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

Monday, April 30, 2018

The War of the Apps: A Version of Windows I Would Like to JUMP OUT

First Draft Furious: Getting  ready to hit the rails, I was drawn to a Dell dazzler (if the reviews are to be believed) called XPS 13.  Very light weight, and that’s mostly what I wanted.  Also, connection to the net -- I avoid going near the net with my beloved 10-year-old Dell 14" Vostro laptop with Windows XP -- no longer supported by Microsoft.

Came the XPS and with it, Windows 10.  And with it, all sorts of overactive little devils.  First to annoy me, a new visitor called Cortana, who pops up anywhere, anytime, asking me if I need her assistance. Trouble is, I could not get rid of this annoyance.  So  I called Dell. A very nice tech lady, I’d say somewhere on the planet (have they outsourced yet to Mars?) struggled with such devotion to banish Cortana from my life.  It appeared to work.  For a few microseconds.  No, this crap app would now and then still find corners or groves through which to sneak in, such as, horror of horrors, while I was trying a current version of Microsoft Word.  Yes, while trying to write, there she was: "Hey there! What's up?"  

More problems.  Cutting to  my rant: Windows 10 must be the worst of all operating systems every foisted upon the fickle public.  I refuse to be fickle.  I called up Dell. There were other problems, such as trying to press the X on the upper right corner of those annoying window ads, only to watch them refuse to leave. After a million punches, they left. Which makes me wonder:  Are those concessions paying Dell to freeze them for so many minutes, thus holding me captive, until then leaving?

I called Dell to return.  They could not have been nicer. The very idea of  my sacred privacy while writing (or trying to) being invaded at will by Ms. Cortana still leaves me outraged.

What I most looked forward to, over hot rails, was blogging from XPS 13 dot dot dot.  I will be instead traveling with my trusty Vostro Windows XP, only for my typewriter.  And I will NEVER take my Vostro near the internet (you know its dangerous with the Microsoft updates no longer there), let alone within shooting range of Cortana — assuming she has not all ready been digitally gunned down.

War of the Apps.  Might it be that you heard that phrase here for the first time?  May I then take a provisional bow -- wow wow?

Big idea: surely, out there in Silicon valley where the average salary is well over one hundred grand a year, there lurks a genius who can invent the app that will fill in for what Microsoft does when it sends out updates and patches -- until it ceases to, so that we who love XP and even Widows 7 can keep our gadgets protected forever. 

Yeah, I know, instant death for an industry that survives on tomorrow's new iWhatever.

So, copy this to a USB, take it to my desktop and blogger it out.

What a time I would have had blogging like this over hot rails.   No, we're talking Amtrak.  Make them there rails rocky light.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Illinois -- My State Away From State: A Circular Circus Journey in Writing

Rochelle in the 1950s

Earlier this year, a few months after bequeathing  my papers and interview tapes to Maureen Brunsdale at  Illinois State University, I was struck by how significant a role three towns in the same state — Illinois – have played in my circus writing life.  Call it a late-breaking  epiphany.

Rochelle was once home to the Hohenadel Printing company, whose Walter H. Hohenadel also edited the White Tops Magazine.  It was this kind gentlemen who would accept for publication a review I sent him, at the age of 14, of Polack Bros Circus.  I have no idea what prompted me in the first place to write a review.  One of the big mysteries of my life.  Or of how Mr. Hohenadel may have decided to send my rough words to the typesetter.  Maybe a blank page was waiting for something to fill it.

That's me, around the time of my first byline

Whatever happened back there may have been ordinary.  What happened at 609 Brown Street, in Santa Rosa, CA, was extraordinary.  It  marked a monumental turning point in my young life.   Without that big break from Mr Hohenadel, I might not be writing this post, or hosting this blog.

I was published!  I was somebody, so I thought.   Best of all, the White Tops editor did not in any way edit out my picky prose, leaving in the few carps I made about certain aspects of  the show.  And by so doing, whether he intended to or not, he codified my critical inclinations, and sent me into orbit.  Nobody could stop me now. (Some, I know, would have liked to.)   Of course, I had a lot to learn, and learn I would, all the way through to my  next stop in Illinois: Champaign.

On the green at the University of Illinois

About thirty years later, having penned a biography of John Ringling North and getting turned down by many of the major publishing houses, I decided to test the University press circuit, and sent off a book proposal to the University of Illinois.  Not sure why this one.  I know I had not yet considered the state itself to be a lucky charm.  But the move turned out to be another stroke of good fortune, indeed,  even though I would suffer through the most trying editorial process I would ever face.  In the end, I had a book that drew generally wide acclaim and sold the most copies of any of my books.  Mark one for the editors of  Champaign.

Finally, the third town: While searching for an archival home  for my papers,  I chanced upon a most  passionate and welcome response from Maureen Brunsdale, archivist  at the Milnar Library at Illinois State University. Last spring, we came to terms, and I sent her a slew of boxes containing manuscripts, notes, correspondence with publishers and others, and the tapes for all the circus-related  interviews I have conducted over the years.

Rochelle.  Champaign.  Normal.  I nominate myself an honorary citizen of the good state of  Lincoln.

 Inveterate letter writer, Henry Ringling North

Since then, I was cheered to learn that the private papers of Henry Ringling North were also bound for ISU.  Charmed to know that I may be sharing shelf space with Mr. Henry, the Ringling who answered my many letters over the years and who made it possible for me to meet and interview his legendary brother, John.

Mark Schmitt and Maureen Brunsdale, perusing the Henry Ringling North Collection at the Milnar Library, ISU

Charmed also, over news of a new archival neighbor coming my way (actually, more like a Lord of the Manor):  the staggering circus collection of Herb Ueckert and Neil Cockerline.  Their 250,000 item gusher was amply noted by Smithsonian on line.  The World is taking note. Milnar is on the map

For myself, I take comfort and reassurance in knowing that my papers and tapes are in the steady and knowing hands of Maureen Brunsdalde, Steve Gossard, and Mark Schmitt 

Thank you, Maureen, for saying YES so resoundingly when I first knocked.   Like a trumpet blast on high telling me, this is the place.    You are the third lucky charm!

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Sawdust Saturday Sizzles: Brits Taking Pride in Circus Heritage ... Big Apple Circus Boss Hinting of Stronger Acts to Come ... End Ringing Jackpots, Too! ...

Those Brits should keep patting themselves on the back for their very own Philip Astley, the dazzling trick horse rider who invented the circus — two hundred and fifty years ago.  His anniversary being celebrated over there with bonny good cheer, a plague to Astley raised near the site of his first shows, and various books and articles touting the rich UK circus history.

Douglas McPherson, penning a great piece on the Chipperfield Circus in The Stage.  Show in its heyday toured under a 6,000 seat tent, 17 tiered rows high.  The family staged chariot races in 1953.  By the time I caught up with them in the mid-1960s, tent was much smaller. Twas a bright and lively show overflowing with animals galore -- among them, canines and crocodiles, sea lions and pigeons, tigers and elephants and bears, and the list goes on!  Some terrific ground and aerial acts, too. 

Since those halcyon years, various members of the family have splintered off to take out their own shows.  The leading Chipperfield  of the precarious moment is the  young and articulate Thomas Chipperfield, known as “the last lion tamer.” Thomas will be touring this year as An Evening With Lions and Tigers.   A link to the Mcpherson story, thanks to Don Covington:


    to South Africa, 1964

Astley was not the only trail blazing tycoon on English sawdust.  Lord Sanger, who  purchased Astley’s Amphitheater in 1871, was a publicity hound with a flair for enterprise.  One of his most audacious boasts was that Queen Victoria had granted him a peerage for “allowing” her to inject her royal head into the big mouth of a lion (I hope to see this episode on BBC’s fine new Masterpiece series, Victoria).  Actually, kids, Lord Sanger granted himself the title and made up everything else.  On a higher level, this outlandish Lord out-did Astley’s showmanship by introducing a far grander spectacle that would find an audience, not over there but over here.   

The Three Rings that P.T. Barnum did not invent.  One account credits Lord Sanger for being the first to put out three rings.  I’ve also read that, in fact, the Sanger setup was more like two stages on each side of a single ring. In any case, the idea fizzled fast.  Americans would embrace the concept with glee and demand — at one time, even the smallest U.S. truck shows advertised “three rings!”

 Astley's Royal Amphitheatre

I tip my cap to the ever-theatrical Brits, thanking them for a form of entertainment that has enriched my life.  I only hope this celebration will counter animal-rights extremists throughout the UK  and dissuade parliamentary action from banning all animals from the circus.  The House of Un-commons needs a new party: Fops for Big Tops.

Over Here:  How goeth the new Big Apple Circus?  On paper and on the show’s website video tease,  to my still skeptical  eyes, act lineup looks meager.  In the seats, how are they doing?  Dare I go near the third rail of circus reporting -- bodies in seats?  I dare.  Big Apple Circus boss Neil Kahanovitz was interviewed by The Washington Business Journal (note the word business), in which, not once was the subject of actual business raised!  Lord -- excuse me, Doctor. Kahanovitz, was asked by reporter Sara Gilgore, who did not go in for the killgore, How has the show changed? Answered the good doctor, out of surgery,  "I would like to think that creatively it's better."

And yet he noted, by implication, how not easy it was to cobble together their first show. “At this point last year in March, we had no acts booked, we had nothing from a production standpoint ... From an artistic creative standpoint [that] was very difficult because most of the acts you want to book, book out one or two years ahead.”   

Which raises the Big Question: How much better might the next show be, if there is to be a next show?  "It's really a learning year for us, and hopefully it will be a successful one from a financial perspective."

Yann Arnaud and daughter

END RINGERS: John Ringling North II, e-mailing me:  “I don’t recall anything about animal abuse in my father’s book [Circus Kings].”  Very sad to report, the tragic fall of aerialist Yann Arnuad on Cirque du Soleil, a shocker for many.  An issue overblown by others, with one hysteric claiming how much better safety has become, compared to the 1950s-1960s when  four or  five performers  were killed every year.” Oh really?  But for Cirque marketing, the image of death may not be what they want. .Given their surreal product identity –  circus arts glorified in ballet and special affects -- I think this image is all too real.  The company risks being lumped together with all of the other, less cerebral, but very real big tops still on the road.

Feld family in retreat, take note!  Out there now, there is something calling itself  “The Greatest Snow on Earth,” and the New York Metropolitan Opera  is referring to itself as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”  Hurry, hurry!  Put something out on the road that warbles like a Wagner, stage it under falling fake snow,  and call it your very own Greatest Show on Earth.  All in the name of trademark preservation, you know.

Was that even funny? Well, had you anything better  planned for the moment?

Next: Stuffings from off the cutting room floor. And, oh, I meant to tell you (or myself, if I am the only person reading this) about this phenomenal new movie I just saw, The Shape of Water.  Maybe next time ...

Chipperfields Circus posters courtesy of Circus Mania blog.