ARLAN F. "DOC" RANDLE of Omaha first bumped into P. T. Barnum, the greatest showman of them all, more than 40 years ago. Thereafter, Mr. Barnum bumped into Doc several times, spanked him something" he told me to do. For instance, I was supposed to go to bed when I was through but I would hang around the freight yards watching the men load up the cars. Barnum would pick up a board and paddle me. It stung, too."


Everybody around a circus had his particular job. 

 

The following is in reference to the pictures above......(The lady in front is Mrs. Harlan F. Randle as Princess Marjah, when she and her husband ran an educational snake exhibition.  .   .   .  Behind the princess you see one or Barnum's most highly paid snake charmers, a college graduate and aesthetic dancer to boot.


 P. T. Barnum used to paddle "Doc" Randle for not going to bed when his acrobatic day was done. .   .   . Above is a glimpse of the old Barnum show as it  appeared when the menagerie had to be out in the open on one Midwestern tour because of damages to the tent.


"Doc" Randle .    .    .   now custodian of an Omaha apartment house, looks back pensively to when he earned $300 a week as catcher in a flying trapeze act.   .   .   . He fell in a Hamburg, Germany, per
formance of the Barnum shows and broke both ankles.  That let him out as an acrobat.).


Looking the Papers Over . . . with Erick
When still in his teens, Randle joined the Greatest Show on Earth as an acrobat. His first day on the lot, he was stopped on the way to the dressing tent by a sh
ort, chunky man with a florid, smooth shaven, smiling face. The man was well dressed and seemed to be somebody of importance.


"What's your name?" he demanded.


"Randle."


The man held out his hand. "I'm P. T. Barnum; anything you want, just come and tell me."


That was the way with Barnum, says his old-time employee. He would get acquainted with every new man. He called everyone by his first name, addressing Randle as Doc, as the others did, after his appointment to the employees' sick committee.


"We all took our troubles to Barnum and he would sit and talk to us by the hour," recalls Doc Randle, now a heavy-set, affable man.
 
"He was just as common as any of the rest of us, nothing high hat about him. He was a great kidder and always had a smile on his face.


"Why, I have been paddled by him a dozen times. You know I was only a kid. Either I would do something he had told me not to, or I wouldn't do something he ask me to.  He Could Spank Hard, Too.


Painting the Elephant.
One thing Barnum wouldn't tolerate was tattling. If somebody would come with a story about somebody else the big boss would keep the talebearer and send for the other person involved.


"Somebody's been lying," he would say, "and the one who has is going to get a punch in the nose." The liar got it, too, and P. T. Barnum delivered it personally.


"As a publicity man Barnum never had a peer," pronounces Doc Randle. "He could think up more crazy stunts than anybody and when he couldn't think of any himself he'd take a com­petitor's ideas and improve on them.


"Another circus advertised it was im­porting a white elephant from Africa
. Barnum saw the poster and ordered a crew of painters to work painting some of his elephants white, and pretty soon he was showing them."


He was always making cracks like his famous: "There's a sucker born every minute." But some of the pub­licity didn't square with the verities, Randle admits. He advertised his Jumbo elephant as the
biggest elephant in captivity though there were many bigger elephants used as beasts of burden.


Mrs. Randle remembers going to a circus, years before she met her husband, at which she was informed by a poster that Jumbo had sacrificed his own life to save his baby elephant. He pushed the "child" out of the way of a train and was killed himself, said the poster, and his place in the menagerie had been taken by the youngster, Jumbo was killed by a train, avers Randle, but not in any heroic attempt to save his baby's life.


Though Barnum made money as a showman, he wasn't a good financier and it was only after he took on Bailey that the money really began to roll in. "Barnum was no business man; he couldn't say no," Randle explains.


As a Flier and Catcher.
Doc Randle went to work for a circus in Lincoln for $50 a week when he was 8 years old. That seemed like big money to him then and it still does. He's a janitor now in an Omaha apartment house.


He was one of the outstanding circus trapeze artists of his time ­being an acrobat with Barnum for 18 years and later he filled managerial, promo­tional and publicity positions in the carnival field.


"For 20 years I never made less than $250 a week and for years I pulled down three hundred dollars," he says, adding a little sadly, "but in the show business you work only six months out of a year and you don't save much money."


As a circus performer, Randle was first a "flier" and later a "catcher" in a trapeze act. There were usually six in the act, two catchers and four fliers, frequently two of the fliers were women.


A trapeze performer was all right so long as he kept his suppleness, his iron nerve, his eyesight and didn't begin to slow up. After working well up into middle age as a flier, Doc found his eyesight not quite so good and became a catcher.


Forty feet up in the air, anchored to the rigging, he would catch the young-fliers as they came hurtling through the void at him. A safety net was spread below.


His Confidence Waning.
He wanted to quit, fearing he would drop somebody. But his friends laughed, saying he was good for 10 years more. He already has broken over 20 bones, both his arms, both legs, collar bone and jawbone ­ most of the breaks resulting from jumping over elephants but always his bones had knitted together again.


Then one day in Hamburg on the show's European tour the setup broke. Down Randle went to the net. He struck it with such force that it broke, too.


He hit the ground feet first, and cracked both ankles. His performing days were over. But anyway, he had not dropped a fellow acrobat.

 

After the accident, Randle went into the carnival business as a manager and press agent. A couple of years ago the carnival trade folded up and Doc was out of the show business.


In his circus and carnival days Randle knew intimately hundreds and thousands of performers, giants, midgets, fat people, strong men, barkers, snake charmers, and all, and he came to be familiar with all kinds of animals and snakes. He took a particular interest in snakes, but he could never learn anything scientific about them from snake eaters and snake charmers. Whenever he asked for some educational facts about a snake, the charmers would spin a lot of fairy tales. He got to thinking he would like to run a snake show at which the public would be given the bare snake facts and not just hooey.


His Wife's Scholarship.
The opportunity came in a way he didn't expect. He came down with the flu in wartime. He recovered but his vocal cords, weakened by his occasional labors as a barker, wouldn't come back. So his wife took him to San Antonio where show people congregated in winter and where the ozone would help restore his speech.


As spring approached he felt the lure of the road. The only opening was with a carnival snake show. Snakes didn't appeal to Mrs. Randle, but she agreed to the proposition. And she fell in heartily with her husband's plan to make this a genuinely educational and scientific snake exhibition.


She went to the library and day after day read the best snake literature, taking copious notes, which she and her husband proceeded to absorb until they were familiar with the subject from one end to the other.


From "Snake" King, who raises reptiles by the millions on his farm near Brownville and supplies them to shows and educational institutions all over, the land, the Randles obtained about a thousand snakes, mostly North American kinds. For some snakes, they paid as high as $10 a foot.


Mrs. Randle became Princess Marjah Doc and the princess were too good business people for that. Marjah, a Hindu name that fitted the role of snake charmer. She would discuss the points of snake after snake while her husband handed them to her from their cages, kept in trunks with holes to admit air. College professors and public men showed as much interest as the hoi polloi. For a couple seasons the Randles cleared over a hundred dollars a week with their snakes.

 

Exercise, Baths and Food.
Doc Randle, who acted as hostler to the reptiles, learned many things about snakes not down in the books. They need exercise, he discovered. When he had time he would take the snakes out of their cages and walk them around a bit.

 

They need baths, too. Let a snake go without his tub for over a week and he develops a pronounced B. O. Non-poisonous reptiles don't object to baths taut the poisonous ones do, fearing the water may be cold. Randle would take each rattler by the neck and dip his resisting body in the water. Once in the water and finding it warm, the reptile would enjoy it.


Rattlers had to be fed forcibly and Randle would pour milk down their unwilling throats once a month, which is as often as a snake's regular mealtime comes around. Some show people don't feed rattlesnakes. It is easier to let them die

A Joke on the Python.
Once "Snake" King visited the Randle exhibition and grew excited to see a nice fat rattlesnake in a corner. He had a contract to supply Doc with all snakes. "Where did you get that?" he demanded. "From you," said Randle. who had quite a time convincing King the reptile came from his farm. King, who had sold the rattler for $5, bought him back for $25.


"Snake" King was a fine man to do business with, Randle relates. When he shipped a customer a box of rattlesnakes he would put a sign on the box: "Open Carefully as Baby Rattlesnake May Have Been Born En Route."


Otessa, a 16-foot python, was the star of the Randles' show. She traveled in state in a trunk all her own. One hot afternoon the Randles left the trunk open in their hotel room and proceeded to take a short nap before their train came along.


They awoke to find the python wedged inside the spring under the bed. With the two persons' weight off the springs the coils contracted and Otessa was in a tight and painful fix. She was furious, but couldn't do anything about it. The Randles labored long and strenuously to get Otessa out, finally succeeding, but not until after their train had gone.

 

Picture:

Headlines for this story from the 1932 Sunday World-Herald

 

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