Jack Waller’s International Circus Sideshow

Taught Me Everything I Ever Really Needed to Know

 

 

Find your own style. Jack’s wife, Angie and I were very close in age and the only female performers on the show. We spent our down time making costumes from thrift store dresses hand sewn with miles of fringe and sequins. Angie always wore black seamed stockings and heels, I favored fishnets and go-go boots.


If you miss a step, pretend it’s part of the dance. The props all fit Angie’s petite frame and I was several inches taller. The Zig Zag, done by Jack & Angie, was a graceful, smoothly choreographed illusion, but if for some reason I was covering for her, the music would be playing while Jack smiled through clenched teeth and growled “MOVE”, “I AM moved” I’d whisper. He had to pound the two blades in while I grimaced in pain and could barely latch the center box open when he slid it over. I never got the timing right so the knuckles on the hand that held the scarf always got scraped by the frame. Afterwards, the marks would come up to me and say sympathetically “Wow, that really hurt when he put the blades in.”  “You have no idea...”

 

Do it right the first time. One of my jobs during set up was to lace the sections of top together while the men were sledge hammering in the stakes for the guy lines. Once, I missed a lace and the top was raised before someone saw my mistake.  One good gust of wind could have caused the sections to separate and seriously damage the top. To teach me a lesson, the canvas boss, Rocky, made me climb a ladder all the way up and tie off the lace. To this day, I hate ladders and always double check my work. 

 

Be on time. The midway usually opened a bit before we started our shows. I had been out riding the super twister when I saw Jack with his arms crossed, glaring at me. I got off the ride and ran into the show just in time to sit on the electric chair. I promptly did the one thing that could hurt the most, I put my foot on the metal seam of the stage. When our magician Jim flipped the power switch, I got the shock of my life. As I hobbled painfully down the steps after the act, Jack said so softly I had to lean close to hear him: “I don’t have to tell you to NEVER be late for show again.”  I NEVER was.

 

 

Sometimes, you have to work through lunch. The show ran on a continuous ½ hour loop and since I took $$ for the blow off, lit the candles for the sharpshooter etc., there wasn’t always time to eat.  Jack made me sandwiches and wrapped them a special way so I could eat them in the blade box while the tip filtered past after they paid their quarter. He gave me giant safety pin for self defense against pinchers.

 

THE SHOW MUST GO ON; Come Hell or High Water means exactly that. We were attempting to set up the top at a flea market parking lot in Oklahoma City when we were suddenly enveloped by hurricane force winds and torrential rain. Everyone got soaked and chilled to the bone but we guyed the top down tight and held it to the ground until the storm passed and we could put the quarter and center poles in. The show opened ON TIME the next day.

 

If you’re truly sick, the boss will send you home. I got really, really, sick tearing down in the rain outside Sacramento and riding all night in wet clothes. The next spot was a parking lot in Vegas. I got through set up but later, between acts, they found me passed out under the stage. Jack put me up in a motel for the entire week and never even docked my pay.

 

Don’t take yourself too seriously. At the end of a long day, our talker RT was introducing the Headless illusion; the whole crew was standing out front watching him which made him grow increasingly nervous because we only did that if there was a set up happening. He was sweating bullets as he finished his patter and opened the curtain with a flourish to reveal; the headless woman with her shapely black-seamed stocking-clad legs crossed, smoking a cigarette from one of the air tubes and flipping the pages of a copy of Playgirl. It stopped the show...

 

But...

 

 

There’s such a thing as too much fun. We were playing the tri centennial in East Greenwich, RI. and to promote the show, Jack wrangled us a spot in the parade on the float for London St Pub; the idea being it would lead the tip right to our front. RT ate fire, I showed off the boa constrictor and Jim did the rings. Being a pub, there was plenty of liquid refreshment flowing and I guess we had a few too many along the route. The three of  us arrived too drunk to open the show and had to go sleep it off for a few hours...

Jack was LIVID.

 

People will help people who want to work. An old carny lady gave me a recipe for no fog glass cleaner so I’d always have a way to make a living during the winter. RT and I cooked it up in my stock pot, jarred and labeled it, then Jack wrote the pitch and taught me how to do it with a card table and a humidifier so I could sell them one for $3/ two for $5 at swap meets all over LA while Jack sold his “Magic Mouse”. I also cleaned boats in the local marina and ‘made mice for Jack’. Combined, these jobs made for a very comfortable winter in that little trailer park by the beach.

 

Not all Big Stars are egomaniacs. Johnny Cash was the star attraction at a spot on the east coast. One of our crew snuck into a dressing room to take a shower. It turns out, it was Johnny Cash’s dressing room. When security caught the kid, Johnny was really nice about it and had security just let him go without making a fuss. Shortly after that, RT used his old press credentials from the Fresno Bee to get a couple of us into the press conference, security had us by the collars when Johnny stopped them from throwing us out and let us stay. Afterwards, when we told him about Jack’s show, Johnny saw that we all got tickets to his concert. As a thank you and an apology for the nuisance we’d been, Jack invited Johnny to a special performance of our show. Citing security concerns, Johnny gracefully declined.

 

 

Mind your manners and know when to keep a low profile.  I never got carded any time we went to Vegas or anywhere else as long as I was with Jack.

 

Embrace the Magic. As a special surprise, Jack and Angie took RT and me to the Magic Castle for my birthday. I’ll never forget it. There was a barstool that sunk slowly until I was eye level with everyone’s buckle, an invisible piano player who played requests when you put $$ in the yellow canary’s gilded cage, Chasens’ chili downstairs in the Houdini room etc., Just one amazing thing after another. We saw a show in one of the small showrooms and I sat at a close up table for the first time. I was mesmerized and absolutely star struck by the people I met but tried not to show it. The story was that it was my 21st birthday; it was actually my 17th.  I don’t think I really fooled anyone, it was a private club and I was Jack’s guest. It was my best birthday EVER.

 

Make yourself useful. Jack had a firm, no non-working animals on the show policy. That same birthday I adopted a little mutt from the Long Beach Animal Shelter. When the show was open, I tied him to the axle of the tent trailer so he could have shelter/shade underneath it. Jack relented on the grounds that that little dog barked like a German Shepard whenever anyone came near the trailers. He became our official watch dog. Frisco lived to be 17.

 

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Do your job with Enthusiasm. A teenaged boy on the east coast kept running away from home and showing up at our show. Jack negotiated with his parents to let him work for us until school started. Jack worked him as hard as he could and that kid never complained. We made him our mascot. There wasn’t a dry eye to be found when Jack put that kid on a homeward bound greyhound at the end of the summer.

 

Never underestimate the power of duct tape, baling wire and chewing gum. My first season, we had a white 5 ton bobtail truck we called the White Elephant because it lumbered along so slowly, but almost always got us there eventually. Somewhere along the way it finally died and Jack found us a red 5 ton bobtail we dubbed “Count Dracula” because it only ran at night and overheated during the day. The horse trailer we used for props had no brakes and sometimes we resorted to using band aids to wire the lights when we ran out of electrical tape. We hop scotched all over the country as far as Bangor Maine and back to the west coast in those trucks, trailer and our equally mechanically challenged personal vehicles. We never missed a spot.

 

Don’t tell strangers where you’re sleeping. When I first joined the show, I slept on top of the truck; no one ever knew where I headed off to. I could see everyone, but they couldn’t see me.

 

Home is where you lay your head. After that, I slept under the blade box stage. Eventually, Jack bought me a tent trailer for $500 and I paid it off that year. He let me use his old Dodge Coronet to pull it, eventually, I bought that too.

 

Don’t start thinking you’re indispensable. The only one on the show (besides Jack) that couldn’t be replaced with a semi-trained warm body was Henry. No one could do Henry the Tattooed Dog’s act except him. He was the true star of the show and he KNEW it.

 

  

The above picture has the cast and crew (one and the same) from the 1977 season. From left to right; The tall man is RT Eby, our talker and sometime fire eater (Jack taught him). I'm the brunette in the bikini top. The bald man is Jimmy Webb, our Ugly Man that season. The lady in the blue top is Jack's wife, Angie. She's holding Henry, our tattooed Chinese Crested. There's Jack Waller in his signature whites. Jim Jim (I never knew his last name) was our resident magician. Larry in the 17 jersey, and Ski in the white tee were canvas crew. That's our canvas boss and sharpshooter, Rocky in the tie dyed shirt with his wife, Jessica holding their baby girl.  There were others along the way of course, but we were the core group at that time and did a couple of seasons together.


 

 

Linda Casey (aka Mandy Lynn) One of “Jack’s Girls”


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