Owner of Centennial Greater Top Figure in Show Business

A ride man who had had many years experience putting up and taking down Merry-Go-Rounds appeared at the Centennial Greater Shows lot near San Mateo, Calif., looking for work.

"Say Bud," he casually addressed one of the men painting a truck, "what's the owner of this outfit like?"

"Well," the worker began carefully weighing his words, 'I'd say the owner is quite a figure in show business. In fact, the measurements are: Waist, 23 inches; hips, 34 - and er-er bust, 36."

This description of the show owner was no joke. The measurements given are-or were-factual, for the holder of the bills of sale to eight major rides and eight trucks in Margaret McCloskey, the only woman carnival owner-operator in the nation today. While this name will ring true with many people, there are perhaps another hundred thousand or so who will recall her as Zorima, Queen of the Nudist, the only showgirl to have played four world's fairs.

Margaret McCloskey was born Margaret Lehitinen in Erie, Pa., more that 33 years ago. Her advent into carnival ownership dates back to 1934, when her late husband, William McCloskey, bought a Parker Q two-abreast Merry-Go-Round, following his decision to resume his outdoor show operation abandoned in Pittsburgh several years before when he became Zorima's manager.

Zorima's Early Training

 

When Margaret was quite young the Lehtinen family moved to Baltimore, where the future Zorima got her early training for her career as a showgirl. The parents were Finnish and firm believers that there was health in the sun's rays. It was an old Finnish custom for her and her sisters and brother to take daily dips in the nude in the Maryland waters no matter what the temperature. However, no one in the family ever thought about this leading into show business. It was quite evident that it would when in 1931 Margaret became a showgirl. (Her two sisters also became showgirls later.) A couple of years later when the Century of Progress was held in Chicago she learned they were searching for a nudist. She applied for the job and got it.

After backing in the Chicago sun for a year for a fee, she signed a contract to appear at the Pacific International Exposition in San Diego. The attraction was called Zoro Gardens and it was in the Southern California city that she was dubbed Zorima, a name she was to carry to two world's fairs-San Francisco and New York-and even in some circles to this day.

Makes Midway Bow

 

Between fair engagements Margaret was introduced to midways. In 1939 she appeared with the Royal American Shows and two years later with Beckmann & Gerety. The following year (1942) she returned to Royal American Shows and left it for Los Angeles, where she was featured at the Burbank after playing the Oriental, Tower, Taber Palomar and other theaters en route form the East.

McCloskey's return to the carnival field was by accident, or rather by incident. While the McCloskeys were touring the countryside near the City of Angels, they saw an opportunity to buy a Parker Q Merry-Go--Round. That settled it! "Mac" wanted to take to the road again. When he passed away in 1946 they had accumulated, in addition to the Parker Q a Chairplane, Loop-o-Plane and a kiddie ride. There were, or course, sufficient trucks to transport this equipment.

"I had these rides and trucks. While it wasn't much when compared with other shows, it represented a lot of of hard work," Margaret says. "Never being one to stay in any one place for more than a week and also a gambler at heart, the opportunity to keep moving with something like a carnival appealed to me."

Learns Biz End

Altho carnival operation is a long way from posing at world's fairs, Margaret was successful from the start. She pitched in and learned the business end and could even solve the mechanical problems. Hunting lots, booking spots, driving trucks, putting up, tearing down and settling beefs became all in a day's work. No "fair weather showman," she has driven thru snow and ice in Northern California, Oregon and Washington to book a spot and stayed on the job from Sunday morning until Tuesday night without sleep to see that the show got off the lot, over the road and open on the new date.

Learning the mechanical end of the business was the hardest part of the game. But Zorima had traveled though roads before-first, as a youngster when she devoted more than the required time in the first grade until the teacher discovered that she spoke only Finnish, and later when she turned from what was to be a school teacher's career to that of a showgirl.


"A woman has to learn the mechanical end of the business, for the ride help won't respect her unless she can do a man's job and do it as well or better than they can," the exposer explains. "If I see one of them loafing, I just tell them that I can do it faster. And usually the job is done in double-quick time."

On occasions when this boast has been made, the ride boys have called her bluff. But so far she has been able to live up to her claims.

 

Sets Fast Pace

 

The time required to put up the Merry-Go-Round has become a pace-maker for the other equipment on the show. However, the help doesn't know that the "Q" in Parker Q stands for "quick." This time gauge was established in Eastern California when Margaret, forced by the labor shortage, added several inexperienced Indians. They took several hours to set up the ride. When the work lags now, all that is needed to put it on a double-quick basis is to mention "the Indians in Cedarville can do better than that."

Margaret McCloskey can intelligently discuss with any showman the features and advantages of the rides on her show. Naturally there are rides she likes better than others, but all are evaluated on the basis of mechanical stability and money making possibilities. There are other phases of the business that Margaret knows well. For example, when she took over the carnival, she found herself well versed in show publicity. She had learned the tricks of the trade from her late husband. But Mac's space-getters, she recalls, had put her into uncontrollable predicaments on several occasions.

 

Swims Ohio

 

While playing the Cat and Fiddle Club in Cincinnati, Mac hit on the idea of Zorima swimming the Ohio River. So that the stunt would help business at the club, the feat had to be done immediately. This was all right-except the Ohio was at flood stage. Always athletic and never one to ignore a dare, Margaret did it and well. It went off so successfully it gave Mac other ideas for stunts that would get newspaper banner lines.

Remembering how the Cincinnati papers responded to the channel swim, Mac thought something similar to conquering the Ohio would pull business at Zorima Gardens at the Golden Gate Exposition, held on Treasure Island, San Francisco Bay, "Golden gate Exposition - Golden Gate Bridge," a natural Mac thought. However Zorima nixed the idea of jumping off the bridge into the bay, a drop of some 240 feet.

The stunt boiled down to swimming the bay from San Francisco to Treasure Island. When she stated that could day in April, newspaper photographers were all over the place. She plunged into the water and struck out for the exposition site. When she was about 200 yards out they called her back. All of the photographers had not gotten the pictures they wanted. Then-all over again-she started the swim.

Things were going along smoothly until suddenly she got caught in one of the currents for which the bay is noted. She was carried far off her course to Alcatraz Island, the site of the federal penitentiary. She did not make her destination, but she proved one thing-it is possible to swim to Alcatraz. However, she wouldn't advise the average swimmer to try it.

Show Changes Name

 

When the McCloskeys started out, the show was known as "McCloskey's Greater Shows." The title was changed to Centennial Greater Shows early in 1948 to tie in with the 100 year program currently celebrated in California and Oregon, its playing territory. The chances are that the title will return to that of McCloskey's Greater Shows at the close of 1950 when the centennial programs are completed.
 

When she was posing at the world's fairs, Margaret maintains she appeared as often as 50 to 60 times daily, seven days a week. Altho the "work" was tedious, it was not manual labor. She has a warm spot in her heart for her old posing days and recently returned to them for a brief spell in San Francisco at the Barbary Coast, a Harry Seber-Sammy Corenson enterprise. But putting up and tearing down rides is still more interesting and the life for her, she contends.

The possibility that she may open a posing attraction on her own show has been given considerable thought. The Queen of the Nudist publicity has always pulled many cash customers at fairs and on midways. Some male press agents have disagreed with her on this, Zorima declares, but se adds that she has seen many occasions when the people came down the midway and directly to Zorima Gardens.

With the past nationwide publicity and the attention-getting paper that could be designed for her attraction, Margaret believes it would be good business to capitalize on the name. She even believes some of the publicity stunts that Mac devised can be rehashed, brought up to date and used to an advantage.

 

Competes With Polar Bears

Altho it got her column upon column of publicity when she was playing a theater in Louisville, there is one stunt that Margaret isn't likely to repeat. Mac had induced her to challenge members of the Polar Bear Club to see who could remain in the ice-covered river the longest. It was Zorima against a group of Polar Bears. The contestants walked into neck-deep water and treaded to keep up their blood circulation. One by one the Polar members returned to the shore, leaving only a lone member to carry the colors.

Zorima recalls that it seemed like eternity that they were in the water or in the ice- in the latter stages of this stunt. However, she realized that it couldn't last much longer.

"I got to get out," the last remaining PBC member finally said, icily as he staggered for high ground and a glowing bonfire.

Margaret McCloskey was the winner, and the answer to her contender's remark was, "Brother you don't know the half of it- I can't get out I'm frozen."

 

Billboard March 5, 1949

 



One of the first big girlie stars featured on a carnival midway was Zorima (Margaret Lehtinen McCloskey). She had appeared in every picture magazine in the country, so midway owners knew she came with instant recognition status and carnival press agents had no trouble generating radio and newspaper coverage.

In 1940 over a million patrons flocked to her Zorima and Her Garden of Nudists and Sun Bathers show at the New York World's Fair. In 1941 Beckmann and Gerety hired her as a midway feature show called Zorima Gardens. In an outdoor enclosure with a background of mountain scenery, they presented a drama of the mystical maidens of the lost colony of Atlantis. To appease the Sun God who had caused the land to slide into the sea, the people offered up the loveliest virgin, Zorima, as a sacrifice.

Besides headlining girl revues at the CNE and PNE in Canada, Zorima was the only feature dancer to appear at four World's Fairs. During the 1940s her California-based Centennial Greater Shows was one of the few woman-owned shows in the carnival business.

 

The above text is an excerpt for Al Stencell

Girl Show: In the Canvas World of Bump and Grind www.ecwpress.com



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