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

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Gong Show and Up: American Unicycle Wonder Wesley Williams Wows Moscow, Declared an "Idol" at Russian Circus Festival

 from 10.11.19


Okay, let my pride of prophecy parade:  Because I gave this young American circus star stellar coverage on this here blog after discovering him on a TV's The Gong Show, I was elated to read this in the latest issue of Spectacle Magazine on-line, just out:

Young American Enjoys Success at World Festival of Circus Arts in Moscow

"Unicyclist Wesley Williams represented the United States at the 2019 World Festival of Circus Art 'IDOL' in Moscow, Russia. Only 20 of the best acts from around the world were chosen to perform at this prestigious circus competition.  Out of all the acts that participated Williams received one of the highest honors, The Main Prize Bronza 'Idol.'

This marked Williams first appearance anywhere outside the United States.  He called it "an honor just to be invited to the competition.  Although it was a super sweet feeling to see that all my blood, sweat, and tears and years of preparation for this moment paid off.”

Wesley, you gave me everything I hope for and rarely get in a circus act these days, topped with a show-stopping climax on that sky-high unibike of yours.  Talk about raw heart-pounding peril. All performed with great classy showmanship and down-home humility.  Best of all, you put yourself and us on the map in probably the most revered circus ring in the world --  MOSCOW.

Great going, kid!


Monday, June 26, 2023

Showbiz David's Bette Davis Red Scare Musical Now on Amazon


The year is 1955 in America.  The time is the Red Scare, when communist witch hunts and blacklisting killed countless Hollywood careers.  Fading film star Brenda Dayton is on location in a small town, surreptitiously making a movie that dares to address these attacks on free speech.  Two locals cast in bit parts, Jenny and boyfriend Bill, suffer a fallout over Jenny’s infatuation with the star. And when a women’s club, getting wind of the film’s true theme, urges Dayton to walk off the set, Jenny comes passionately to her defense.  The two draw closer as a public protest turns ugly, leading to an outcome neither could have seen coming.  Here’s your front row seat all the way to final curtain!

“A compelling examination of the Red Scare’s effect on Hollywood.”

Margo Lion Ltd, New York

“A moving and ever-poignant piece about the silencing of art and free thought.”

 Amy Levnison, Geffen Playhouse

“Through fun lyrics and well developed characters, this musical commendably tackles serous issues, such as freedom of speech, in a thought-provoking manner…communicated with a healthy dose of humor.”

Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles

Buy now on Amazon in hardcover or paperback!


Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Defendng the Monte Carlo Circus Judges: Two Knowing Voices Check In

 Derring-do on a string: The Cassellys

A dance skating pro once told me, “You don’t have to be good to win, you just have to be the best.”

I won that way once.

These words came helpfully to mind after receiving an e-mail from Don Covington, offering his and Bill Hall’s high regard for the Rene Casselly horse riding act at the Monte Carlo Circus Festival in January. This, in reaction to my critique, At The Big Top Oscars, six posts below. The only act to take a Gold Clown, I had found it— based on the YouTube of their complete act — hardly worthy of such an honor (two big tricks botched and the use of a mechanic).

Okay, but let’s say one could argue they were the best of the pack, which, in a way, is what Don, joining Bill, advances in his persuasive reporting “No other act matched its impact.” Audience reception was overwhelming, I’ll grant you that.  

Don pointed me to a video recommended by Bill , the one which I had already seen three times. But I watched it again, just to be sure.  It does not change my thinking.  And then I watched the movie Ring of Fear, knowing that in it the Hannefords appear.  On, what a contrast.   What a perfectly sublime pleasure watching the crisp upright, agile riding of the family’s comedian.  They had the element that compels -- momentum.       

Onto another issue,  Bello Nock.  In my coverage of Gold Clowns given out over the years, I stupidly implied that Bello, one of only four recipients, was not really an American performer. Oh, really David?  “I would argue that Bello Nock is 100% American,” wrote Don.  Okay, upon googling up  Bello, there it was, and I should have known better: Born in Sarasota, and thus raised here,  which was bound to have influenced his artistic development.  As advanced  by  Don,  “His brand of comedy is unmistakably American.”

I stand impressively corrected. Thank you, Don!

END RINGERS: Wesley Williams at Monte Carlo could not even  get a bronze medal from the judges, but he landed what Europeans once considered the most honored place in the world to perform: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Turns out,  in the high-flying audience at Monte Carlo was  Kenneth Fled, back in his prime scouting acts for his comeback edition, uncorking this fall.  The Feld of Felds offered the Wesley of Williams a contract.  Reads the show’s website:  “We’re SO excited to announce that world-renowned unicyclist Wesley Williams 'the One Wheel Wonder,' is joining the Greatest Show on Earth.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

John Ringling North and the Prince: How a Great Circus Festival Was (or might have been) Born ... And the Record Setting Unicycle Act It Shockingly Snubbed ... It’s All on the Inside!


Aboard his private car the Jomar, John Ringling North, second from left, and Henry, far right, entertain Bette Davis during a Los Angeles date in the 1940s.

Deep into the January night of '56, before flying out to Hollywood the next morning to announce his engagement to Grace Kelly, Prince Rainier was pumping drums in the kingdom of Sarasota, jamming  with his saxophone-playing friend, John Ringling North at the M’Toto room in the John Ringling Hotel. The world that night may have seemed a perfect place for both.

North, the visionary dreamer in his youth

His brainstorm, Ballet of the Elephants, 1942, was choreographed by George Balanchine, scored by Igor Stravinsky

At the time of their jam session, the young prince was 32 and North's celebrity was at its highest peak.  He had played himself in a cameo in DeMille's 1952 blockbuster The Greatest Show on Earth.  His mug appeared in newspaper and magazine ads, and his legendary talent-scouting travels through Europe each summer were dramatized as a secondary plot in the new film, Trapeze, about to be released on May 30.

Six weeks later, the magical aura of it all came crashing down in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Faced with a  nasty and prolonged labor strike, and the ultimate surrender to the crippling economics of moving so giant an organization over rails, North struck the big top for good, and moved the show into tentless venues. For this, he was reviled by the fans, myself included, as something akin to the man who killed Santa Claus.

Ringling to Rainer


By the time the prince and Princess Grace were raising a family of three children — Caroline, Albert and Stephanie --- John’s new all-indoor version of Ringling was winning back big profitable crowds, partly by his importing the best performers he could get from eastern Soviet-block countries (keep this in mind too). North sold the show to the Felds in 1967.  And seven years later, Prince Rainier created the International Circus Festival in Monte Carlo, which soon became the most respected of all such tournaments.  North, now a nearly forgotten figure, served on the jury now and then, was introduced to audiences and modestly nodded in return.  And that was it.

 Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, in the judges box

Princess Stephanie, the youngest of the three children, grew up under the spell of her father's glamorous festivals, and it seems likely that this is where she became romantically involved, one after another, with two of its competitors. She first fell for married elephant trainer Franco Knie, into whose caravan she and three children from previous relationships moved. Two years later, she married Portuguese acrobat Adans Lopez Peres, then performing in Knie's circus. The marriage was also short-lived, but the circus had claimed Stephanie's wild bohemian spirit.  

After Prince Rainier passed away in 2005,  Stephanie assumed directorship of the festivals. She became not just an honored and steady figure of support for circus everywhere,  but arguably the circus world’s most fearless talent scout. Today, she and her associates comb the globe for the best acts out there, who appear at the festival only by invitation.  And today, politics evidently does not affect their scores, as witness the list below.

My biggest complaint (or regret) with the festival is that it does not enjoy world wide coverage, nor am I aware of any efforts out of Monte Carlo to seek such. Circus art is the only major entertainment not honored, at least annually on a televised awards show here in the states.  The movies and Broadway.  Pop music. Television.  Even ballroom dancing and dog shows are televised. The circus?  The prospects were not helped any by Irvin  Feld taking  out a one-ring tent show featuring acts from Monte Carlo. It did not last a season.

Okay, the following list shows the number of Gold Clowns awarded by country.  I would love to see a list for Silver Clowns.

 * 21. All countries of Europe together

14 former USSR countries all together
14 China
10   Russia
10 North Korea
7 Italy
 5 USA, shared with Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, Italy, Algeria
4 USA alone (Bale, Nock, Gatto, Carl)
4 Switzerland
3 France
2 Canada
2 Spain
2 Ukraine
2 England
2 Germany
2  Hungary
1 Portugal
1 Bulgaria   
1 Romania  

Circus Therapy in America.

The U.S., I have long observed, is not a primary source of world-class action.  Don’t look for a dramatic turnaround anytime soon. If anything, the situation will only grow worse, no matter how many new “circus schools” on campuses emerge, given the woke choke that has them in a vice.  Forget about gymnastic power and skill. Look for more slow-moving narrative, including "character arc," equity equilibristics pushing gender-bending contortion and self-annihilation on the static trapeze. Real circus has no time for such gilded nonsense.  Have I lost you yet?  Now, let’s get our hopes high again.

They're Back! 


      Fanfare for the Colossally Snubbed 

Unicyclist wonder Wesley Williams, who competed this past January at Monte Carlo, beyond setting a world record riding the highest bike, must have been left thunderstruck for failing to earn even a bronze clown. I have seen Wesley’s act on You Tube, and was engaged by his feats and winning personality.  Since not awarded by the jury, he became qualified for special recognition by any of the sponsors, and two of them so honored him.  What he accomplished in my view is equal to a quad.   And, yes , I wasn't there to see it myself, so whom am I to?  ...

Let’s see if Kenneth Feld books him for the return of a reformed Ringling.  Of course, Wesley might say no. Or Feld might fear that so perilous an act could upset the snowflakes and ballet larks he may be being hoping to attract to his no-animals circus. 

The festival will endure as long as Stephanie endures.  And however controversial her screening procedures or judging criteria  may be, of this I am sure: Were he alive today, John Ringling North could well understand and appreciate the attention she gives to such far off places as North Korea.   The “ageless delight,” as Ernest Hemingway once called it, lives on in the darkest corners of the world.  And those  daring mortals who excel despite all hardships deserve our warmest accolades and support.