Cosmopolitan Showman Lee Kolozsy
About a decade back, while showing at
the Kissimmee Valley Fair, I was having a discussion with carnival
operator Dick Carl,
who’s father and uncle were circus performers. Dick’s Uncle,
George Carl, was a world class entertainer and legendary eccentric
comic. I once toured with him through Canada’s A route of fairs
performing for grandstands full of fairgoers.
Dick and I were lamenting the loss of
live entertainment at the fairs. The absence of the midway shows
and the numerous free acts of yesterday. He stated, “Where are we
going to get the people to do that job nowadays, I can’t even get
enough help to move the rides.”
Several decades back, the circus had
experienced the identical problem, and had solved it by importing
people with the necessary skills. I mentioned this bit of history
to Dick and he immediately raised several arguments as to why it
wouldn’t work for the carnival. After a few points I made knocked
the wind out of his sails, he evidently tired of playing devil’s
advocate and began contriving supporting arguments in favor of it.
Pretty soon he was enthusiastically advocating the concept.
I surmise that the idea caught on,
because today, I can’t help but notice that at the majority of
shows I visit, the rides are moved and operated by people with a
variety of accents. This seems to come as quite a shock to most
carnies, but is altogether too familiar to those with a background
in the circus.
In the early sixties, I was on the
Clyde Bros. Circus, owned and managed by Howard Suez of Oklahoma
City. Acts on the show included the Hanneford wild west riding act,
Bobby Yerkes flying act with David Nelson,
Bert and Sandy Pettus,
Prince Bogino ( Junior Ruffin),
and a large contingent from Latin America.
Howard had a big date every year in
Mexico City. Mexico has a culture with a rich heritage of the
circus arts. He brought quite a few great Mexican acts north with
him for his tour of shrine dates. Many of these families
established themselves in Sarasota and have descendants, now in
the fourth generation since the move north, still in the circus
By now everyone in the American circus
is related by either blood, marriage, or incest.
Just one big happy family. Thoroughly
assimilated, and completely American. To the degree that many of
them are now complaining about all the invading Russian performers
putting them out of business. Kind of like I remember the old
guard of Germans complaining about the invading Mexicans.
The players change, but the game
remains the same…
What I notice from my visits with the
big carnivals and their armies of immigrant labor is that the
shows seem to move and run well, despite the fact that many of
these folks have limited English, and the carnie supervisors have
only terrible English. I have also observed that their bunkhouses
are generally orderly, the trash is kept picked up, the area is
quiet at night with no drinking and carousing. They seem to be
finer people who work hard and are well behaved and very polite
when shopping in town. They seem to frequent the thrift stores and
are wise in their spending habits. I also see them lining up for
phone cards and money orders. I imagine that most of them are
taking care of families back home. This is to be admired.
They are an asset to the show world,
and I for one welcome them.
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