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, November 19, 2018

Travel Back From the Beginning ...

Fanfare from The House of Ringling

"A book I enjoyed to no end.
What memories it brings back."
-- John Ringling North II 


Television was first covered in 1928, 20 years before it became a national reality.

"A treasure trove of early day TV programing"
Watching the magic box in its inaugural 1948 season.

Lucy and Ethel on top of the TV world in I Love Lucy.

"Rare, hitherto-unseen images"
Outrageous charmer: Liberace dazzles Americans with keyboard virtuosity.

Jackie Gleason and Art Carney on The Honeymooners.

 Elvis Presley shakes up the Ed Sullivan Show. 


 Jack Paar, cutting it up with Judy Garland, kept the nation wide awake, late night

Rodgers and Hammerstein created Cinderella for television, seen by 107 million viewers.

 "A celebration of 1950s TV"

Westerns dominated TV screens through the late1950s.  The cast of Gunsmoke.

Eddie, left, and John Glen, on Name That Tune, discuss the Russian launch of Sputnik into space only three hours after it happened, in 1958.

"Captures the flavor of the times"

The "Kitchen Debate" in Moscow, 1959, between Richard Nixon, right, and Nikita Khrushchev, seen on Face the Nation.
Rod Serling's Twilight Zone:  The Eye of the Beholder.

"Travel through time ... 
The special attraction of Prime Time Rising lies in its ability to retain and maintain a vividly engrossing atmosphere throughout"
 --- Midwest Book Review

All of the great moments are there!
Read about and and see about them in
Prime Time Rising: Growing Up at the Dawn of Television

Can you name key events in Ringling history in the years
1907, 1937, 1947, 1957, 1967, 2007, 2017?


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Morning Midway: Kelly Miller Plots 2019; Bella Blossoms into Tent Status; Big Apple Sued, Website Turns Yellow ...

Ominous: Big Apple Circus in the yellow, or is it my computer?

   THIS IS NOT A HAPPY DAY.   I'm cooped up on a tragic California afternoon, when so much is on fire, up north and down south, splashes of sunshine against my large window gracing me from the unhealthy air out there.  I’ll skip the afternoon walk, and let this one roll, and turn the TV back on.  I marvel over the heroism of the fire fighters, by the thousands displaced, taking it on the chin, so many and maybe all being extra good to each other, knowing what means the most in life, the old and the young bringing tears to my eyes. A whole town, gone. Others in the balance, forever, I fear. 

    WHAT MOVED ME to this keyboard was a You Tube I chanced upon featuring clips  from the Big Apple Circus’s Grand Tour of 2015.  What a feast of tent-filling action.  This is what I live for.  Inventive all over. Lots of movement.  No wonder the New York Times raved. I offer it to you below. 
   NOW, SIGH,  to the present tense. I shall strive for positivity.  When I think of circus in bits and pieces today, I think back on the little John Strong Circus tent.  It would fit in quite dandy now, as the tops grow smaller, the ballyhoos more eager than egotistic.   Our local community ring, the free-to-see Circus Bella, advancing up and over to Treasure Island for a month-long holiday run, and under  their first little big top.  And they’re not giving this one away (more, maybe stronger acts touted), tickets going from $39 to $150.  What a daring leap from free.  Out of the diaper stage, at last. I'm feeling a rare Bella bounce, relearning to be John Strong grateful.

   NO LONGER RINGLING or Beatty-Cole.  Now UniverSoul, the  new Big Show?  Or would that be Big apple?  They, the latter, are hiding their wares behind a screen full of lovely yellow, or that’s what I keep pulling up when trying to reach inside their website.   It’s happened before.  What is going on, or coming off, over there? Too much unwanted drama, perhaps.  I know, for one thing, that a lawsuit has been launched against Big Apple Circus by two of those who helped sell the Big Apple Circus Board on selling to the Sarasota partners.  The two, in the beginning promised prominent operational roles, were gradually sidelined and then fired. Not a pretty picture.

   OF REVIEWS FOR Big Apple’s latest, I could only find two legit notices, one from New York Stage Review, the other out of the Philly’s Inquirer.  Both were pleased, though not steeped in awesome adjectives.   “Colorful and fun,” the kindly kudos.   One critic laughed a lot at the clowns, or his kids did; the other did not laugh at all.  Grandma still missed, and how sad I feel over what happened, wondering, if you will allow, if it had to happen?  

   ALL GOOD NEWS feels more terrific in these tentative times, like feeling good about Kelly Miller advertising in Circus Report for marketing people to front the 2019 tour.

When I see Asian faces on the bill (The Mongolian Troupe with Kelly Miller), I anticipate inventive, cerebral-free excitement, and I want to go.

   BIG JOHN STRONG WOULD fit in, peachy well, under the small tent he pitched (or thumb tacked up)  at country fairs, offering for free the fundamental magic in a charming showcase, he being the talky star.  “Got a big hand, Cindy!“   I just loved hearing him say that, when a young juggler kept three sticks in motion, a clown, the kiddies in tickles   When once Big John spotted me on the planks (how I wished he hadn't), the way he announced me, I felt like a potentate from foreign shores. I was somebody then.

   CIRQUE DU SOLEIL, still posturing  and preening in heavy-handed narrative, putting up its Volta tent over in San Francisco, for a long three-month haul.   I might pass.  Sounds like some very good acts, but even the Canadian critics were down on this show when it opened, fed up with another dull story line mucking up and retarding the program. The Globe and Mail declared the "thrilling Volta is crippled by its story."  You won’t see any of the acting stuff on TV ads. You'll see CIRCUS. So I have little will to drag my self over to SF, and there be dragged through another schizoid Cirque combo.

   SO WHAT WILL I have seen this year?  I sat on rough dry grass over hard clumpy dirt in a gritty  Oakland Park to watch Circus Bella put on a cute little show -- The Cutest Little Show on Earth? -- I'm trying.  At least they are high on Joy.  In these darkened days of diminishing glories, Joy is a comforting element.  The John Strong factor.  Got a great hand, Bella!

   I'LL ADMIT TO BEING envious over the circus fan (CFA-er) who has built into his/her DNA, the capacity to enjoy almost anything that comes their way titled circus.  I’m thinking how Plato’s theory of forms may explain for this phenomenon.. But more on that trenchant topic some other time. 

   IT IS STILL sunny bright outside, lending local peace, in a land perpetually on fire.   Somebody needs to cut down half the trees and all the dry brush, mandate stone or steel houses, restrict population, order power lines under ground. Mother nature may once have set off the sparks; now humans are doing what appears a far worse job.

Let me send you off on  a  joyful three-minute sampler of Big Apple Circus's Grand Tour, from 2015:


Got a great big hand, Big Apple!

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Why So Few Reviews for PBS The Circus? ... Fans and Pros Sounding Off in Circus Report Supply Some Possible Answers

I’m pretty surprised that the show was ignored or watched and then ignored by most main stream media.   At the top of the list, The New York Times. Defaulting to the ever-reliable Rotten Tomatoes, there are a grand total of 3 reviews, all colored in red, though two of them bear serious discoloring smudges.  Compare this to 45 reviews for Ken Burns The Vietnam war.

The write ups come from  The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and The Wall Street Journal.  I could not access the Journal, because you must subscribe to read. I can only trust it was a real notice, not the kind of bogus con job put over by Big Apple Circus last year, quoting back its own quotes from a feature story the Journal did on the show prior to its opening — and framing those quotes in the form of an excerpt from an actual Wall Street Journal review!  Yes, we/they live in desperate times.

One of many circuses snubbed by American Experience.
Well, of course, Barnum's name does not appear

Tellingly, perhaps, here are some acute reservations that leak through the generally positive write ups:

From Robert Lloyd in The Los Angeles Times:    “The Circus” is at times difficult to watch, because the circus, though in most respects a wonderful enterprise, has also been an awful one, particularly in its use or misuse of wild animals – many of which, more than once in this history, will perish in fires -- but sometimes in its treatment of people as well. (People, too, will perish in fires.)”   

That word “awful”... feels awful.

From Verne Gay in Newsday (3 out of 4 stars, really?): "MY SAY Just to hazard a wild guess here, 'The Circus' must be the most exhaustive documentary on the circus that the TV medium has ever known, and — just to hazard another one — that's about five times too exhaustive for the average viewer.

“Do you need to watch all four hours? Not really. For an average viewers' guide, the second hour Monday (at 10) and the first hour Tuesday are the best. Meanwhile, Leitzel aficionados will want to savor the full four”     
To be sure and fair, all of the reviews have much to sing about.  The film footage alone is a wow, and opening segments captivate with tents going up, locals off farms roused to the riveting spectacle of circus day once upon a glorious time. Just thought I'd get that out of the way.

Okay, onto the program's unfortunate missteps.

Circus Reporting from the trenches

Latest issue of The Circus Report has done a bang up job in printing a wide array of feedback from circus fans and pros, 10 in all.  Here are some of the comments:

Thanks to Bill Schreiber, who allayed my shock over the gruesome image of a huge elephant entrenched in chains coming out of a box car, which to the average TV viewer surely screams ANIMAL ABUSE!  How glad  and relieved was I to learn  from Bill, recounting in Circus Report something that Slim Lewis had told him:  "Most of the chain was for show and truly unnecessary for controlling him, but it made Tusko seem more formidable  than he actually was."   Very troubling (or spiteful ) that this context was not mentioned.  Given the typical sight of elephants coming out of the cars fairly freely, did someday even ask?

Don Covington:  "It also incorrectly suggested that the Ringling enterprise was the only significant circus of the day, ignoring almost all the competition.”

Maxine House: “All those wonderful tented (and Shrine) circuses were left out!” 

And then comes Pittsburgh

One thing everybody seems to agree on is that the show’s abrupt ending is beyond comprehension. This will surely leave an impression with younger generations that the circus died right there.

My favorite quote, from Gary Payne: “Born in 1955, I can attest to having seen about 1,000 circus performances that apparently didn’t exist.” 

                                    Why, oh why?

Wayne McCary: “Only the producers know why they chose to end the show with the closing of the Greatest Show on Earth in Pittsburgh in 1956.  That finality in the program undoubtedly gave the impression to the general public that the circus industry came to an abrupt end at that time.”

John Ringling North's first season opener, 1938

Okay, let me guess.  While working on my review, I  developed a profile in my mind of producer-writer-director Sharon Grimberg.  I could see her coming  from the New England area, where she would more likely have been exposed to the Barnum lobby, and I wondered if she might be an animal rights activist  or sympathizer.  After posting my review, below, I went a-goggling. I found that American Experience is based in Boston, but I could find nothing about Ms. Grimberg's personal life or politics.

I have two theories:

1.  She started out intending to produce a biography of the Prince of Humbug. The one through-line through this jumbled enterprise is the name Barnum.  The other showman covered were all significantly involved with him -- Forepaugh as principle rival (I'm surprised they missed the Sacred White Elephant war between the two), Coup, Costello and Bailey as partners, and the Ringlings, who kept his name famously alive.  Somewhere along the way, the story got extended beyond its original focus.  By then,  Grimberg ran out of funding or interest, and rushed to wrap in Pittsburgh.  21 minutes for John Ringling North.  Actually, deduct the minutes taken covering the Hartford fire --- North was not running the show then -- and North gets maybe a total of 16 minutes.   I rest my case.   A bit too far fetched?  Okay, how about this:

2.  Harboring a private disdain for various alleged forms of abuse under the big top, Grimberg  wanted to end on a down note, sending viewers off subliminally conditioned to feel guilty about ever again patronizing a circus with animals.  

Am I off the cliff? Then, the laugh’s on me.

Thank god for the DeMille film. No, they can't take that away from me.