Saturday, April 26, 2014

Lazy Saturday Samples: In Mark Twain's Time Before Clowns Went Penal ... the Mister Mistin Mystery ... Celebs Shun Big Tops, NO? ...

 Cry, clown, cry: You are now a certified creep, appearing in, but not limited to, horror flicks, shady flea markets, and carny dark rides.

Yes, they once were adored, those now edgy clowns who drive some people into panic mode:  I've been reading Mark Twain's wonderful book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and in it, there is this, starting with Tom, talking to Becky:

"I've been to the circus three or four times---lots of times.  Church ain't shucks to a circus.  There's things going on at a circus all the time.  I'm going to be a clown in the circus when I grow up."

"Oh, are you!  That will be nice.  They're so lovely, all spotted up."

Remember the here-today, gone tomorrow forever Mister Mister?  Boy wonder on the xylophone, whom John Ringling North had over hamming it up in the center ring for but one season?   He might have charmed, that's what I hear on tapes of the show, but after a tour, he was out the door.   Advance forward by decades, and here is Bob Good,  son of the late photographer Robert D. Good (many of whose photo packages I bought as a kid fan), asking me, of all people, if it might be true that Mister Mistin, in a career makeover, changed his name to Ralph Head?   Anybody out there hip to this thread?  Makes no sense to me, but it's a fun question to pose.... "In the late 60's," writes Bob, Jr, "I was watching Hollywood Palace in a bar and a guy does Mistin's act. His name was Ralph Head." ... Even though Good was told by Tim Tegge that Head was NOT Mistin, Good continues to fancy the notion otherwise. All of which blurs by me like a hazy hollow rumor.  "Anyway, it is just fun to try to get to the bottom of this."  Are you feeling vaguely connected to a wisp of a wish?  Sorry, Bob, I did my best.

BUT ... hold your giggles.  Upon further investigation into Good's misty Mistin missive, there is this intriguing connection:  "Mistin in the 53 route book had a name with the initials RH.  Roland dHaaveloose.  What a coincidence."  Yes!  I Guess?  So, let me check my route book for primal verify:  Indeed, among three names under "Mistin Troupe," two of them end in d'Haaveloose: Gustave and Roland."  And why am I doing this?  Pardon my laugh, I half don't know why!   Let's go somewhere else ...

The late Princess Margaret, escorted by Martin Lacey into Gerry Cottle's Circus, circa 1980s

How young they once were: Rod Stewart and Elton John paying a visit to Billy Smart, Jr and his wife Hannalore. 

More wondering why:   Why don't big celebs go to circuses anymore?   Author Douglas McPherson, from across the Big Pond, sharing with me the above photos of British celeb being seen at circuses, many seasons ago, or around circus folk.  There's Margaret, sister of the Queen Who Never Dies, and there, in the other image, a very young Rod and Elton.   (Oh, how I cry for poor Charles, waiting to take his expected place, fearing HE may go before SHE.).   Remember when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey opened at the Garden, and a parade of A-list movie stars joined the show to raise money for charity?  ...  I'm thinking, what a lovely break for the circus were Prince William, Kate and little Prince George (a perkly little fellow) to make a day of it under canvas.  The whole world would be watching! Or might it be that the Royals have "issues" with big tops today? ... All we need is for Prince George to get all wide-eyed around a sawdust ring, and all bets are off ...

John Ringling North and Joseph Cotton, opening night at the Garden, 1954.

END RINGERS:  Nice guy Nik Wallenda, far as I know, showing up to greet and meet students at Illinois State University's Gammi Phi Circus, featured speaker For American Red Cross Heartland Evening of the Stars.  Translated  A fund raiser.  All those academic words, I should get paid per word, if I were paid at all.   Nik's message:  "Never give up on your dreams." ... He helped hoist Harris Carr, 11, onto the wire ... Circus World's new ringmaster-in-chief Scott O'Dlonnell telling the Wisconsin State Journal, last year they ended up in the black.  Most impressive move, he's designing "new strategic marketing partnerships with other attractions in the Dells."  Translated: a tie-in.  BTW,  I once suggest to the Maureen Brunsdale, who heads up the Special Collections section of the Milner Liibrary at ISU --- why not elevate your old-world mandatory photo credit lines ("used with permission of this and that, under arrangement with, division of... ")?  Why not simply "courtesy of the Milner."  Doesn't that sound more suave, chic, cool?  The Milner.  As cool almost as Bettmann Archives.  Even Tegge Circus Archives.  Tim started out parading his full name, and wisely whittled down to something more smart, sharp, with a lean and a pulse.

Returning to the Mistin matter, Bob, this just hit my brain -- in the bar that night, what were you drinking?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Ageless Delight Knows No Borders, Needs No Translations


World circus day makes me feel proud to be a circus fan.

Proud to share the spirit of those for whom this day holds a special meaning, from bloggers to big top lords.

Proud to know that people in high places, as well, love the circus arts as I do.

To know that I can sit at a circus anywhere in the world and, without speaking the language of the person next to me, yet be able to share with that person the same intense emotions over an act exceptionally performed.

World Circus Day gives me a feeling of belonging to a global community of like-minded souls.   Of being connected to the young on the rise, and to the older artists still contributing – all of them sharing a  passion that I discovered as a youngster growing up, enchanted,  around the rings of Polack Bros. and Ringling, of Clyde Beatty and John Strong and Big Apple – and later, around the rings of Russia as a visitor, and then of Cirque du Soleil, still later, in Beijing and Shanghai thrilling to the same timeless wonders, infinitely varied,  cast in fresh colors, settings, and sounds.

World Circus Day: A good moment to thank Princess Stephanie, following gloriously in the footsteps of her father Prince Rainier,  and all those out there striving to make this day a respected annual date on the world calendar.

To look at these pictures is to behold the magic that keeps us coming back.

It's a very good day! 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Big Top Bits: Big Apple's Ringmaster Kane on Themes and Acts .... Will Kelly Miller's Mysterious Juggler Show? ... Mickey Rooney Silent Circus Film to be Restored.

Randomly on Parade! ...

Mickey Rooney, who just left us, got his first starring gig in a circus ring, did you know?  You now do.  Twas in a 1927 silent film, Mickey's Circus, recently discovered along with a slew of other long-missing silents.  San Francisco based National Preservation Film Foundation, partnering with EYE Film Museum of Amsterdam, planning to bring the films back onto screens.  No doubt filmed in Los Angeles, I look as always for authentic background set pieces, thinking parts of the old Al. G. Barnes Circus, which spent winters in movie-land, may show ... Mickey was just six years old at the time when he was signed to play the ringmaster of a kid's circus.  For a period,this pint-sized dynamo was the highest paid and/or most popular film star.

Waiting for Kelly Miller to produce the mysterious Ethiopian bounce juggler, Abrham Gebre pitched my way by James Royal favoring me (a veiled tease, it felt) with info on new acts, some time back:  "... has appeared with Mother Africa, European shows, and dd the winter season for Cirkus Scott in Sweden."  Now,  that's a pretty impressive venue record.  The Kelly Miller website, under "2014 show," still lists last years acts. Evidently, Steve and Ryan are still on the show.   Go figure, somebody.  If there is anything John Ringling North II is without a doubt weak on, it is marketing, advertising, PR.  Some simply call it "the front end."

Big Apple Circus's apparently winning ringmaster, John Kennedy Kane, a shuffling off to Buffalo native, said to be in talks to extend his contract by another season, which would keep him aboard through the 2016 tour.  I wonder if he is that good. I hope.  Says he, to the Patriot Ledger up Boston way, on the tenuous subject of themes and story lines, "Sometimes I don't think you need the theme.  These are the best circus acts from around the world ... the Academy Award winners of circus acts."  That's not a spin, either.  Wonder if the Ethiopian bounce juggler is pitting Big Apple against Kelly Miller?

End ringers:  Did you know there is a circus out there called Ramos Bros?.  They've got what sounds like a perky little troupe, family acts and a "very funny dog" who performers with its master, Colombian clown Pollo Ronco ... The fading, chipped, and all-to-often ignored  plaques at Sarasota's Circle of Fame (and Infamy)  to be restored to "their pristine original condition," thanks to a delicious $100,000 donation by Herta Klausner of the famed bear family troupe (they charmed me as a kid).  The Circle is curiously unknown to many locals there, well, to the bus driver who once drove me in that direction, never having heard of the place! ...

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The New York Times Damns Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna With Faint Praise, Smart Reservations

Cirque's latest touring show, a pretentiously decorated and directed drag high on allusions to some great theme, did not fool me. It did not fool the San Francisco critics.

And neither has it fooled the New York Times.

About the strongest positive from critic Claudia La Roco, there is this:

"But the display of female strength (as in biceps and triceps and quads, oh my) is nonetheless a lovely thing. There are no damsels in distress here, despite the aforementioned pesky lizard man.

Her not-so-hot assertions:

"It’s possible, then, that you won’t connect emotionally to “Amaluna,” the latest Cirque du Soleil extravaganza to roll into New York."

"Beyond this feminist gloss, is there anything to be said about “Amaluna” that you couldn’t guess? Not really. It may be a new production, but it’s an old formula, a giant machine of a spectacle with (unfortunately tedious) clowning thrown in, and lots of sound and light and quick set changes to keep things moving in a blur."

As I wrote last year, in my own review,  having now seen two Cirque duds in a row -- Totem and then Amaluna, next time they call, I'm waiting to see what the S.F. critics write before I decide to go or not to go.

The thrill is gone.