Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Bites the Sawdust

When I was a kid, the Mickey Mouse Club (a daily TV show) had a different theme for each day of the week. There was Anything Can Happen Day. And Talent Rodeo Day. (Giddyap, ponies, here we go…) And Circus Day, which, as I recall, was Thursday. The intro song for Circus Day began, “Here comes the circus, everyone loves the circus. And that includes the Merry Mouseketeers.”

Well, it may have included the Merry Mouseketeers, but it didn’t include anyone that I knew. “Everyone loves the circus” was as phoney-baloney a line as “all the world loves a clown.” As Jackie Gleason used to say, har-har-hardy-har-har.

I hated clowns. And I never went to the circus. No one I knew had ever gone to the circus. If the circus ever came to Worcester, that was news to me. Maybe it came to Boston, but if we were going to trek into Boston, it was to go see that Red Sox play.

Circuses were something you read about in old-timey books. Kids went to the circus in 1890. Or the circus was something that goody-two-shoes kids on TV went to. You know the type. They lived in nice houses, their mothers wore pearls, their fathers never hollered, and their sibs never hit them. Plus their teachers weren’t psychotic. Talk about phoney-baloney. Sure, we all sort of envied them the grandeur, peace, and quiet of their existences. But we also knew that those TV kids, so polite and well mannered, were total weenies. Seriously, was the sneaky, wise-guy Eddie Haskell the worst they had to contend with? Sit-com children of the 1950’s and 1960’s made the kids I grew up with look like the Dead End Kids. The Dead End Kids wouldn’t have been caught dead at the circus, and neither would we.

The only circus we saw was on the lame-o International Showtime, in which Don Ameche would travel to world looking for dancing bears and fire eaters. We recognized that the USSR wasn’t as good as the US of A based solely on our observation that we had Elvis while they had dancing bears. Anyway, we loved watching International Showtime, because my father liked to make fun of it. What was better than sitting around with Dad eating popcorn and laughing at Bulgarian plate-spinners, listening to Dad wonder out loud exactly how someone figured out that their talent was plate spinning?

I did get to the circus once, my senior year in high school. My friend Kathy and I went to NYC during our spring vacation week, and stayed with her “single gal” Aunt Mary who worked for Pan-Am and lived in Long Island City in Queens. Aunt Mary took us to the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey at the old Madison Square Garden. All I remember was feeling depressed by the bearded fat lady and the giant, and the major fear factor that occurred when one of the clowns started roaming around the crowd and got really close to where I was sitting.

Fast forward several decades, and did go a couple of times to see the Big Apple Circus – a one-ring circus that didn’t come with a lot of glam and glitz, and treated animals more kindly and gently than mega circuses did. And once I did take my nieces to a three-ring, Ringling Brothers extravaganza. Big mistake. It was way to overwhelming and noisy, both for me and one of my nieces. The only bit we enjoyed was when a clown snuck up on my husband and dusted his bald head with a feather duster. But mostly it was the dreadful combo of completely boring while at the same time way too much.

So, no, I will not miss the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus when they bite the sawdust and take down the big top for the final time this May. The business has fallen on hard times. Revenues too low, costs too high, and today’s jaded, sophisticated kids – with so many slick entertainment alternatives – apparently like the circus even less than us Main South anti-circus kids from back in the day when the entertainment alternatives were black & white TV, playing Clue, and Little Lulu comic books. Plus, once the circus – under intense pressure – gave up having elephants, The Greatest Show on Earth lost much of its allure. (At least to humans. The elephants were probably pretty darned happy.)

While I won’t miss Ringling Bros., I do feel a bit badly. Sure, I’m cool with sending out the clowns. But what’s to become of the tiger trainers, the camel riders, the aerialists, the human cannonball? And what, pray tell, does a ringmaster do for his next gig?

I will note that, before its last show, the circus will be in Worcester.

Too little, too late…


Frederick Wright said...

Feel much the same, although I will miss the traditions and the renowned camaraderie of the circus performers for each other. Clowns have always terrified me, and I don't find slapstick entertaining at all. The modern circuses like Cirque du Soleil have brilliantly figured out how to reinvent the entire experience, subtracting animal cruelty and clown-terror and adding original music, long story arcs told thru ballet and acrobatics.

Maureen Rogers said...

Cirque du Soleil looks beautiful. Someday... Meanwhile, Big Apple is one-ring, low key, light on clown terror and all the other bad big top stuff. Perfect for little kids. Cirque du Soleil looks great for grownups.