Jack Waller, Fire Eater
Showman Plans Act
to Please the Crowds
ISLE - Jack Waller strolled casually off the four foot
platform stage, half-acknowledging the crowd of county
folk who had purchased tickets to his sideshow.
The silver-haired Oklahoman had just finished his
15-minute act in which he had displayed a tattooed dog,
eaten fire and performed a feat of magic. It was a series
of events that Waller had become comfortable with and
through the constant repetition of performance, his well
timed movements had acquired a sense of mechanization.
Northern Maine fair jerked to a halt at Presque Isle, some
40,000 people would take home stories about what they had
won, lost, ate, rode, or saw at the "fair of the future."
Many will comment on the "Man who breathed fire" and
wonder "How he did it." A few will wonder why he did it.
Although Waller was agreeable to an interview, it was
clear that he picked his words carefully in order to avoid
anything that might be construed as "bad publicity."
The 46-year-old sideshow owner and performer said that he
had been interested in circuses as a child and began
working in magic when I was 16.
"I was doing magic when I was 16," said Waller.
"Later after a stint in the Army and some time in college,
I began working in circus magic acts, sideshows, and grind
Waller described a "grind show" as a show that displayed
only one of two features.
After more than a few years of toughing it, Waller managed
to get enough acts together to form a small sideshow
troupe. In 1973, he merged with another circus
entrepreneur and formed the Reynolds and Waller
International Circus Sideshow, of Los Angeles, Calif.
"I want this thing to be unique," declared Waller. "We
have no freaks or put-ons. This is an old-fashioned,
authentic circus sideshow."
If there is any one thing that draws people to Waller it's
probably the packaging of his show rather than the acts
that incorporate it.
Standing 6 meters (20 feet) high and 16 meters (150 feet)
in length are a collection of circus signs (banners) that
advertise the different acts in the show.
An interesting feature of each sign is a circle (bullet)
with the word "Alive" on it. Waller said that the
reasoning behind the circles went back to the early days
of sideshows and circuses when many of the attractions
were a little less than authentic.
"There were once so many sideshows that featured babies in
bottles, mummies, and manikins," said Waller.
"We feature strictly live acts."
Waller said that he enjoys the entertainment business and
particularly the combination of vaudeville and circus
routines that working in a fair provides.
"I enjoy the business," said Wellar. "I did night clubs
and television, but I like the personal freedom that comes
with owning your own show and working outdoors."
Waller also likes money. He said that his sideshow
attractions provide him with "a substantial, comfortable,
living, by doing what he enjoys."
it is evident that Waller enjoys working the crowd and
performing on stage, it is equally clear that there are
certain hardships that he and his traveling troupe must
"We work eight major state fairs and 10-to-15 smaller
functions in the course of a season," said Waller. "We're
on the road from February until November when we take our
break while on the road, we live out of trailers."
Waller features several different acts comprised of
individuals he has met in the entertainment field and
persons he has contacted that were listed in the Guinness
Book of World Records. While on the road, the work and
sleep routine of fair life can wear on the nerves of the
performers, but Waller said that "everyone gets along like
a big family."
"We have to operate as a family," said Waller. "Last
night, my barker (talker) broke his leg, and as you can
see, today he's back on the job - even thought he's
sitting. We're in this together and despite anything, the
show must go on."
But the sideshow owner is not sure how much longer the
show will go on. In a day when "The fair" means a
conglomeration of high-powered rides, questionable games
of chance' and junk food and jewelry stands, the "hurry,
Hurry, step-right-up," of the barker (talker) can scarcely
be heard above the noise.
"I try to present some good, honest, family entertainment,
flavored with a dash of showmanship," said Waller. "The
sideshow is rapidly becoming a dying art form. With the
rising expenses and the increasing mechanical amusements
around us, I think that it will someday be impossible to
take the show on the road."
Until then however, Waller will continue to offer the
human element of entertainment to a public whose interest
may be dwindling.
by A. J. Higgins
News Presque Isle Bureau - Bangor Daily News - Aug 16,1977