opened on Broadway in 1947, it landed UNANIMOUS raves from nine first night critics, among them the fussy Brooks Atkinson. Mr Levy: Read Opening Nights on Broadway and believe. Levy is on firmer ground slighting a weak film adaption, though I'd argue not nearly as bad as he makes it out. One more big blunder: Levy places Brigadoon as a "mediocre ... creative slowdown in the acclaimed duo's work." How could this hit show have marked a "slowdown" when to that point they'd not yet had a success??? The utterly enchanting Brigadoon was the FIRST of their three New York successes. The FIRST. Then came Paint Your Wagon (not a hit), My Fair Lady and the stuffy and wooden Camelot, redeemed from box office failure, many would argue, by John Kennedy's much reported love of the title song. These are but two glaring examples of sloppy research and troubling missteps in Levy's chronologically jumbled narrative.

Further along in my read, I am losing patience with this author. He seems at times swamped to the point of gagging under his own quasi-scholarly analysis in which he offers cartloads of numbing insights, circling back and forth only to reappear a page or two later. Under their weight, I felt a certain numbness. Where was an editor on this project? 80 pages from the end, and with Gigi now behind, I have little desire to finish, but I will soldier on, I think. I'm missing the early Judy segments, which gave the read high drama; she's gone, nor has Minnelli's gay side been addressed, so far, in anywhere near the same melodramatic detail as was jack hammered against Judy Garland's troubled existence. Maybe, as Terry commented herein, it is "junk." Where Levy excels in part is showing how cast and crew selection, scripting and all of the other variables contribute critically to the outcome of a film. But his end notes are very skimpy and a bibliography alluded to does not appear. Oh, yes, one more thing, can't believe he placed Bandwagon as his second favorite Minnelli musical, behind Meet Me in St. Louis.

Let your liberal heart shine, Bill Moyer. Now I'm firmly in your court. Love the time you're taking around your desk on PBS with writers and insiders to point out, incredibly, how Wall Street is conning DC pols with lobby bribes to let them go back to their old derivative ways. Others have noted the same. So please, Bill, don't let up on bogus "legislation" pretending to cleanup the mess. From yesterday's NYT: "Goldman Sachs is expected to pay it's employees an average of about $595,000 each for 2009, one of the most profitable years in its 141 year history. Workers in the investment bank of JP Morgan Chase stand to collect about $460,000 on average." DISGUSTING.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Morning Midway, Tweet! Tweet! Judy, Stop Singing and Get Help! ...

Am reading a great tome, Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood's Dark Dreamer, fresh off the presses by Emanuel Levy. Highly recommended to readers of such stuff. Minnelli directed hands down the top three singing-dancing flicks out of Hollywood: -- Gigi, The Bandwagon, American in Paris.He, a "bisexual" (oh, sure) but really a homosexual, married volatile Judy Garland, then a pill-popping star star star who, once wed to a lovingly dotting Vincente, gradually self-transferred into a psycho wreck, jealous of her husband's rich attention (sexual, she dreaded) to Gene Kelly on the ill-fated bomb, The Pirate, convinced he downplayed her part, when in fact, this great director for a spell, it seems, loving Judy and wanting to be a family man (or was that another script self-directed???) did everything he could for his wife, down whose young throat Metro had stuffed pills to keep her working ...

Tweety bias? Author shades the story in Minnelli's favor as good husband, making Judy look like a big monstrous problem, and when they've about split up and the story is moving on, post Judy, then Levy briefly in passing mentions that "throughout" their marriage made in MGM-land, the husband engaged in "his homosexual liaisons discretely..." Gosh, and now you're just getting around to telling us, Mr. Author? I wonder if poor Judy did not soon feel a tad abandoned? And perhaps just as used as when she'd been medicated morning noon and night by her movie bosses? No wonder she cracked up in Hollywood home bathroom, complete with tepid throat slitting (requiring afterward only a band-aid) when MGM dumped her for standing them up on Annie Get Your Gun. The spectacular split between Minnelli and Garland cries out for a film ... I'm still reading, half way through. Made in Culver City.

Jay Leno should return from whence he came, for at 10 PM, other than his lively opening monologue, what a drag he is on all worn-out cylinders ... Letterman will have competition again, and NBC ("never believe your contract," per Jay) still has to deal with, if not dump stupidly irritating and very unfunny Conan, who never should have been inserted anywhere ...

Will Cole Bros. (John Pugh version) tour? I'm looking for 2010 evidence. See there's another one called Billy Martin's Cole's Circus with stars. My, my, tweet tweet, amazing how he gets away with it...

Friday, January 08, 2010

Broadway Blows Birdie, Shrek, Ragtime & Rainbow Out the Doors: South Pacific set to Break Rodgers and Hammerstein Revival Record ...

On Broadway these days, new work is trumping yesterday's glories. In fact, a few ambitious new tuners that came to town last year may turn out to fare better than a hapless parade of revival contenders from the so-called "golden age." New York gave a chilly shoulder to Guys and Dolls, Bye Bye Birdie, and score-rich Finian's Rainbow(adored by the critics), all blockbusters when they first wowed the crowds half a century ago. Blame it on stupid direction, bad casting, or outdated materials failing to click with modern ticket buyers. A more recent show trying to capture a bigger market the second time around is the cardboard history lesson in plodding verse and ersatz Andrew Lloyd Weber anthems called Ragtime, which hardly ranks as a bygone age "great." This time out, critics kindly found more to like about it. Even The New York Times. Audiences did not agree. After two limping months on the comeback trail, Ragtime, apparently still a drag time, is slated to hit the moving vans in weeks.

Other revived used goods include the well received Hair and West Side Story. Both were daring musical plays in their respective times, offering gritty accounts of life away from innocents who sing in showers and fall in love with the opposite sex. And both are doing well, especially Story, which has direction favoring controversial changes by the man who wrote its book, Arthur Laurents. It looks good for a long run.

Of new work, two critical standouts are jukebox blockbuster loaded with hit '80s songs Rock of Ages (above) and the more seriously freighted Next to Normal, each so far showing long legs. Memphis and Fela don't look nearly as promising. Split verdicts for the adventurous Fela, plus its "decadent" elements, make it a long shot. Memphis drew a horrid reception from first night critics. I'd guess both are destined for short visits before vanishing audiences. Two other entries, Nine to Five and The Story of My life (a 3 day life at that) are gone. Shrek will be a statistic following a prolonged 441 performances during which time it suffered poor houses. This was a first from Dreamworks, and they are said to be losing millions, and still determined to tour their turkey.

Of 22 Broadway shows currently raising curtains nightly, at least eight are on the chopping block. These includes plays I've not mentioned, like Wishful Drinking, which is wishfully sinking away and will go dry in a couple of woozy weeks. Tough tricky town to take. Putting it into some perspective, according to the off-Broadway League, over the last four years only 19% of its new shows survived beyond a mere four months.

Now, to great and glorious news. South Pacific (below) in revival is nearing the end of its second boffo year, and it looks to be probably good for at least another season. In a pair of quick months, it will achieve a Rodgers and Hammerstein record: longest running revival of any of their works. Previous, that honor went to The King & I when Lou Diamond Phillips starred, at 780 performances. South Pacific has performed 733 times. Personally, I'm elated. I've seen it twice, and I'll go again if I'm back there next summer.

I thought the show would mainly pull in local NY theatregoers and be gone after two fine years; likely tourists are turning out in droves, too.

This may serve as a lesson for Rodgers and Hammerstein: stick to the original materials when you revive (as opposed to granting directors the right to rewrite and destroy), and consider it high time to bring back Flower Drum Song as it was originally produced in 1958, sans David Henry Hwang and Robert Longbottom. I'd suggest somebody who actually believes in Dick and Oscar.

Turns out the masters of musical theatre may have known what they were doing all along.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

From out of the Past, a Tale of Two Circus Museums: The Rape of an Estate

Part 2 in a Series:
Tibbals versus Ringling

Two Exhibitions Clash as Irreconcilable Differences Only Grow Worse; It's Time for Divorce

If you were to build a circus museum, would anybody come? Surely a handful of die-hard fans. Possibly a horde of curiosity seekers. How many of them would stay? Return? Bottom line, would you make any money?

Back in 1948, Sarasota circus fan John L. Sullivan discovered on the grounds of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, then owned and run by the State of Florida, a number of old circus wagons and equipment stored in various garages. He thought — why not swing open the doors and offer the public a circus museum? Great idea, agreed museum director A. Everett Austin, himself a magician who was then actively seeking new revenue streams for the struggling art galleries. Thus was born the first circus museum of its kind. And thus would emerge a never-ending saga pitting an art museum against a circus community.

Eventually, Sullivan’s garage exhibits would occupy a trio of buildings set discretely back at the far end of the grounds, and they would realize rare artistic distinction when, in 1957, a one-time Ringling clown and circus press agent, Mel C. Miller, Jr. joined on as a volunteer. In four years, Miller was promoted to full-time curator, and what an inspired mark he made on how its exhibits came to be arranged. Indeed, on how magical we can be made to feel at a circus. Under Miller’s deft direction, the creme de la destination were a dozen old Ringling wagons from the tent show era, arranged under a simulated twilight sky, complete with the respective tools and props each had carried, one for blacksmiths, another for costumes, and so. Called the Backyard Scene, it offered the patron an utterly enchanting stroll into the almost mystical world of that long-gone tented city that moved by night. I snuk over a rope once to sit in a canvas chair amidst some Miles White costumes. In the hazy background, a recording of the Merle Evans band playing the 1955 score made my fantasy complete. Historical heaven I had reached that day ...

After 15 years, the exhibit mysteriously vanished into a night of its own. The building was closed down, ostensibly for renovation, but it never reopened.

There was one problem with that idyllic setting: This “circus” museum never should have been built, not in the terse words of Henry Ringling North spoken to me, nor in the historical accounts of circus author Gene Plowden and wagon restoration man Joe McKennon, the latter a volunteer who spent thousands of hours and gave thousands of dollars helping to do what he said never should have been done. It was this tough old carnie and circus midway man who collaborated with Mel Miller on the Back Yard Scene. He who with his knowledge of sawdust and spangles history helped Miller design what I consider, artistically speaking, by far the best American circus museum — so far. Miller’s focus was essentially on the greatness that was Ringling. But that discriminating focus has been lost and squandered away in the questionable present tense. Gone with the wind of bureaucratic change, of fund raising and job-preservation, and of the necessity to increase patronage to an art museum that has never come close through admissions alone to paying for itself.

How did this all come about? Circus king John Ringling of the Ringling brothers dynasty had spent years touring museums abroad with his wife Mable, purchasing and sending back shiploads of art work to his palatial residence, Ca d’Zan. Over six hundred paintings, in fact. His impressive collection of Rubens alone gave his galleries a certain respect in art circles. In recent years, the museum was judged “the largest art museum south of Washington, DC,” by the Chicago Tribune, noting that it had been “authoritatively called ‘the most important collection of Italian baroque art, and Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens in the United States.’” That’s no small praise.

In his will, Ringling stipulated that all of his holdings were to be “joined to and become part of ‘The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art..” He also mandated that “no change by sale, trade or other means shall be made in any of the paintings or objects of art which may form a part of said museum at the time of my death,” and he allowed for funds raised from the sale of one half of his estate to be used “for the purpose of adding to, embellishing or increasing the contents of said museum.”

Nowhere in Ringling’s final will and testament is there a single word about setting up any kind of a circus exhibit anywhere on the premises. In fact, the word “circus” does not appear in it at all. In Ringling’s outlandishly flamboyant bayside residence, Ca d'Zan – a grandiose mishmash of decorative styles — you might find a photo or two of a circus star and maybe a note bearing Ringling letterhead on a small desk in the ante room near John Ringling’s marble bathroom. That’s it.

In his crudely written though generally reliable pamphlet, Rape of an Estate, the chronically bitter Joe McKennon, whose self-published prose amounts to a rant against alleged widespread abuse and misuse committed by the credentialed class who ran and plundered the art museums and the lovely grounds in general, McKennon concedes, despite himself being one of many individuals who in essence dishonored John Ringling’s will by helping build up the circus exhibits, “Most of us have always been sure that John would not approve of having this on the grounds. We all are sure that Mable would have objected.”

Nonetheless, once the museum, residence and grounds passed into the hands of the State of Florida on February 9, 1946, a gallery of famed Rubens paintings would soon have to compete with irresistibly colorful old circus wagons, ring curbs, photographs and gaudy posers, thanks to John Sullivan’s discovery and displays. How much more of a crowd draw, ironically, they proved to be to a typical visitor entering the grounds with the word “Ringling” ringing in his expectant mind.

Within a few years, Sullivan was up the road operating his own short-lived Circus Hall of Fame, featuring, if we are to believe McKennon, some stuff taken from his last job. And the story may have been quite different had Mel Miller not resigned in 1968, evidently to become the inaugural dean of the new Ringling Bros. Clown College established by Irvin Feld.

Several writers and participants have fully acknowledged, in effect concurring with what Henry North told me, that the circus unit should never have happened. In Rape, McKennon writes, “Due to the term’s of John Ringling’s will, neither Mel Miller or Joe McKennon ever dared hope that they would ever be allowed to complete the ambitious circus museum that they had envisioned.”

Well, give time a chance. Current developments favoring yet a new expansion of the Ringling diaspora onto the grounds may bring about what Miller and McKennon envisioned. Or something close.

When they shut down the Backyard Scene, possibly the board was then grappling with a most unpleasant set of economic realities, which returns us to my lead sentence. Can a circus museum anywhere come close to paying for itself in ticket sales alone? Under new leadership from Florida State University, which was handed control of the Ringling museums back in 2000, a new band of educators and bureaucrats are plundering forward to give greater attention to the source of John Ringling’s millions, at the same time offering a set of contorted reasons why Mr. Ringling would have kept any evidence of how he made his millions off the pristine premises. In the words of current director John Weternell, quoted on the American Association of Museum’s website, “One would never, in that era, display the origins of their wealth. It was simply not something one would do, any more than Frick would build a tribute to steel manufacturing next to his museum. It was a later sensibility that brought the circus” to the estate. Added Deborah Walk, described in the article as a “Tibbals curator and Ringling archivist,” “to him, the circus was alive, not something to memorialize.” So we are to believe, then, that John Ringling feigned the mock modesty of a proper industrialist of the time. Really?

Given the big top tycoon's monumental ego and the natural selling power of a circus exhibit in any form (as opposed to say, a steel plant demonstration), I would readily defer to what others have said and written, including even those who worked at the circus museum.

Today, the latest land grabbers on the grounds and running are the unlikely duo, and dynamic they are, of Ms. Walk and circus model builder Howard Tibbals. The later force, because he happens to be a millionaire many times over and apparently has an ego to match, has tossed so far at least several million onto Walk’s desk, in return for which, not only did he get to install his formidable model circus on the top floor of a new building he funded, but he also got a room-size display dedicated to honoring him and his craft. The eye-popping 3/4 inch scale Howard Bros Circus is said to recreate the huge Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey big top world of the 1920s, cast in perpetuity in a hermetically sealed display case. It’s a minor wonder to behold, albeit a little too spanking fresh and new to represent the reality of a mammoth traveling tent show. The older model circus display in the older midway building still speaks more realistically to my heart. I would love to know how circus model builders rate the Tibbals layout.

Yet another codified tribute to philanthropist Tibbals is the repetitions appearance of his name across virtually all of the circus museum photographs now going out for publication. The credit lines now read: John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Tibbals Digital Collection.”

And already, an addition to the Tibbals tower is in the works, slated to open in 2012. According to promotional literature, this will include a real circus ring in which real circus performers will perform. So the museum appears to be taking the commercial road taken by Baraboo.

From Mel Miller to Deborah Walk, where are we now? I visited the new Tibbals Leaning Center shortly after it opened and was enthralled by the model circus display, especially by the train unloading part of it. And then I began to see the whole thing as more of a toy than a realistic recreation to scale. Lovely white tents. Pure green grass. Spec floats not out of the 1920s but from the 1951 show. The building itself needs more inside it. A time line of circus history is particularly fine. But a pandering video featuring promo clips from Cirque du Soleil shows seems oddly, glaringly incongruous with the museum’s stated goals to celebrate "the American circus, its history and unique relationship to Sarasota." Somebody needs to tell somebody in the office that Cirque is French, just as Moscow is Russian. This reconfigured museum now in transition does not come close to what Mel Miller gave us, but give them time and money, both of which they have. As for what they might be leaving behind in their construction zeal, the old midway hall when I saw it was a disappointing and rather disorienting ramble of individual exhibitions clumsily joined.

What is most astonishing about the new Tibbals-funded monument to Mr. Tibbals is its close proximity to the new entrance, bookstore and visitors reception area; indeed, if you move up a certain path, it is the first thing you will come upon. When it opened, the expected rush of traffic was hardly a rush, according to a rather subdued account given to me by an assistant curator. But if they do bring a real live circus onto the premises, perhaps a few more hundred souls will start showing up, same as what happenes during the summer months in Baraboo. A few hundred is better than a few dozen, right?

I have in hand a flier similar in size and color to what you will find on a table in hotel reception areas where local attractions compete for your leisure dollar. Seen here to your right, notice the blaring headline, CELEBRATE CIRCUS! Ringling Circus Museum, Sarasota, Florida. All of which helps crystallize my final conclusion: The spirit and letter of John Ringling’s will continues to be brazenly dishonored. If the interlopers and opportunists responsible for all the meddling possessed a shred of redemptive integrity, here is what they could and should do: Separate their good-to-mediocre work from the art museums, and make the former its own autonomous entity with a separate admission. With no passage between the two. In other words, build a fence between the two, period. This would allow the art museum that John Ringling built and so loved and the lovely surrounding grounds to be whole again. And this would grant the circus museum staff the total freedom to literally take off. Ms. Walk could solicit more nibbles from Tibbals, and Mr. Tibbals could walk the walk.

Face it: These two totally distinct subject matters just do not go together. Never have and never will. Personally, I like them both, but I do not relish the idea of moving back and forth between two such disparate worlds during a single visit or across a shared setting.

When John Ringling opened his art museum (that’s spelled A-R-T), along with the John and Mable Ringling School of Art and Junior College (about a mile away) on October 1, 1931, according to Plowden’s book, Those Amazing Ringlings and Their Circus, it galled him to no end that too many visitors came looking for the wrong thing, invariably asking “Where are the animals?”

To the superintendent one night, Mr. John complained, “By God, you must be gettin’ a lot of ignorant folks in here. Imagine expectin’ to find circus animals in an art museum, just because it bears the name ‘Ringling.”

Today, such ignorant folk would have no such problem, for shortly upon entering, there to their right up a little ways is the Tibbals Learning Center. Circus all the way! Just what you came for, right? Oh, did I hear somebody say they wanted to see paintings? Step on ahead, folks, you’ll find ‘em up the road! ...

Next Stop: Baraboo Revisited


Sunday, January 03, 2010

Sunday Silly: Jumbo -- It's A "Go!" ... Sarasota Plagued by Seedy Greedy Gardens; The "Quad" in Comeback? Shake Hands with a Goat ...

Blogging in Reverse ...

Another decade, Another charade: Playing, or I should say plaguing Sarasota to boos and ejecting fists are those shameless scam artists, father and son team of Dick and Niles Garden ... They brought you the infamous Toby Tyler ultra-portable seat thrill ride, they brought me a “circus” so wretchedly awful, that I fled three bankrupt rings midway through the first half of hack hell. Blame Ringling’s eventual exit, conspiracy theory, yes, from the Cow Palace (SF) on that weekend in Gardenferno about 10 seasons ago ... Now their latest appearance: They've been arrested (Niles, that is) in of all places the town that John Ringling built, arrested on a felony charge of “attempting to swindle merchants and vendors.” Multiple Garden variety events were canceled “without notification or for exhibit spaces that may have never been reserved by the merchant.” On and on go the charges.

I’ve heard of these shysters being tossed off premises they tried to work. Niles Garden, the younger, is also, per reports, being sued by the U.S. Postal Dept for failure to pay nearly $150,000 in bills. Incredible! And what a supreme insult to Circus City, that these crooks should even be allowed to set foot there ... Who knows, in a hundred years, they may have their own circle of honor in a town that has never seen a circus character it does not have, well, something good to say about, as long, that is, as said character has the money to fund his or her own bogus star. Poggie O'Brien and "Killer Kane", you're next! Okay, enough of that rant ...

Heck, if you'll pardon my manners, why did I have to start out the new year this way? Cause, shamefully hacky myself, I thought this would bring you into my no-fault tent ... Let’s talk of good guy Johnny Pugh, about whom, even before the poor guy was born, rumors circulated yearly that he was looking to sell his Cole Bros Circus. No to that, Sarasota! Dates are booked, I've heard, and New Cole or Old Cole or In-between Cole will be, I assume, out there again. On live those rare mortals for it and with it ...

Let the quad fly again! ... At last, some signs that legendary flyer Miguel Vazquez’s quad reign through the excellent 80s still inspires a few ambitious trapezer teasers. Comes now a fresh attempt at capturing the quad being ballyhooed on the new Barnum’s Funundrum show I (that’s a Feld Entertainment property) trying out in the land of seedy greedy Gardens. Hollywood actor and TV doc producer Phil Weyland, now at work on a tribute to Miguel, might have an unexpectedly exciting new chapter to include. Credit the Flying Caceres for chasing after quad glory ... Other press-agentable delights attached to Funundrum include a goat who will “shake your hand” (a lobbyist in disguise?) And a wonderfully wacky assortment of menagerie stars, among which, oh does this tickle my wicked pro-circus animals heart: Watusi Bull, African steer with 3 foot horns, and trick horse Diablo ... You who like your circus raw and pure and smelly and a little dangerous, read on ...

Jumbo, it’s a go! ... Good news for our four legged stars. A judge somewhere in DC said enough is enough to this Tim Rider and his one-man anti-circus campaign, paid for by various radical groups who would have blind dogs freed back to the wilds. Rider had the Felds in court alleging they are in violation of the Endangered Species Act ... Now proclaims a triumphant Kenneth Feld, “... a victory for elephants over those who whose radical agenda, if adopted, could lead to the extinction of the species." Well, whatever you do, guy, don't hold back or go cocky on us. You've still got that nasty video to explain for ...

The Felds Forever? If you’re a fan, here’s another Happy New Century toast. If not, well, you can hang your tears out to dry. They’re not going away any time soon. I am hearing that this new dame named Nicole Feld, whatever she may lack, does not lack bluster. And here comes yet another Feld to the feisty fore, Nichole’s junior sis named Alana Feld.

Why was that last slice so thin? No, no, I’m a provisional Feld fan myself, hoping they can equal or top last years Coney-A Ring. Or was it an aberration? Still not at all convinced they will return.

Let’s return to what got you in here: How do your Gardens Suck, Sarasota? I just couldn’t resist that, thank you Dick and Niles, who make Sid Kellner & Sons look like a touring classroom for high-end Phonroomaholics. Did ‘’ya know that Ice Capades might have lived again, thanks to the foundering Gardens of Canada, who had the Capades half way on ice, and moving, until they ran out of money and let everything melt away. Wonder how much they secretly pocked from that one? Some of the bladstars (as in “bladsters”) complained “of being shortchanged.” Niles Garden, arising out of this latest run in with the law, was released from jail on a tidy $15,000 bond. I say, deport those and so and sos back to the land of Guy Laliberte from whence they came, or maybe they could concoct a promo to beef up lagging Vegas biz at the cirque shows ... Out, Damn Weeds!

Down the Covington Shute: Irvin Feld’s Great Dreamland gone awry, Circus World, holding a reunion down in Davenport (no, not Iowa but Florida) ... Ringmasters in the lights: Jonathon Lee Iverson of Ringling, who never should have been let go in the first place because he had all the right interior ingredients for greatness, is back, and I hope this time they will temper (repeat, temper) his hallelujah hall leanings. I’m looking forward to more honed bombast from the man, thinking he could be another Harold Ronk ... Big Apple Circus takes on a Ringling trained (and honed, me hopes) orator, the youngish Kevin Venardos, another possible plus. I’ve never sampled his syntax or arm waves ... I still maintain that tautly talented tongue-twisting tanbark touters (okay, Jack, that was for you) are hard to come by. How I miss even tautly authoritative, authoritatively august Arthur Springer. Yes, I know, too too wordy.

It’s a New Year, I hear. 2010. Two Thousand Ten. Cheers to the quad-smitten flyers, and to a goat who might shake my humbled hand. And, if it’s really good, refill my tea pot. On to your next blog up the mad midway, folks!....

First posted January 3, 2010

Friday, January 01, 2010

Bring in the New Year, Rose Parade L.A. .... And Welcome Back, Stephanie Edwards!

Fairly sunny skies. A few meddlesome clouds. And those great glorious floats are on parade! ...
Rousing bands and nature’s finest colors in procession. Mostly, I’m elated that KTLA has Stephanie again back in the announcing booth, where she belongs forever. SHE is the voice of sunny California ... Horse and Mules and Marines, from Pickle Meadow, CA.. And what say you, Steph? “They’re wonderful. They’re just wonderful!” Ah, to her you say those words ...

A Samba Carnival float makes me appreciate my Hi Def TV ... And while we’re waiting, did you hear that a DC Judge last week dismissed Tim Rider’s latest complaint against the Ringling elephants, in effect saying, let those pachyderms perform! ...

“Here’s the award winning Marion, OH, Catholic High School band,” [should be Chicago Height, Illinois] and they’re pushing out a proud sound, a cut above, in step with the theme. It's their first Rose Parade . Rainbird’s winning float bears a creature from the wilds that could be Gargantua’s return. Remember when circuses carried big hefty menageries over real dirt and sawdust? ... “They (Arabians) were so highly valued that some European families would protect their horses before they would protect their homes."

World Equestrian Games to be held for the first time this year in the U.S., says Steph to long-time booth partner Bob Eubanks ... Stan Chambers into his 62nd year as a KTLA reporter. Who said LA was only for the young? ... Here comes a great massed band, I could be fine with one band following another. The El Dorado Golden Hawks Band and Color Guard, now THIS is the real thing. I was talking about the good court decision granting Feld’s elephants the right to keep trouping. A gift to all circuses ...

What a band. Oh, did you hear about those wicked Gardens of Sarasota? More offense to the city beautiful. In violation of ethics codes. Something about a New Year’s Eve bash full of wicked weeds. Another con job in the works on the locals? A Garden in Sarasota can be a poisonous plot ...

China making its first show in the parade. Millions of Chinese viewers across the sea watching. Outstanding artistic merit in design and floral presentation.

Back to the sawdust courtroom: Seems the big top Judge considered Mr. Rider, since he is virtually on PETA’s payroll, to be not a credible witness. Rider rides off again without saddle of payoff funds. "Seaweed and onion seed, split peas, sesame seed," notes Steph as another fine float streams into view ... And here's one bearing famous athletic faces, I'd call it Steroid Blossoms, why not? ... Think it's called “where winners eat.” No, no, should be “where winners shoot up.” ... All that football talk bores me, sorry ... Mostly, I'm at my PC for KTLA, now and then glancing at my Hi Def when its not swamped in commercials. Did you know that Ms. Edwards was callously let go a few years back, and all of L.A. raised a royal ruckus. Stephanie was asked back a couple of years later, there is justice in the city of angels and angles ... Torrance takes my eye for flowers on a flower float ...

Here’s something on horses that looks like buffalo Bill is back, with a little help from Max Factor and the folks at the Wax Museum ... The Gardens of circus city, I was saying, what a tawdry shameful act, why are they even allowed into Florida at all? There ought to be a circus exhibit from hell at the Ringling, dishonoring the truly tawdry who have sullied the sawdust. Davenport on a pedestal? The Gardens strapped to Greyhound seats on a bus back to Canada? ... “barn yard of aces, death defying fly-through of a barn." Now that’s dilly, Stephanie, and from Burbank. And here’s the Salvation Army, go Army! The best damn cracking cadence so far ... 72 degrees in Pasadena! I’m envious. Green, Black and White windjammers from Omaha — now there’s a band that reaches my beating heart ... Wonder if my sister Kathy is watching it ...

The Flying Fantasy float from Trader Joe’s, a place I love. Did you know that Joe's began began in Pasadena ...

See you in a jiffy. Still watching and tweeting kind of ...

Back into the tweety twatty moment: Is that a float or Sunrise Valley? A dogie on snow board sliding down a slope! “Special permit not to cover the track with flowers or seeds.” This is the big crowd pleaser. Brass in black and gold from Texas. Solid old music. Solid old state ... City of Dreams from City of Cerritos, topped with a Jester, a la Holidays float from Ringling-Barnum 1955. Might be Miles White sketching back from the grave. Gorgeous design, and a winner of some sort ... what else happening under the white tops? Big Apple Circus hosting a young new ringmaster, fresh off Ringling and happy to be playing near Times Square. He like Ronk sought the Broadway stage. Let’ see if the sawdust stage suits him. So far, I’d call this years processional opus a cut above some others in subtle designs ...

The Valley Hunt Club, founded in 1888, “the city of Anaheim has hit it out of the park with all-star dreams!” Really, why not all-star drugs? ... Sorry about that, Tiger.

Bob and Steph chatting up the Beach Boys. “Members of the L.A. Dolls roller derby team" roll on. Oh bring back roller skates and give up trying to be ice champs on dry blades. Stephanie sees a familiar face: “I think I know. It's the director, who was a little boy when I last saw him, and boy am I feeling very old.” ... Here comes the Cowgirls Historical Foundation. Rodeo ladies who donate thousands of volunteer hours. And now “The most beautiful entry from outside the U.S.” That's, I think, the Guardian of Taiwan. From China Airlines. Now there’s a dragon, the sign of the orient under which I was born. Fire to you all! ... Burn, Gardens, Burn! After Steph and Bob, next thing I love about KTLA? No commercials, and you can rewatach the parade over if you like. In L.A. in the same stream, I think. From their website (KTLA.Com), in a series of video clips ...State of New Mexico, with balloons and cats. Now there’s my Champion float a a cut cut cut above ... What shapes! What colors! ...

“Biggest hot air event, second only to us,” cracks Steph for herself and anchor mate.

Here's a circusy splash with float that might be historic. And another sterling entry from the Orient; a promo for the upcoming Shanghai Expo and on roller blades. “We are being seen live in China for the first time this year,” says Stephanie. Shanghai, most populous city in the world at 16 million, expecting 70 million visitors this summer ... “I am a little surprised it is not carrying a banner in front of it,” opines Stephanie. Here's an inspiration: A Kaiser Permanenete float ridden by kids, each living with life threatening conditions. See that Norton Simon logo on the museum? Top of the line galleries worth a extended stroll, sans cell or twitter ... “Fabulous flowering went into fashioning this fine flock of feathered friends,” said Steph, giggling over the alliteration given her ... orange, lentil, crushed beans, rice ... A rousing band from Marietta Georgia, first here in 2004, “so good they were invited back.” Wonderful shimmering sonority ... And then, did they have to here, now? The squeal of those Scottish musicians.

Bob to Steph, who is married to a Scot: "Does he have a bagpipe?

"No but he’s got the wind for it."

"Jim Morrison was a boy scout," we learn. Air force jets overhead sketch out a skyscape in honor of Gary Decano, the late president of this year’s tournament, who did not live to see the parade over which he presided. And here's a group called something like Danver's Falcon City -- only band ever to appear in three Rose parades, hailing from someplace in Mass.

Sorry to see it coming to an end, but every year, it has to. And so I am about to tweet out or twat off, or twat spat at that ...

City of Glendale tops it of with a bald eagle float.

And here's my favorite parade lady, Stephanie Edwards, with the last word:

"You know what, we’re saying good bye. 2010 is on the run and this is it!"