Master of a Freak Menagerie"
"You don't know the feeling of loneliness you get
standing by the side of the road in the middle of
nowhere with nothing but a dancing chicken."
Bob Reynolds was reminiscing. He took a bite of
fan-tailed shrimp and a sip of beer.
"There's a law that you can't transport animals on
buses," he said. "So when the chicken started
yelling, they just stopped and tossed us out..."
He had had much the same problem with his dancing
chicken in various hotels, he said, until he lined
an empty Bull Durham sack with black velvet and put
it over the chicken's head so it wouldn't crow so
early in the morning.
He looked around the Antler Room of the Fresno Elks
Club and told how it was in those days traveling
with a dancing chicken act on the carnival circuit.
"Some people put a hot plate under sheet metal to
make their chickens dance," he said, with some
distaste. "I never much cared for that. I'd put a
little Scotch tape on the chicken's legs and it'd
shake like crazy trying to get it off..."
The road from Tenth street and Avenue A in New York
to the Elks Club in Fresno - and his present
eminence at the age of 42 as king of the animal
freak shows - has given Reynolds a certain ...
perspective ... toward mundane matters.
"When I was up for membership in the Elks," he said,
"they asked what I did. And I said I was a showman.
So they wanted to know exactly what that was. And I
told them. Then after awhile I got in - I guess they
couldn't find anything unpatriotic about it."
Consider, for example, Henry the Tattooed Dog.
Henry, a young Chinese hairless, has an eagle and
scantily clad girl tattooed on his chest. And on his
left haunch, there's the Marine insignia and "Death
Before Dishonor," which is a pretty heavy commitment
for a dog.
Reynolds bought Henry from a sailor in a San Diego
bar. "Whenever this guy got drunk," Reynolds said,
"he always wanted to get a tattoo. But he was a
physical coward. So he bought this dog and every
time his felt the urge he went out and had it
Henry is one of the more prosaic animals who live
with Reynolds, his wife and two daughters on a
one-acre ranch in the suburbs of Fresno.
There's also Hoppy the Five-Legged Dog, Minnie the
Six-Footed Cat, Jumbo the Elephant-Skinned Dog,
Shorty the Midget Cow, The Sacred Sheep of the
Navajo, Suzy the Five-Legged Cow and Sideshow the
Six-Legged Cow. Among others.
Later this month, Reynolds will start touring fairs,
exhibiting his menagerie. Kids, 25 cents. Adults, 50
High spots of the season include Indio, Bakersfield,
Hanford, Del Mar, Pomona, Pleasanton, Blackfoot
(Ida.) and Vancouver (B.C.). This year, for the
first time, Reynolds will also present a medieval
torture chamber - iron maiden, thumbscrews, racks,
guillotines and such - to capitalize on the violence
market he says was opened up by TV.
He also has plans for a Midget Village, which will
feature midget animals, midget buildings and midget
people. But by and large, he prefers to work with
the animals - even though he has an interest in a
Coney Island operation that exhibits a fat woman,
the tallest man in the world and Kokomo, the
Animals are easier to work with," Reynold said. "But
it's still no fun schlepping them all around the
country. The ideal act, I guess, wouldn't eat or
He got started in show biz on New York's Lower East
Side as a pitchman when he was 10, became an
apprentice to Professor Heckler and his flea circus,
worked up a magician's act, did comedy routines, and
joined the old Ringling Brothers Circus with a human
It was, he said, your typical carney life. Then
along came Anita Singura, a young German girl who
was touring the U.S. with a show featuring the
world's only two-headed woman. He sold Anita his
show, then married her. Now, he said, they have two
of the four animal freak shows in the country,
operating during the summer season on the East and
They've made Fresno their western base of operations
for three years. Their suburban spread has a
swimming pool and rambling ranch-style house.
Bookcases are crammed with material on P. T. Barnum,
Billy Rose and Mike Todd. The five- and six-legged
beasts out back seem almost and afterthought.
"This is a quarter business," Reynolds said. "But I
work at it. I make as much as a good engineer, I
When things are slow on the animal freak show
circuit, Reynolds loads up with ballpoint pens or a
homemade rug shampoo ("Rey-new") and pitches them at
expositions or department stores.
Reynolds is somewhat chagrined at what he feels was
a major mistake in not gong into the topless freak
market a few years back.
"A topless tattooed lady, for instance," he said.
"Or a topless three-breasted lady. I know where I
could get them. But now ... I doubt they'd dance
In a way, Reynolds life is as structured as an
insurance salesman's. Besides the Elks, he's a
member of various trade organizations like Showfolks
of America and the Western Fairs Association.
"I'm about the last of the younger operators," he
said. "After I'm gone, you won't see anything but
noisy rides and some guy shouting, 'Hey, win the
lady a teddy bear!'"
He thinks that his daughters Tina and Kathy, 14 and
10, might want to take over the business some day.
They already go on the circuit when school's out and
Reynolds boasts that Tina can run the show by
"I'm teaching her to eat fire right now," he said.
"It'll be something she'll always have, something to
fall back on."
Kids in general, he said, are a bit skeptical about
his show. They seem to think the two legs growing
from his cow's head were transplanted or that the
extra leg growing from another cow's butt was glued
But, he said, the kids show up because "you can't
see this kind of thing on the boob tube. And the
SPCA people keep bitching about mistreating the
animals," Reynolds said. "Hell, those animals get
better medical attention than my kids."
Right now, he's in the market for five-legged sheep
and two-headed snakes.
"Two-headed snakes really trip me out," he said. "I
could get more five-legged cows, but when you've got
several already you kind of get particular about
Reynolds said he would go crazy if he could get one
of the mythical pushme-pullyous of the Dr. Doolittle
books. But on the whole, he eschews things he
considers too freaky.
Strange creatures in jars, for example. He has some
in his home - for his own amusement - but he finds
they distract from his other attractions when he put
them in his shows. The same thing was true of the
"It was dead, of course," he said. "But it was too
good. Nobody talked about anything else. And then I
was always getting stopped by the police because
somebody told them I was carting this dead body
around. He was 800 years old, for God's sake, I
didn't kill him..."
With his family and far flung freak shows, Reynolds
is less lonely now than in the days he was running
around the country with the dancing chicken. And
every now and then he envisions himself getting
older, leaving the more arduous phase of show biz to
Maybe Anita and I'll get together a flea circus and
go traveling," he said with a faraway look in his
eye. "Professor Reynolds and His Trained Fleas. It's
a good show. The hardest thing to learn is tying the
chariots on. I decapitated a whole lot before I
learned that one..."
Don Wegars - San Fransico Chronicle on Feb. 21, 1972