Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Morning Midway: Melha Shrine Hits the Dust ... Ringling's Last Show a Doc Obscurely In the Making ... Overweight Riders Outraged By Circus Report Review ... Take a Break From Fake Racial Attacks!

"The opening, when your heart beats like a drum ... The closing, when the customers don't come" - Irving Berlin

"DECLINING ATTENDANCE," the reason cited for the collapse by Melha Shrine Circus Chairman Allen Zippen, who made a valiant effort. He had removed the elephants a few years back, and patrons were outraged.So he reinstated them, but not all those patrons reinstated themselves. Melha will no longer be a "fixture" at the Eastern State Coliseum.  Now turning their attention to "other forms of fundraising." 

HOW BETTER to lift our battered spirits than a footnote documentary from billionaire former circus lord, the strange Mr. Kenneth Feld,now working with ASTX TV to produce "The Final Farewell" (is he trying to rub it in?).  This one about the final edition of the circus--the one that nearly got lost on the moon.  I still believe it never found its way back ... Enough said.

REMEMBER FATSOS and bean poles?  I was called the latter.  As for " body mass" as doctors now call it, afraid, I suppose to use the F word around blubbery patients, and face lawsuits and questions from what passes for news reporters these tabloid times --- as for body mass, yes, I am getting to the point ... This issue reared its ugly head in, of all places, the Circus Report, when veteran reviewer Herb Ueckert, in writing up a review of Cirque Ma' Ceo, took the Friesan riders to task for excess poundage:  "At least one unnamed pundit noted that perhaps the horses were more attractive than the riders who might lose some weight and acquire new costumes." 

WELL, ALL HELL broke in the stable.  Keep in mind, kids, that a circus performer in this country can spend a lifetime away from critical scrutiny and never know the hurtful (and constructive) challenge of a truthful review.   Desiree Hermann, one of the riders, fired back, in a letter to CR, mortified over the review, shaming CR "for printing such a mean-spirited comment."  Granting that she and sisters are not "built like a Barbie doll," and asking for a "formal apology," predicting that letters like hers will follow from other offended readers.    

THE BIGGERSTAFFS, tactfully responded,noting how much audiences enjoyed the show, but making clear something we need to respect: "We do not censure articles that are opinions of our writers." Yes to that ... I can't wait for the next issue. Oh ... sigh ... and just when sparks are starting to fly out of Circus Report, and you really have to leave us, Bill and Jan?

Gotta go and feed my mass-less body.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

On the Passing of Ringling Legend, Jeanne Sleeter

How did I know her?  On a tape of a Ringling show in the fifties,during one of the specs, as I recall,  ringmaster Harold Ronk sang "Happy Birthday dear Jeanne Sleeter!  Happy birthday to you!"


When I receive incoming news from Covington Connected, such as,  just now, of the passing of Jeanne Sleeter, I am once again magically connected to that one magical I day I got to spend at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey when they played Pt. Richmond, CA.   Of standing on the lot next to the big top -- the big top -- while the afternoon show proceeded, listening to the strains of the band from the other side of the canvas, while candy butchers dashed back and forth under a thick beating sun between the big tent and a small top stocked with coke.

I would take in the night show when they played to a full tent.  Now, I was getting an advance listen, and so many images came through. 

Only one day in my life, but one day can spell the difference between reading a book and experiencing the real thing, something that a thousand words over and over can never  convey.  The blue canvas containing a huge crowd and a spectacular three-ring spectacle was now in motion! And I was trying to picture what was going on in there through the muffled sounds of a blaring band tracking the action, drumming it in and out, softening down for an aerialist, racing up to match a juggler's thunder ... marching in parade with the great Holidays spec.  What a thrill just standing for the first time on the lot of the Big Show ... Big Bertha ... The Big One.

Jeanne Sleeter was a part  of it all, through the 1940s and 1950s. She doubled for both Betty Hutton and Gloria Graham in DeMille's monumental screen smash, The Greatest Show on Earth.  Her work drew flattering attention from Hollywood, but she resisted any calls to convert from sawdust to cinema.  "It's quite a temptation, and lots of young people would love it," she told columnist Vivian Brown,"but nothing can compare to the circus when you are born into it."  Her parents were flyers Henry Sleeter and Mitdzie-Belle Moore, Hagenbeck-Wallace staples.  Among her mentors, Art Concello and Tuffy Genders.  She was the niece of Emmet Kelly.

Jeanne Sleeter retired 60 years ago.  She got out well before the cultural wars against it commenced.  In 1959, she told a reporter, "The circus hasn't changed, and never will."  That was what many people once thought, what author Earl Chapin May once argued when he  coined perhaps the most memorable ever description of this particular magic: "the ever changing-never changing circus."

Once thought, once upon a season ...

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Side Show Follies: Cirque du Jacko in Peril? Horse-Killing Horse Racing the Next Circus to Fall?

From talk show buzz:  Seems an alarming number of race horses hit the turf and have to be "brought down."  Now, wonder some, is the sport in peril?  I suppose PETA may ride to the rescue. I've always wondered why such a sport can get away without public condemnation, where, yes, the poor old circus where animals suffer, I'd venture, far less stress/abuse, took the brunt of ugly animal protests.  Without the big top, they will be hungry for other venues to harass and take down. Welcome to the war, everybody else.

Commented one talk show voice, "You know how quickly things turned on the Ringling Bros. Circus"  No, not quickly, sir.  Public disapproval was growing over decades. All the while, rodeo and horse racing were just too damn popular to run off the lot.

Oh, yes, Jacko, overly affectionate with kids pimped to him by adult parents, may lead to Cirque's Michael Jackson Vegas unit falling out of favor, some are predicting.  If this relentless theme continues, the entire entertainment industry may be run off the lot.

What goes around comes around.