Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun, Or So It Seems ...

Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun,  Or So It Seems ...
Kijome Hara with the World’s Smallest Man and Wini McCay

Friday, February 24, 2012

Showbiz Shimmers: Bette Davis Forever ... Not so Hot in Cleveland? ... Marilyn Monroe's Elephant Ride ... South Shore Band's Sure Spell ...

First Draft Feckless ...
Flashing Friday High, in no particular order: I'm watching so many movies because Netflix nearly gives them away, for those of us who turn them around fast. I see two a week. Bette Davis in Old Maid, loved her sympathetic portrayal, but also the tight escalating scripting. To think how she ranges from the horrific B---H in Of Human Bondage -- I mean, really, people, could anybody be as stupidly groveling to the sadistic tramp she essays as is pathetically smitten Leslie Howard? I'll admit in my days of going here and there late nights, I dipped pretty low in the department of Being Used, but never so low as goes poor Leslie ... Which makes the film more farcical than anything else ...

Gene Autry, yes that Gene! I never appreciated you until now. By mistake, thinking I'd ordered another Roy Rogers (no, I'm not a groupie, just checking him out to compare now to then -- when in my wee days I enjoyed him on the big screeen), instead came a Gene in the red envelope, and am I glad I watched despite at first not wanting to: Springtime in the Rockies, great little entertainment! In many ways, I found it superior to the three or four Rogers movies I've watched. Something about it hooked me and kept me engaged ...

Not so Hot in Cleveland? Just read the season will continue (I'm a fan, even when a guest so boring as the aging rocker who CAN'T ACT Huey Lewis gets too much air time), but I see they are loading the shows to come with celebrities like Regis who might add more bounce ... Susan Luccie sure does, this out of work-Erica Cane should become at least a semi-regular, she is so, true to her character, deviously amusing ...I read the second season pulled in not many more watchers than half of those who tuned in to the first season. Blame it on some very weak scripting, but lately the jokes and situations have come packed with zingers ...The obvious star, even topping (sorry, Betty) Betty White, is Wendie Matlick, who plays an over-the-hill out of work soap opera queen.

Where am I going with this? No where really, so let's go circus. Marilyn Monroe's elephant ride at Ringling-Barnum opening night, 1955 at The Garden, is now a terrific YouTube tease. I'd hoped for footage of the show itself, but none is there. cleavage galore. So, If you can't get enough of this sex goddess, here's your ticket to a good time in front of your PC. (I won't take that any further) ...

They egg me on: Thank you, M.A.D. and John Herriott for charming me into maybe trying to add more items to the post about lingo for New Circus. Gotta get back into that exact grove ...

Did I promise you an Evans Fanfare? So lets' tour the Lanes of Talburt, with his latest video on the windjammers up there in New England ... I'm going to now take a listen to the and be back in a jiff to post a reaction ... I'm back: Nice easy listen. Fanfaring on still is 88-year old Richard Whitmarsh, who leads the South Shore Concert Band in S.E. Mass, and has been for over four decades. The pulse of circus is ever at the forefront; Merle Evans stood in around 1972 and evidently cast a lasting spell over the group, to the tune of turning out, as of the latest count, a staggering 58 albums. My belated respect for Whitmarsh is derived from the group's Sounds of the Circus albums which feature original Ringling scroing during the last canvas days, recently sent my way by Sarasota friend Ken Dodd (to whom I dedicated my book, Inside the Changing Circus) ... There were some wonderful tunes composed back then, some of them by melodically gifted John Ringling North himself. In fact, I like his "On Honolulu Bay" (given a luscious lilt here by South Shore) much more than a ditty that has never quite won me over, "Lovely Luawana Lady." More Ringling originals, please, Maestro! Thanks to Lane Talburt for apprising us of the South Shore music man ..

OK, so I finally got carried away. Heck, I'm going to pop that CD in right now and play it again.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Big Top Bits: Carson & Barnes Raises Stakes ... Kelly Miller Ends Drought in TX ... Judge Lifts Atlanta Ban on Ringling Elephants ... And More!

The Ringling elephants on parade in DC, 2006

Mixing it all up, for those out there at the platform, silent and curious, voyeurs of whatever it is you can't stay away from. OK, here we go! ...

American University grad student Guy Palace (fab name), interviewing me (along with Kenneth Feld and Paul Binder, but not together -- High Company, would you not say, for them?) for a Master thesis he's undertaking about how circuses market themselves. Fun telephone chat. Got me to thinking, what a subject Guy is addressing: Once upon a season, the big tops pitched exotica, incredible feats of magic, strange animals to big crowds; Lately, it seems they've defaulted to the kid angle wrapped in the American flag, the Big Sacred Holiday, spreading free or discounted tickets for the kiddies, pulling in families into the concession pits -- in brief: from midway grift long ago, to boiler room charity rackets hitting infamy in the 1970s, to designer snow cones today.

Know what? I fear its a diminishing demographic. Even new Big Apple Circus chief Guillaume Dufresnoy recently aired his regret with a reporter that, unlike over there in Europe, where adults attend circuses, here it's mostly kids and parents. Yes, when did the single adults lose interest? Study the old photos and see if there weren't more grown ups without kids sitting in the seats.

Scholars in the spotlights: Sponsored by the Circus Historical Society will be, annually, the Stuart Thayer Prize to "encourage the highest quality of research, scholarship and writing" focused on American circus history. Nice idea and reach. I am waiting for CHS, in particular Bandwagon's new editor Fred Pfening III, to actually commit in some form of monograph or consensus among CHS historians, over a "best of" list of the top circus history books. Pfening made disappointingly clear recently that he is not high on a book I have long admired, Earl Chapin May's -- wonderful read, in my opinion --The Circus From Rome to Ringling. If not that the tome, then what the one or ones, Mr. Pfening?

Carson & Barnes very much in motion, sings new marketing man Dan Acree, e-mailing me his enthusiasm for the season ahead: "Barbara Byrd has raised the stakes and has committed C&B to keeping the family on the road." New show about to hit the dirt "has completely revamped everything from its brand to the way it market and sells tickets." A more "sophisticated approach" is promised. I am hoping this will extend to the performance itself. I would love to see a turnaround for this proud old show, under whose canvas in years gone by I've witnessed some of my most memorable circus shows, believe it or not. So there. Their revamped website has an expansively impressive look.

Atlanta Judge sides with the elephants. Despite animal control laws in the city outlawing the use of bull hooks, the pachyderms will perform. A Fulton Superior Court Judge issued a temporary restraining order lifting a ban on bull hooks issued by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners -- another victory for the Felds. They do well before judges; not nearly so in the court of public opinion.

New trendy outfit in Chicago marketing more than just frivolous average non-thinking entertainment: Organized by David and Diana Maas, it's called "The Windy City Circus: A Circus With a Purpose." It's a non profit, and did 'ya know, Circus Vargas is technically a non profit, too? A rather strangely ill-known fact.

Okay, I was just about to self-ban my cheap shots at the mud known to vex the Kelly-Miller lots (this year no exception -- so far), but then came e-mail provocation from show manager James Royal, from which I merrily quote: "The people of the Brownsville are delighted we are here in more ways than one. We ended their drought ... honestly." Perhaps North II and Royal I can market their show as the circus that lifts all crippling droughts into fertile lakes of fresh promise!

So, no more cracks about mud again -- unless the Royal of Royal asks for it.

And that's a rainy day wrap.

Put your mud away for another day: Kelly Miller the last day in Brownsville. Photo from Steve Copeland's blog.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Monte Carlo Flash: And the Winning Bidder for "Inside the Changing Circus" ... Is! ... German Circus Fan ... Rolf Lehmann!

There's my book, standing proud (as it appears to my unbiased eyes, of course) on display in Monaco a trio of weeks ago during the Silent Auction event of the Monte Carlo Circus Festival.

The photo was made available to me, thanks to the Federation's executive director, Laura van er Meer. She's the one who invited me to send along a signed copy for participation.

So my great dream of Guy Lalibetre, Cirque du Soleil's billionaire owner, snatching the book up for a cool $1 million -- with yours truly pledging a penny for every thousand bucks he put on the table -- was not to be.

Who knows, my letter to the Cirque king may still be in mystic transit somewhere up within the creative catacombs of Montreal. When several years ago I wrote to Laliberte, three times, for an interview, they, not he, got back to me nearly one year later, offering the chance to interview not Laliberte but the Director of Creation. Then I submitted some sample questions, which evidently ruffled their collassol confidence. And they pulled out. Are people in the highest places the most afraid of answering questions? I've heard of such mortals being interviewed in the presence of their PR operatives, who could at any time advise (in essence order them) not to answer particular questions. Incredible.

But, my little book did itself respectfully proud, it did! I'm told it had a taker, winning bid going to Germany's Rolf Lehmann, one of the founders of the German Circus Friends Association, a translator and a private collector. Said Sandy at BearManor Media, "I'm glad just the right person was the winning bidder." Good point.

The price? Well, it was far far from the $1 million I was banking on from Guy. Okay, going clean, it's like this, folks: If I told you the actual price, I would risk spoiling any mutual fantasies we may share.

I am pleased that it was adopted by a foreigner, because I would like to believe that Inside the Changing Circus may have lasting world-wide appeal. For example, it is doing very well in Canada on Amazon. It hit the number 7 spot about a week ago among a hundred circus titles.

As for Sandy's remark, "the right person," indeed, for I appreciate a significant boyhood connection to the German circus scene. You see, among a handful of thrilling circus stars who turned me into an instant fan (yes, believe it or not, I too am a circus fan), two are German icons — juggler Francis Brunn and the Wallendas. Only in recent years, did I learn that Brunn was not French but German, which I had all along, for some lazy reason, believed!

In the book’s preface, I acknowledge how they may have turned me into a picky circus critic: “When you are exposed to such mesmerizing artistry at so young and impressionable an age, you grow up haunted with an attitude of grand entitlement.”

Thanks and Cheers, Mr. Lehmann!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Kelly Miller Hits the Road Today! ... New Tent, New Gags and Glitter, Fresh Mud?

The new big top. Photo by Steve Copeland, off his blog.

Here's a happy wish, that it's a good season ahead. Trucks fancied up in new artwork. Brand new big top rising, we assume ("we" is really I), proud and tall. Brownsville, TX hosts Day 1. A great new season ahead, naturally a reason to sing a happy song, and may there be no sorrow tomorrow!...

John Ringling North II on the lot, supervising the whole thing. Jim Royal nearby, dispensing good cheer and counting ticket stubs.

Cast working on music cues. Clowns Copeland and Combs polishing off new giggle gags on the company and drawing laughs (for a clown, the oxygen of life)

And why am I trying to write this in 1940s three dot Broadway gossip style? Cause it's fun, I suppose. It's my inner Walter Winchell dot dot dotting ...

I keep telling North and Royal, please bring your act out my way. (Will somebody show them a map of the West Coast? At least the way to L.A.????)

North the Sequel and Royal the Original sharing a look at my little blog. North II bumping into more than one shamelessly self-serving pitch for a certain book about the changing circus (available on Amazon.Com, in case I forgot to tell you) .. . And North II chuckling out, "and he complains about the peanut pitch!" Sayz Royal in sending it along, "though you might enjoy that."

I kind of laughed. I sent those fearless dudes a copy of the book, in thanks for their letting me use K-M photos. My inscription expressed a wish that we might sometime crack Peterson Peanuts together (not my idea, North II broached it in a letter to me from Ireland last year) ... Yes, I said that. I keep reminding myself of how Paul Horsman proudly defends the old gritty show-stopping grinds; in fact, he is quoted in The Big Book [Note to myself: Give it a break. DLH! You and your incessant ballyhoo are pathetic! End of note to myself -- but it works ...]

Where there is PR, there is hope. Well, at least, momentary self-delusion. What would life be without our wonderfully feel-good fantasies? Bring on the jugglers, the clowns and the elephants!

Though you might enjoy that.

So Ringling has dragons, Kelly Miller pirates. Big Apple, pigs and parakeets. Carson and Barnes, Byrds for you? (I'm laughing, pardon me). May you all be blown over by big crowds, swamped at the concession stands, and spared those embarrassing late-night attachments (not the hot number who gave you the eye, no, the sheriff).

Sunday, February 05, 2012

First Signed Copy to Boyi -- Showbiz David's Special International Consultant

[World wide popularity, 2/5 update: The book reached the top 10 selling circus books on Amazon Canada.]

Boyi Yuan, above, helped in so many practical ways, not the least being traveling to China with me in 2010, where we attended some of the cutting edge acrobatic troupes in Shanghai and Beijing. If you go: Be sure to catch ERA Intersection of time in Shanghai, and the Flying Acrobatics Show in Beijing. Both privately funded and produced. Both advancing ancient Chinese traditions into exciting new directions and production formats.

Having pledged the first signed copy of my new the book, Inside the Changing Circus: A Critic's Guide, to Boyi, I ran it down to his job last December -- only a day after I had sent several copies to others that would not reach them for at least another day -- suddenly realizing I must get it into Boyi's hands then in order for him to actually have the promised copy. (It got me some free tea.)

A few nights ago, when Boyi came by to visit me, we looked at the most recent blog; I wanted him to see what Steve Copeland had posted. I had asked Boyi to select among a few images of Steve and his partner Ryan. I gave Boyi the final say, believing that sometimes the eye of an outsider can put things into clear perspective. I think he got it right, for the photo conveys classic clown action.

Boyi also choose between two photos of Barbette, and he made a sensible case for the image I selected of new Big Apple Circus artistic director Guillaume Dufresnoy.

Some of the pictures we took in China are in the book, not to push them at all, but because I simply could not get permission from any sources in China to reprint photos, and these images tend to illustrate key points I wished to make.

Sensing my keen desire to use an image of a "sensual silks" duo (I had a great one from a Chinese program magazine, but not the permission) at my place one evening before the computer, Boyi pulled up the image you see below in the book. From where, I wondered? To my surprise, he had produced it by watching a video he took at the Charming Acrobatics Show in Beijing and freeze framing a sequence. Thus, the moon-like image in the background against which are cast the shadows of the aerialists, and the impression, to my eyes, of a shoreline, all of this from a very bare stage in a show not privately funded or produced.

Thanks, Boyi!

Friday, February 03, 2012

A Great Movie to Watch, to Discover: The Great Ziegfeld

24 Minute Review

It seems only fitting that MGM should have ended up the king of movie musicals, considering what a superlative job the studio did in 1936 at turning out a bio on the life of Broadway showman Florenz Ziegfeld.

Netlfix is so affordable, I've been watching about every old movie musical they've got, and a lot of them are a little trying when not singing or dancing. But this one! Did this one blow me away. Count among its many assets, a parade of great old vaudeville stars. Marvelous production numbers, good songs, amazingly well paced for a three hour epic -- I was skittish at the outset, what kind of a slog was I in for? The film moves remarkably well. Credit the tight and focused direction of Robert Z. Leonard, who avoids most of the corny cliches in which Hollywood tuners of the era wallowed. This movie offers an intelligent -- dare I say, even balanced -- account (said to be remarkably accurate for the most part) of Ziegfeld's flamboyant stage shows and his epic gambles, going from pennies to fortunes, up and down the neon ladders of Old Broadway.

Supporting stars? Ray Bolger's dance alone is worth your money and time. Has it got a helluva payoff, folks! Fanny Brice as herself. Will Rogers (though very little of what made him an icon), Eddie Cantor, and all those dazzling dames.

Top kudos must go to actor William Powell, perhaps turning in the best role of his career. And secondary cheers to the lovably self-amusing Frank Morgan as Ziegfeld's principal life-long rival, Jack Billings. In the end, the two, now down and broke, share a most tender moment of reminiscence.

The show's got humor and loads of entertainment, and a touching story of a man bewitched and bewildered by so many gorgeous and grasping hoofers on the make, finally settling for Billie Burke, played with intelligent understanding by an actress I may have never seen, Myrna Loy.

All I can say is, if you like the era, if you like movie musicals, it's worth your time.

Yes, you will find on Rotten Tomatoes as I did that it doesn't get much respect. Totally amazing to me, it is so refreshingly unlike the typical film show of the day -- meaning great song dances stuck together with laboriously long flat dialogue scenes. Here is the tale of a man who started out working for Buffalo Bill Cody. and ended up producing SHOWBOAT.

Which brings me to my only quibble. They give it scare attention in the end, deferring wisely to a few refrains of "Old Man River." I wish they had dramatized the making of this great musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, for which Ziegfeld deserves and still receives lasting respect and admiration. Showboat, totally atypical for the type of show he produced, is still by some regarded as the greatest of all American musicals, and is generally credited for bringing to fruition the "book show," in which songs actually and seriously advance significant character and plot developments.

The movie won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 1936.
Four solid stars from me. I'll watch it again -- and again.