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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Three Rings of This & That ...

Sunday Morning, Looking Back: First posted September 29, 2007
. A cool Baraboo air over Oakland, and in New York that spells the beginning of a new circus season. Come November, three shows compete -- Big Apple, Cirque's Wintuk, and the new Get Your Circus On! at the Apollo Theatre. New Yorkers, you have choices! ... Back in Baraboo where the town nearly slips into a Brigadoon-like trance, late-blooming Ringlingphile Bob Dewel, who monitors my every word concerning the town’s most famous family, checks in with this about notoriously self-serving John Ringling, mentioned here in unflattering terms a while back: “Only John failed to show for the Al Ringling Theatre opening in 1915, with Al dying.” True to form, and how sad; I’ve sometimes wondered, was John the Yoko Ono of the group? (Beatles fans will understand.) And am I getting carried away? Bob, see you a little later for more dissing ... Okay, how about somewhere else, like oh, say Sarasota ....

Down there in circus city, Joan Griffith, a close personal friend of the late John Ringling North, whom she dated for a number of years, pens a column for the magazine Attitudes, and ruefully she reports on the recent passing of Allan Hill, who once briefly dated Joan’s daughter. Joan's preparing a tribute for Hill (past owner of the Great American Circus), who back in the late '80s, she amusingly reminds us, "had Tiny Tim starring in the show!" Hill also helped raise money for the American Cancer Society. “An above average Good Samaritan,” writes Joan, “quietly helping others.” And only 58.

Only whatever age we are.Only whatever circuses we are lucky to see. Run before cities like Minneapolis try 86-ing the wild animals
off the lot. Yep, almost happened up there. City Council, smarting with PETA ire, nearly toppled Jumbo’s tent ... Big Apple Circus(here's Cong Tian), premiering its latest opus in DC to a sunny notice in the Washington Post, heads for New York in late October with cats and horses ... I don’t expect a big cage in the Apple ring, but why not a flying act? They’ve featured the greatest in seasons past — Vazquez and Gaona, to drop golden names ...

Who had more artistic discretion, John or Charles Ringling? Bob Dewel returns to favor Charles, believing that Charles showed better taste in both his home and yacht. Gosh, I find myself in provisional agreement, having never quite known what to make of the fascinatingly outlandish Ca’d’Zan. A grand clash of styles. Charles, by the way, would be my choice of the brothers to meet and interview. In one of the early group photos, he shows a more open heart, and I think he would be more expressive of what really went on ... He was the soul of the enterprise...

Soulfully we rank the circus web sites, and soon! My sister, “Honorable Judge Kathy” in Omaha, as she calls herself, has sent me her scores. Mine are set, and we await the numbers from "Sazzie" Jon Pult, who lives way down Dixie in New Orleans, a grad student in creative writing. He’s putting the polish to his prose. Once I’ve got everybody’s ordinals, I add ‘em up and we list in order, best to ....

Anybody ever see The Dark Tower, an English film made in 1943, with the help of one Reco Bros circus? Neat flick. Held my interest. Central character is a demented hypnotist who uses his powers to remove a romantic rival from his path. A few good acts, a suspenseful story.

You who may be heading east to the upcoming Gotham circus festival, here’s a travel tip from Showbiz David. A great economy hotel (you can get a decent room with very good bed, clean if tiny bathroom -- okay, I spotted only one lone cockroach -- for around $130.00 a night) is the bohemian Gershwin near the Empire State. Superb round-the-clock deli around the corner, CafĂ© 29, a park only blocks away, and easy access to those ever rattling subways that give the big town a pulse all its own. Ah, I can almost smell the ancient grease down there in the holes. New York, New York!

And that’s a cool sunny Autumn wrap here in Oakland Oakland.

9.29.2007

Monday, September 24, 2007

Circus Out of the Tent ... Buddha or a Snow Job?

Cirque du Yoga: Enter citizen Jamie Corydon, who reached her new inner self on a lyra at the Sandou Theatrical Circus School in Las Vegas, founded by two former Moscow Circus performers -- the brothers Sergei and Konstantin. Corydon fell in with some former Cirque performers who are associated with the school. They got her into a trapeze frame of mind and she felt reborn at a festival in Austria, “Is this the secret of the Cirque du Soleil artists —they are Yogi???” asks our dithering dame, Judy Dieli, who sent me the story. Claims Corydon, who teaches the art that gave her wings, “No way could I have done it without Yoga.”

Ringling, a little Yoga for you, too? Or perhaps a few weeks off at the Church of Scientology?. Anything, I’d say, to get in touch with your inner spirit, what’s left of it, so that you can win back the bottled water crowd in picky places like San Francesco -- a city you have, by the way, shunned for two Yoga-less seasons. There by the Golden Gate, aerialists and clowns do okay in bohemian settings that are ringless. Geoff Hoyle (alias Mr. Sniff off the old Pickle Family Circus) is now clowning around the tables at Teatro Zinzanni. Even waiters and waitresses, as pictured in Teatro’s fetching ads, fly over patrons. Maybe all the thirsty patron need do there is shout sky high, “More booze please!!!”

...This being once the city of acid, NO, leave that alone, David. ... We can, however be quite proper at a fund-raising fashion show hosted by Macy’s, where a Cirque character appears, standing alone on a table with a baton in one hand, a partial mask over her anonymous face ... No, Dame, she is not practicing Yoga. She is posturing "in the moment" ...

Down the coast about four hundred miles at the Hollywood Bowl, where mutes are still allowed to cavort with wild abandon, the Peking Acrobats will be working the same bill with Moore’s Amazing Mongrels , themselves beyond meditation, and “the Ditty Bops” — whomever they are. Dogs have a way of bringing us back to circus central. Of rendering mute all abstract allusions to some cosmic revelation lurking behind a fog machine....

Get down, circus, get down! That’s the message from Casual Cal, who will be throwing up his latest big top-type bash at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem. Get Your Circus On is out to prove that “soul is not a color.” Cal, who ringmastered with rare flair for UniverSoul, grew uneasy about the company’s preoccupation with intensely black markets. So good luck, Cal, and may your company succeed without group therapy ...

Global warming this winter? Not, I suspect, while Cirque plays the Big Apple with a story, Wintuk, about a little boy searching for snow. I can imagine a big payoff at the theatre at Madison Square Garden where the Montreal monster begins an annual ten-week holiday gig. Andrew Lloyd Webber gave us the falling chandelier. I predict Cirque will smother the house in dry ice. They just can’t break the special effects habit. It could suffocate them yet.

A habit for tanbark tradition around a real ring, pre-Perrier, still afflicts, thankfully, the Lords of the Big Apple Circus. At least when last we checked. ... And then, a few months later, comes the reductive Ringling-Barnum in its littler, less greatest mode. But the animals acts they defiantly refuse to retire give them an increasingly attractive edge. Oh, sorry, I gotta go. My Yoga instructor is at the door... You might soon see me flying high — precocious senior finds non invasive lipo suction on a lyra.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bandwagon’s Incessant Spell ...

Out of the past: From September 19, 2007


Showbiz David from out of the past

A rush of memories
down the track whenever I read a new Bandwagon... Circus Kirk —- the lead off story — I know a little about, having “interviewed” (my first with a tape recorder, I think) back in Clymer PA on 8/7/75 a few of the kids. A couple are quoted in my forthcoming Fall of the Big Top ... So many rings ago, and memory stirs them back onto muddy and grassy lots ... Clyde Beatty’s cage boy, Manuel “Junior” Ruffin, neatly profiled too, joined the show the same year I saw it in Santa Rosa, 1952 ... "Hoxie" Tucker, for whom Ruffin later worked (and whose nasty moods he suffered), once insulted me big time, and why? I took a break from press agenting for Sid Kellner’s James Bros. in 1969 to take in a Hoxie performance. The little big top boss, learning of my employer, glared at me, “What the hell are you doing chasing circuses when you are supposed to be a press agent?” That’s a paraphrase of his uncouth reprimand. ... Later he saw me standing in line with a bought ticket in hand and said nothing ...

Another acid tongue? Sid Kellner, who veered from charming to vile... Another year (1972), I sold Mr. K. on hiring me to work some Chicago area dates for his George Matthew's Great London, for money and an all-America bus ticket in hand I could use — in case we parted ways. .. The moment I stepped off the greyhound in the windy city, I went into the depot and from a pay phone called the local ABC outlet and right there booked prime TV time.... Later that afternoon, on the lot, big crowds showed up, which I was told were unusual — like rain upon a famine.. Kellner made it clear, to me, “Hey, you had nothing to do with this!” .... This after my venturing into the empty top yet to be opened and discovering my boss brawling verbally after a stunned sponsor, spitting out ugly profanities ... Few days later, I came down with a horrible cold, and from my Chicago hotel room called Kellner, and appealed to nice guy Chester Cable — might they have somebody drop off my first week’s pay to the hotel when next in the city? I was put off and off, and treated terribly ... With overdue check finally in hand and the Greyhound my way out, I declared my “temporary” gig over and continued eastward ...

... Circus Kirk was a lovely little student tenter, full of energy that almost made up for the amateur performers, with a nifty big band ... The kids, nice, the Doc ever so congenial. ... Buckles Woodcock’s Bandwagon photos feature Steve Fanning, who worked a dozen elephants for King Bros. in 1950 ... Oh yes, King Bros. -— it crawled that season into my hometown of Santa Rosa minus the seats. My Mom, with discount coupons in hand, took me and my sister to the lot. We stood on the midway for what seemed hours. I’d glance up at side show banner lines that seemed to stretch clear up to heaven. Inside the tent at last, seated on make-do chairs from a local church, the first circus I ever saw under canvas enthralled me, though I was not yet self-consciously a circus fan. In another few fateful Santa Rosa months came Polack Bros. to the fairgrounds pavilion with a killer lineup. My addiction was born ....

Lastly, there’s a letter in Bandwagon from Barnum as in P.T. — whose handwriting calls to mind the similarly flairful sprawl of another tanbark titan: John Ringling North.... They enter and exit at lucky intervals. How we need them ... Even the Sid Kellners on good- mood days... That ultra-charismatic man -- when he chose to be -- had so much promise, but the phone rooms were his tragic flaw ...

So many rings ago. So many rings still ringing in the midways of my mind... Once you’ve fallen under the sawdust spell ...

9.19.07

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Saturday Night Showbiz Take-Outs: Fighting Over the Fat Lady; A Dog and His Man; A Funeral for Laughs; A Backyard Lady Tells All ...

While we hover on the edge of ringless lots hoping not to see more tents tumble, let’s recall those five fabulous brothers from Baraboo who started out so united, and as time went on, splintered off into a million fractions that somehow miraculously held together. Here, for example, is a curve that could have felled weaker partners: The incredible nerve of John Ringling voiding a fat lady contract signed by Al for her to appear with Ringling, which Al and Charles ran —— so that greedy John could ink the same dame for Barnum & Bailey, which he and Otto ran. This juicy disclosure amazed me in Jerry Apps’ excellent tome, Ringlingville. The author, though, makes little dramatic uproar over such disturbing incidents, preferring I guess to hold up the glossy image of the Big Five forever in collegial lockstep. As we have long known, it turned uglier by the year as one by one the boys passed onto the Big Lot, leaving only John and Charles to battle it out in a sad escalating rivalry. And what a farce that turned into. A must read for all Ringlingphiles

Imperfectly in tandem, a man and his sweet dog. You’ve heard it said how a mute can resemble the man who feeds it. Here is one for the books, made in tinsel town. Seated outdoors At Fred 62 on Vermont, a man dining across from me had a cute little dog, sitting up nervously at his feet in a limping manner “He really is devoted to you,” I commented. “No, he wants some food,”said the man. Sure thing, once favored, the mute turned his gaze upon me. And a little later when the man got up to walk away, the little dog limped off. So, too, in a more pronounced manner, did his keeper. So utterly touching. A sight I will never forget. Only in L.A.

Rating the Circus Web sites: This time around and to my great delight, I’ll be joined on a three-judge panel by my own sister, Kathy, who will bring an outsider’s point of view. Then there is Ron “Sazzie,” like I, a long-running circus nut. Each of the sites will be graded in six categories: first impression; routing information; visuals of the show; ticketing; press or customer feedback; and last impression. The three of us will score individually (without consulting or comparing notes), and the sites will be ranked in order by simple adding up of our numbers. The most points any circus can receive, if they get a perfect “5" in each of the six categories, is a victorious 30. Three critics times 30 equals 90 points max. A few peeks reveal to me that some shows have made changes, warranting a second look by Showbiz David, Consumer Courts Division.

Death at a Funeral: A fabulous new flick ... Is this the funniest-cleverest movie I have ever seen? Call it a comedy gusher full of brilliant surprises from those witty Brits. It has quirky suspense, revealing insights into the precarious social customs that sometimes keep fragile human beings together long enough — maybe, almost – to honor the passing of one of their own. It is nearly perfect in script development, I can’t say enough. Unless you are put off by the ever-changing sexual landscape, Go see it!

Let’s end this with a cozy little visit to Baraboo Barb, who reports having struck occupational gold working a day & nite job at concessions on Ringling’s homey Gold unit; That’s how contented Barb makes it sound, in her own words: “I actually truly love what I do. The public is a hoot, when it’s crazy (2500 people trying to buy in just one hour) I have fun. The downside is a show’s tour ending and a new one being reborn ... people scattering isn’t something I’ve ever been comfortable with...I enjoy the ease of knocking on a trailer door to see what someone’s cooking. I’m flattered when a kid comes knocking on my door.”

Ah, the simple joys of trouperhood. I’m envious, Barb!

And that's a wrap, this one for Billy. Hey, luv, can you hear us up there? What are you cooking up just now?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

... Page Proofs Coming ... Presses Humming ...

Could be today. Could be tomorrow. UPS will deliver page proofs for my book Fall of the Big Top; The Vanishing American Circus, and I will see it finally in print. That’s always a thrill — photo images on pages, type style selection, chapter headings. Here comes my LAST CHANCE to make any changes. Few will be made at this last-see point. A real regret is that since I won’t see Circus Vargas until after I examine, pass on and return the proofs to McFarland, there won’t be the chance I had hoped for to add a line or two about their current edition ... And what if it’s wonderful? Another spangled sliver from the ever changing big top waiting for somebody’s next book to capture it forever ...

I try to root out redundant word usage (I can hear some of you laughing). I look for this and that. But at this point, this and that will have to remain fairly pat. McFarland has given me plenty of opportunities to revise and hone, and still, I will likely live to regret certain things — a sentence can be written a thousand different ways. Once off the press, it’s up to reviewers and readers to decide. Since I can dish it out, I should be able to take it, right? ... Dame Dither, where are you out there in Cyberspace? ‘Twas the Dame (a.k.a.: Judy Dieli) and her now ailing hubby, Salnatra (he sings like Frank), who first handed me down a pc they were ditching for a newer model. And here I am, blogging a few years later ...

Once bound, a book is a book is a book. You can’t go back ... The only work of mine that I would never change a single word of is my first, Behind the Big Top. It is to me so rough and raw, so much like the old tent circuses I have fondly experienced ... Not for one reviewer was it a pleasure, though. He termed my brand of big top prose “junk journalism.” Carped he, I failed to evoke the sights and smells of the circus, so I sent him a special Smell Edition, complete with sawdust and pachyderm poo off the Ringling and Carson & Barnes lots. The photo down below was sent out to 300 news outlets. My publisher (A.S Barnes), belatedly learning of the stunt, was aghast. The book sold out its first printing in around a year, but did not return to the presses. Brashness can backfire.

... My Barnes editor had handed my manuscript for copy editing over to a somebody who, maybe bored, changed only a few phrases, caught not nearly enough misspelled words (it contains dozens), and let the messy thing live. And I thank that whomever. In the wrong hands, the life might have been drained out of my personal favorite literary effort, Behind the Big Top ... Miraculously, 26 years later, Fall of the Big Top lucked out with a similarly light editing treatment — all except for grammatical errors corrected and my spelling which has been tamed. It feels almost transcendental --- as if fate itself intervened to let Fall live as Behind did. I take that as a good omen. Today, at least.

On a royal typewriter I once hammered happily away. Now, after long handing the first draft on yellow lined pads, I report to a Brother electronic from my L.A. days, then it’s show time on the computer. What a ritual. Maybe I’m each time following an evolutionary path traveled by writers who first used hand-held instruments and then advanced from one mechanical device to the next...

UPS could ring my bell any moment now. And after the initial read-through a couple of times, then comes the one task in this business which I will admit to hating: the INDEX. Even with the enormous assistance of WordPerfect, I hold my nose, buckle down into a marathon mode, and keep on going till I get to the bitter end.

Proud of my junk journalism, I’m ready for the presses to roll ... Still a thrill ...

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Sat. Nite Showbiz Take-Outs: Porno Puppets a Vegas Flop; "Paid" Plaintiff a Ringling Suit; Dame Dither a You Tubie -- Have You Something Better?


Punch, Meet Punch. Risque puppet musical Avenue Q took Broadway for some Tony’s, went to Vegas and did not take the strip. Too few voyeurs over a losing one-year run. “Exclusive North American tour,” shot. Now, it’s on the real road, not exactly turning them away at San Francisco where I caught a Wed. matinee, with plenty of seats to spare ... It's bold, fresh, inventive -- a winning little subversive charmer starring hand-held puppets worked by actors walking about the stage. A pair of offbeat romances (one straight, the other gay and very funny) get down and dirty at times, like big people going at it like jackhammers on a kitchen table after having just met at the super market. I didn’t see one kiddie in the house. This is very New York. I'm told it spoofs Sesame Street -- about which I know nearly nothing.

No wonder it failed the Vegas test, where family audiences are now the norm. Avenue Q is not for kids, and maybe too smugly sophisticated for mid-America audiences. Too insistently pc-hip. To its credit, the show is remarkably human and touching despite its raunchiness ... Quibbles? When you sit close to the stage as I did, while the actors move and turn about, the puppets in their arms are not always visible. Nor were all the lyrics easy to understand. Remember, before built-in mikes, when singers had to project? I could have done without the Gary Coleman character (one of a few non-puppets in the cast), pushing a loud-mouthed stereotype. Still, on balance, I would like to take a second look at this party, but only in a much smaller theatre where it belongs.

“Turner Classic Movies”? A lot not, some well worth watching: How did it take me so long to discover the genius of Spencer Tracy (Bad Day at Black Rock, Father of the Bride)? And why does it take so long to get through Boredom on the Orient Express, which I have never gotten through since first surviving it in a movie house? Other night, I enjoyed Roy Rogers and his gang in a fun-bundled Rainbow Over Texas, songs and action, hokey romance with Dale Evans (a year away from being the real Mrs. Rogers), Roy’s good nature, and the curiously charming old Gabby Hayes that I fondly recall from my boyhood. A rare “western.” ... Not so good, but glad I stayed awake through a slow so-so silent from Buster Keaton called College, for what a terrific pay off! He’s trying to win the girl of his dreams by proving himself an athlete; finally he does, by rescuing her from the grips of a jealous suitor, suddenly showing super Olympic skills in one of the most fantastically exciting action sequences I have ever seen. In real life, Keaton was an athlete of sorts who refused to have stunt men stand-ins.

Ringling Fights Back: Feld Entertainment files a lawsuit against various animal rights groups, claiming they’ve violated numerous no-no's of the RICO anti-racketeering statute. Thanks to Don Covington, who e-mailed me the details. In particular, one Tom Rider, ex-Feld employee, is accused of taking “regular payments” as alleged payoff for serving as a “paid plaintiff.” Rider and others said to have engaged in “various illegal acts, including bribery, obstruction of justice, wire fraud and mail fraud." The war of words continues ...

Let’s leave the troubled big top for a moment, okay? Here's Dame Dither, my So Cal connection, linking us to a dazzling collage in You Tube motion of Hollywood’s femme icons ... Mesmerising & dreamy ... This way to Women in Film ... Here is the link; copy and paste it to your address window above ...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEc4YWICeXk

And did you want paper or plastic? And, oh yes, here's a free ticket to test your brains on TV's latest reality romp — “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” If you haven’t seen Avenue Q, you'd better not risk it. Punch! Get out of that men's room before Judy calls the cops and big puppet Lucy spills the beans on you!

[photo above: "Lucy the Slut," from Avenue Q website]