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
"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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
Billboard March 5,