It's Side Shows That Go, Tho Tops
Are Mourned; Animals Sub for Acts
By TOM PARKINSON
CHICAGO-Can it be that the
circus Side Show silently faded from the scend, that the
traditional exhibition of freaks, wonders and curiosities
disappeared while public attention was diverted to plight of big
Side Shows are doing quite well with
carnivals and elsewhere. But the circus midways of the
nation haven't had a real Side Show since mid-season.
Three circuses came out in the spring
with traditional Side Shows that feature human attractions.
They were Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, King Bros.'
Circus and Clyde Beatty Circus. By coincidence, these were the
shows that closed early.
While nearly everyone was bemoaning
what they thought to be the "passing of an era, the end of the big
top," there were a lot of other circuses operating at full tilt
under canvas. The Side Shows were what really seemed to
Most Have Animals
The shows that continued under canvas
as usual and profitably-about 20 in all-did have midway
attractions banner lines and other elements of a Side Show.
But the features generally were animals. What they had was a
menagerie in the trappings of a Side Show.
This is the set-up used by Hunt Bros,
Kelly-Miller almost always has operated on the idea of displaying
animals in the Side Show. Cristiani Bros,' Circus had the
Tony Diano animals as its Side show. Mills Bros.' Side Show
is made up of elephants and other animals. Von, Benson,
Hagen, Cole, Ring, Carson and all the rest had animals in the Side
Show tops and sometimes pit shows and walk-thrus with other animal
and reptile attractions.
But no Oddities.
The Clyde Beatty Circus was revived
with good results. But when they revived the Side Show it
was really the menagerie plus a couple of token platform acts.
With the closing of King Bros.' Circus the only remaining Side
Show band was at liberty. When Ringling Barnum closed, the
Side Show people went their various ways-some to carnivals, some
to other kinds of work.
Some of the old masters are still at
work. Arthur Hoffman is making openings on the Beatty bally
stand. Jack Elkin is lecturing at a museum. More
circus Side Show people were with carnivals and parks.
Were Making Money
The best guess is that the Side Show
got into this precarious position not thru any particular fault of
its own, altho no department of a circus has been so abused over
the years as the Side Show. These unique locations of odd
entertainment were doing okay financially when last heard from.
How much business a Side Show does is something that depends much
on geography. Circus Side Shows do well in the East; the
Ringling "kid show" generally did best at Philadelphia, with
Baltimore and similar stands also showing up well. The Side
Show topped $70.000 at Philadelphia to set a record, and its
profit on a season was often well into six figures.
In contrast, circus Side Shows almost
never did any real business in Iowa, the Dakotas and similar
territories. Oddly, this set-up was directly opposite to the
experience of carnivals. The latter find they do their top
business in the North Central States.
It was pretty much by default that
Side Shows were virtually absent from the American circus scene in
the second half of 1956.
And what of the future? If
Ringling-Barnum stays indoors, it isn't likely that they will have
a Side Show. There is a fair chance that next year's Clyde
Beatty Circus will have a Side Show with human oddities, plus a
traditional menagerie. Hagen Bros.' Circus also has said it
will have some changes in the department.
But even at best it now seems likely
that most circuses will be showing animals where once the fat
lady, thin man, fire eater, tattooed man, bearded lady and their
cohorts were to be seen.
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