Thursday, March 31, 2016


 UPDATE, 11:40 am PST:  Read Harry Kingston's comment below ...

News rushed my way from Barry Lipton ...

April 18-21 shows cancelled.

This from a report in the Havelock News:

A frustrated George Cook reported late Wednesday just before press time that the show was off.
“We got confirmation this morning that the circus is cancelling. They are having trouble getting migrant workers to help set it up,” Cook said. They needed 55,000 to get started and they didn’t have it so they just cancelled it for the year. It’s closed for now.”
The show has been off again, on again, this spring. The last word had been that the circus would come without animals, but now the whole show is kaput.
“It’s over. Done,” Cook said.
 Do I hear the fat lady singing?

More may follow.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

SUNDAY MORNING OUT OF THE PAST: Big Tops Battered Round the World: Ramos Circus Patrons Fire Bombed ... West Bank Clown, a Terrorist? ... Come In at Your Own Peril, and Don't Trust the Popcorn!

 Crashing the tent in San Bernardino, 2015: That's where these fanatics took their anger.

War Zone Midways:  Customers exciting the big top following a  Ramos Bros. Circus show in Las Vegas were forced to dodge a Molotov cocktail lobbed in their direction. Luckily, the fire bomb missed its human targets, hitting a truck and shattering into pieces.  The show has been drawing volatile opposition from animal activists, causing cancellation of some dates.

In San Bernardino last year, clowns fought off protesters crashing the tent during a performance.  One of the hot heads threw a megaphone in the face of show owner and ringmaster Oliver Ramos, splitting his lip. Two clowns were injured, two protestors arrested.  “They’ve been getting more aggressive,” Ramos told a reporter.

Snarling Protests in the Big Cage?  Ramos believes he was being harassed by animal fanatics.   I have an idea for a new act:  Those protesters should hire themselves out to circuses as a new breed of wild animal — ready to hiss and snarl and HAVE AT IT in combat with a trainer’s whip, gun and chair -- and in the big cage, of course while the band plays ''Give Peace a Chance."

According to the website Samidoun, a growing international  drive is on to free Abu Sakha.  Several European countries are participating.

Closet clown terrorist?   On the ever-tranquil West Bank, a Palestinian clown, juggler and rope walker, Mohamed Abu Sakha, detained by Israeli police since last December for “renewed activity” with a Palestinian group fighting for liberation from their overlords in Tel Aviv and opposed to peace with them.  Sakha runs a circus school for mentally challenged for kids ... Hard liners seeing more than mirth to his act.  Israeli security forces defending their action for dubious associations. “Abu Sakha was arrested because of intelligence about his recent activities on behalf of the Popular Front.”

Incredible to believe that a circus clown would ever be up to undercover mayhem, claim his defenders.  But, roared back a realist leaving a comment, “What on earth difference does it make that he worked as a clown??? Are all clowns automatically good people???"

Good question, I suppose. Of late, the answer would have to be NO.  Many are the wackos out there who find the funny face a convenient disguise. Stop the show, I want out before my peanuts explode.

No, it’s not funny.  Whatever it is, and it never ends,  pray that somebody out there with the right brain cells can liberate these groups from their perpetual war, and I will tactfully say no more. 

END RINGERS: Will Cole ever roll again?   Nothing up there yet to suggest it will. Website still down, waiting word that the Fat Lady won’t be singing any time soon ... Wild speculation: I wonder if some fans close to Johnny Pugh (the website message -- WE'RE NOT DEAD YET! -- suggests a fan at work) are urging him to take the show out on the road, or others are scrambling to raise money to fund a season reboot or take over ownership or management of the circus. Sir Harry of Kingston:  Sorry but it doesn't look good  ...  Here’s what does not make sense: Why Pugh pushed his pachyderms onto an unfriendly public for so long?  He endured numerous problems and protests, and had to pay a huge fine for something having to do with the transfer of elephants in or out.  

On the big show bandstand, continuedAbout my item on Merle Evans and his musicians who advanced to other venues as well as those from the outside who sat in as guest players, Don Covington remembers how the Evans band was considered “one of the finest musical organizations for its day.”  The maestro, Don tells us, kept in touch with hundreds of musicians in every state, and  many of them were “thrilled to play the show when the circus was in town.” ...  New York Philharmonic's Buster Bailey spoke of his guest time in the band as "a highlight of his career" on the drums ... How much fun drumming under the biggest big top must have been! ...   Looking through my old Ringling-Barnum route books, in a photo of the '55 band I count 26 windjammers .. .

Is that all there is?  Or ever was?   Let's  take a look at Kelly Miller, just for the fun of it: Okay, please, Shirley North II, look the other way.  I dunno.  The not very new edition, a holder over from last year, itself a holdover from the year before, looks rather thinly rehashed.  No?  Lots pinned on their new clown in his second tour, the funny to look at (for sure) Fajolino.  If only he had a better script writer .. . On K-M's Facebook, I found this photos of the old All G. & Kelly Miller Bros. Circus when it came to my neighborhood in Northern California.  How well I recall those festively painted trucks and the dramatic unloading at dawn ...Those were the days -- before circus goers risked fire bombs on their way out, and clowns were not suspected of embarking on suicide walkarounds.

Sorry, Shirley.  Ill try being nicer next time.

first posted March 26, 2016

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Fat Lady Still Ain't Singing on the Cole Roll Watch: Deland Delays, Phone Calls Unreturned, Annual Dates Not Inked Point to Money Troubles at the Top

Cole Bros. 2016 Season Delayed

The Cole Bros. Circus won't be participating in the North Carolina Azalea Festival this year.

DELAND – The annual tradition of the big top setting up in town might not take place this March.
Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars, which normally performs during March in front of the DeLand Municipal Airport, has not applied for a special event permit, according to city spokesman Chris Graham.

The permit must be applied for at least 30 days in advance of an event on city property, Graham said. Last year, for its 131st season, the show brought its clowns, high wire show and elephants to DeLand on March 21 and March 22
“They’re working to put the show out,” said John Mercurio, the circus’s certified public accountant.

The Sarasota accountant said by phone last week the circus does not have a set date yet and it was going to be a late start, but did not give the reason why.

The StarNews of Wilmington, North Carolina, reported earlier this mo
nth that the circus, which had been coming to Wilmington’s North Carolina Azalea Festival for more than three decades, would not be a part of this year’s event. The newspaper reported that in February the festival released a statement saying the circus would not be touring — which was denied at the time by a circus spokesperson.

The website for the circus read Tuesday "We're NOT Dead Yet!" It also states: "It aint over till the fat lady sings."

The phone number listed for the circus online has been disconnected.

A Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter left his phone number last week with people at the circus’s facility on Old New York Avenue, but has not been contacted.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Exit the Elephants: In The Court of Public Opinion, A New Day for The Greatest Show on Earth?

Update, 3/12/16: Early reports have Cole Bros. Circus touring without any animals this year.
Not since the fall of the last Ringling-Barnum big top, in 1956, has the Greatest Show on Earth undergone so great a redefinition of itself.

Once upon a season, Americans counted the stature of a circus by the number of elephants it carried.  And once upon a merrier season, John Ringling North staged an elephant ballet scored by Igor Stravinsky, “choreographed” by George Balanchine.  Another year, he hosted a fashion show atop the pachyderms.

Now the elephants are to exit.  Several years ago, big top boss Kenneth Feld, faced with growing pressure to cease presenting animal acts for which there was mounting evidence of abuse by his presenters, told the media that when the public stopped coming to his shows — then, he would pay attention and act.

Los Angeles takes a stand

Well, in the court of public opinion, that day has come. In the words of Alana Feld, cutting clean to the chase:  "There's been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers.  A lot of people aren't comfortable with us touring with our elephants."

You can blast PETA and its affiliate groups for shameless misrepresentations, but you can’t blast the American public for being turned off by YouTube evidence filmed backstage at Ringling, of apparent callous (if not actually cruel) mistreatment  of a group of elephants being readied to go on.  Here is where Kenneth Feld made his worst strategic blunder.  He claimed the YouTube, posted in 2008, had been misleadingly edited, but then never made good on the claim.  Animal-rights protestors (many of them, understandably bothered by such evidence) still push the video in hand-out leaflets, while standing outside arenas when the circus comes to town.

Kenneth Feld and his lawyers were able to prove liable against the circus by various  animal-rights groups.  But, in the end, they could not explain away the “misleadingly edited” YouTube. And so, for that reason and others, the court of public opinion finally caught up with them.  It caught up with them in Entertainment Central, in this unfaltering instance, not unnoticed by major media, the Los Angeles City Council voting last year to ban the use of elephant bull hooks.  An inconvenient year later, the same thinking spread north to the City of Oakland.  California was fast closing its arena doors to the Greatest Show on Earth.

Feld's fatal testimony

As much as Feld may be a lover of the elephant preservation compound he fosters — or of its imagery to counteract all that noise out there against him, behind the scenes, his elephants handlers, at least on occasion, do not conform to what the public has come to expect.

I actually believed — or wanted to believe — that the man had a genuine love for the elephants.  I also came to believe that he is well aware of things that go on behind his back but has kept free of those things — to the dangerous point of not wishing to be regularly apprised by his staff  —  in order not to have to testify against himself or his operation.  Indeed, this practice leaked out in his testimony before a judge when Feld admitted to not always been informed of such actions.  How blatantly it contradicted the man’s alleged high concern for animal abuse in his own house. In that one stunning revelation, I lost faith in the man’s sincerity.

And what about the other shows?

Ringling Bros. is still the Big One.  The Big Show. And it is filthy rich -- a well-earned testament to  its skill in production and marketing. .  The Feld family is apparently loaded with producing talent to last for future generations.  Theirs is the circus that draws most of the major media attention, and so the question: Will other smaller big tops be forced by pressure or declining patronage in their own markets to follow suit?   They may be able, each, to make a case for themselves and their animal trainers, but to do this, they will have to separate themselves from those nasty videos that will not go away -- from the Ringling YouTube and, even more so, from the more lethally damming strip of film, secretly made years before, of Tim Frisco going nuts in a Carson and Barnes Circus barn, viciously breaking in a group of pachyderms.  

These things can not be talked away.    Sadly, they will hurt the efforts of all trainers, no matter how ethical they may be, to continue training and presenting wild animals.    Perhaps the saddest part of this tale is how our nation’s most famous and long-lasting circus turned out itself to be have been a prime contributor to the anti-animal cause.

The ever changing, never changing circus has a way

They said Barnum was done when Jumbo died (a line from the film, The Greatest Show on Earth).  They said the tented circus was done when John Ringling North, in 1956, declared it “a thing of the past.” But his dire pronouncement clarified,  “as it then exists.” North alluded to the colossal costs incurred in operating a three-train railroad show, a mammoth enterprise increasingly difficult to fund and move from city to city, where nearby parking lots were growing scarcer.   

A new day for the Greatest Show on Earth?

There can be little doubt that the animal rights movements ultimately drove down attendance at Ringling dates.  Where once they played to ten thousand on good nights, now the number was closer to half that (my best guess).

Now, Ringling-Barnum stands to benefit the most from Feld’s decision.  Indeed, it may be facing a glorious new era of rebounding parsonage , as parents adverse to elephant acts flock once again to the circus, their children happily in toe.  Horses and dogs?  A pig through a barrel?  A monkey peddling a bike?   The public will have no problem at all embracing these types of acts.  For years Big Apple Circus has done well enough featuring horses and dogs. 

Droves of families who have stayed a way will no doubt return, wanting to enjoy a circus that still knows how to find the best acts in the world, and how to shape and merge them into dazzling spectacle long associated with the glory days of the three ring American circus, albeit without those three rings. 

The story is not over  

Kenneth Feld's best move would be to sign the UK’s Thomas Chipperfield, who has become something of a poster boy for how tigers and lions can be humanely trained, what with his home made videos showing him at work with his charges.  Especially at this sensitive moment in Ringling history, Chipperfield would be a great asset to the new Greatest Show on Earth,  Don’t count out the millions of parents, even of the liberal class, who want their children to witness uplifting interactions between man and beast.

In the beginning, In London Town, there were horses.  There were no elephants.  Perhaps that is where we are headed for, back to the beginning.

So say goodbye — for a while — to the elephants on parade!   And pray they may one day return.   In the court of public opinion, inevitably, a good case made for a good act kindly trained and cared for will have its day.  The court is never fully adjourned.

Photos, from the top down:

Ringling Bros. finale at Madison Square Garden, Circa 1954
Kenneth Feld and his three producing daughters
Richard and Edith Barstow, Ringling directors, with a baby elephant ready for its carriage ride in  the  1955 production number, featuring 55 pachyderms, Mama's in the Park -
Baby Opal, Polack Bros. Circus, 1955
Elephant pyramid at the recent Monte Carlo International Circus Festival, Monaco

First posted March 7, 2015.  So much has happened in so little time.    

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On A New Cole Roll ... Johnny Pugh's Website Has a Pulse!

We're NOT Dead Yet!

Check Back Soon For News
It aint over till the fat lady sings.
Thanks for your support.

That there above is what you'll now find if you go to their website.

I can feel your red wagon heart beating, Johnny Come Lately!

Slate in NC tickled me over there to see for myself.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

MIDWAY FLASH! ... MIDWAY FLASH! ... America's Biggest Big Top Calling it Quits? Cole Bros.Circus Cancels 2016 Tour, Per NC Azalea Festival

Update 3/6/16 3:55 pm PST:  
This just in from Barry Lipton: "Perhaps another ominous sign.  Renee Storey's Facebook profile now lists her as working for the Diocese of Orlando.  Up through last year, she was the long time Vice President for Administration for Cole Bros."

North Carolina Azalea Festival reporting that Cole Bros. Circus will not be touring in 2016.

They claim that word came to them from Cole Bros. itself.

According to Star News Online, the Festival issued a release on Feb. 11 reporting the news.  However, on the same day, circus spokesman Bill Carter denied the claim.

The show's website is currently off line.  However, a message appears, "we are currently updating this site."

Festival officials tried reaching Cole office -- main telephone number was disconnected.

Cole played the Festival for over 30 years.

I'll keep following this story, first brought to my notice by Barry Lipton.

Cole title goes back to 1884, same year the five Ringling brothers started up their own circus.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Big Toppings: Kelly Miller Shuns Texas Mud ... SUNDAY MORNING OUT OFTHE PAST: Walker Resists Tiny Fine for Tragic Tent Collapse .. New Flick Toasts Quad King Miguel Vazquez ... Student Circus Pioneer Paul Pugh Dies ... And More on the Inside!

Out of the mud, at last? ... Kelly Miller Circus moving back its opening to merry March rather than ferocious February, when for seasons it’s opened in Texas, often stuck in muck under lashing wind and rain.  Apparently, North II and Royal I have had enough of the stoic trouping through weather’s madness ...  On their website, show this year looks to be show last year, minus a few departures including tiger guy Ryan Holder, he slated to work the big Baraboo summer date, along with two other K-M alumni, clown chums Steve Copeland and Ryan Combs.  The duo appear to be shucking aside greasepaint for a new comedy act, Nothing but Nonsense.  Maybe a good career makeover given how, these days, big top buffoons are equated with x-cons in funny faces on parole or on a rampage 

Walker Bros. Circus Fights Small Potatoes fine for tragic tent collapse:   AP reporting that show is contesting more than $33,000 in penalties proposed by Fed Officials.  The small Sarasota-based circus was sited by OSHA for failure to use mandated tent stakes and to heed “severe weather and high wind warnings” The whip-lashed  tent toppled on August 3, only minutes after the show had started at the Lancaster Fairgrounds in New Hampshire, killing two people and injuring over 50, among a crowd inside the tent numbering about 100 ... Robert Young, 41, and his 6-year-old daughter, Annabelle, died on August 3. Said a spokesman for OSHA, “They did not reach a resolution, so the company is contesting the citation.”  I’m wondering:  How much would be fair, in the view of the Walker office, for the death of two people traced directly to its gross negligence?  A few hundred dollars? ...Free tickets and peanuts for a make up date?  A Lifetime Pass on the pony ride?... The mind reels ... And, now let the mind fly backwards through time to a better day under the big tops ...

First Flight Impressions.  New doc on quad king Miguel Vazquez, The Last Great Circus Flyer, has its crowning moments, opening on a compelling note framed around the images of three rings and the poster of a lion, with a narrator''s voice stating, "I do know why the circus isn't the same."  The poignant feeling conveyed by film maker Phillip Weyland, the voice we hear, lends a sense of the great American circus  having vanished   And it makes for a grabbing premise.   But instead, his central focus falls upon Vazquez family life, much of it tediously mundane.  Meandering result makes for an overly long salute weak on narrative force.  On the plus side, to his credit Weyland draws effectively upon old film footage from TV news programs and actual circus performances.

Most memorable is the scene of Miguel at Monte Carlo Circus Festival, having failed several attempts at the quad and finally, now suffering from a bad shoulder, still making one last effort, and making it.   His form is as riveting as the feat itself.  Never have I seen a flyer’s body compose so perfect and fluid a line – the image borders on the surreal. Among those interviewed helping to tell the story (I was one), Tony Steele, seen above with Miguel and Juan Vazquez, steals the show. Armando Farfan, Jr. cuts a cool and knowing figure. Others like fizzy Jon Weiss add cheer to the toast.  Seems  a pity that Weyland  did not engage a writer, who might have imposed the discipline and restraint which the final cut sorely lacks.   Nonetheless, fans may value Phillip Weyland’s adoring contribution to a great chapter in American circus history.

END RINGERS: From the rough and tumble bandstand of Ringling’s tootmaster Merle Evans came a number of windjammers who later advanced to more prestigious posts. Such as Harvey Phillips, who  played for Merle as a teenager, becoming one of the greatest tuba players in the world.   In reverse, there were A-Class musicians like Buster Bailey,  principal percussionist with the NY Philharmonic, spending guest time in the band, sometimes to fill in for others.  And reveling in the ride.  This fanfare trumpeted my way from A Voice in the Wilderness ... Sticking to sawdust, other famous Ringling alumni include Boom Boom Browning, who stirred up a fresh excitement with more jazzy charts for Beatty-Cole,  and William Pruyn, a long time Irvin Feld musical arranger and bandleader.  Seems like if you could it in the Merle Evans band, you could make it anywhere ... Did you know that Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Jones was born to the Tulsa, Oklahoma family of circus operators Flora Mae and Phillip Ross Isley?  And why does the name ring a bell in my brain?  Can you name the circus?  Isley Bros?

The passing recently of Paul Pugh, a pioneer in summer student circus shows out of Wenatchee, WA, where he produced them for 65 years, will be missed by many.  Heck of a nice guy ...  Lastly, remembering the young lives of so many whom Paul Pugh inspired, here are photos of some.  For me, these images symbolize the pure youthful joy of discovering  circus magic.  It's a joy to be found here, locally, on Circus Bella; before that, on the old Pickle Family Circus.  Considering the majority of pictures that I googled up, it seems clear that Paul -- or his students -- favored the aerial arts. And how accomplished they look! 

first posted March 1, 2016