Q: Several showmen, including
myself, had a pretty tuff season.
How did your summer tour go?
PK: We had a terrific season this year.
Why do you think your
season did so well?
PK: Lots of prayer!
Pete, how many years have you been in
PK: Since before I was born.
My mother was performing in an acrobatic act well into the
third trimester with me.
I started making money by age six...checking under the seats
after every show for "shakes"
Then I would clean out stalls for some of the animal
The shakes paid better.
When we started
working around carnivals, I would "gopher" coffee and drinks
for the flatties, alibi and hanky-pank agents.
They tipped okay.
As you can probably imagine, I also
learned plenty hanging around those guys.
I was 8 or 9 yrs old then.
Some of our readers
may not know what shakes are, would you explain what and
where the term came from?
PK: "Shakes" & "Groundscore"
both mean pretty much the same thing. Lost cash with no
apparent owner in sight.
If it is in a wallet with ID, it's not a legit score. You
must return it. Otherwise, "finders, keepers...".
The term "shakes" came from the ride operators. The loose
change would be literally shaken from the pockets of riders.
Could you tell us a
little about your mom and dad and their background including
their circus act?
PK: Sure. Mom &
Dad started out doing a casting act in Europe. Casting is a
type of trampoline act that involves
a person on a horizontal bar (the Caster) high above the
trampoline on one end. Then, there is another person on the
other end of the trampoline called the Catcher. The
third person is the Flyer. The trampoline is very long and
the Flyer is thrown by the Caster towards the Catcher who
will hopefully catch the Flyer at the other end. Combined
with the Casting they, along with their partner, would do
all of the usual tricks on the trampoline that western
audiences are more familiar with. As a finale, Dad would
the circus band playing the slide trombone while doing
somersaults on the trampoline in tempo to the music (A Sousa
march). Since these somersaults would sometimes run into the
hundreds you can imagine that it was a showstopper.
Some kids for the life of them wouldn’t want to
work the same kind of job as there parents, what was it that
kept you in the business and Why?
PK: Tough question. I'll explain it this way... I wouldn't
want their parents' job, either.
Show business was not just a "job" in those days. It was a
way of life for a very close knit & close mouthed society.
If you came across a show rig stopped on the side of the
road, you checked to see if everything was OK. It didn't
matter if you even knew the people. Odds were, they were
another family much like your own.
There is less and less of that as the years go by, but I
doubt that it will ever disappear completely.
Draw your own conclusions.
What was your first job?
PK: My first job in the ring was as a shill for
Harold Barnes on the old Bearse & Barnes Circus. Mr. Barnes
would do a clown act in the show involving a chair, two kids
from the audience and an Asian elephant. I was always one of
the kids from the audience.
Would you explain what the job of a
Perhaps David Blaine or David Copperfield could explain it
better, but roughly, it is this.
The job of the shill is to act as a secret confederate to
the performer while maintaining the outward appearance of
John Q. Public. This is done in order to pull the wool over
the eyes of the audience.
A favorite ruse of magicians & televangelists everywhere.
You must have had many different jobs over the
years. What has been your favorite job?
PK: What I do
presently combines all of the skills I've acquired over my
lifetime in show business.
I'm working harder and having more fun than ever before.
Right now, this is it.
Your family started in the circus and
then expanded to the carnival midway in the 1960’s, working
the backend. Could you tell us a little about the transition?
PK: We started getting more dates for the acts at
fairs. Grandstand shows. This naturally led to my parents
meeting the carnival owners of the period. One thing leads
to another, and there you have it.
Q: Could you tell us about the first back-end
piece that your family framed?
PK: My dad was
(among other things) an illusionist. A Houdini fan. His
favorite stunt was when Houdini wowed the masses by walking
through a brick wall constructed by masons in full view of
the audience. A simple trick, but very effective.
He framed a single-o illusion show based on this trick.
It was an unbelievably heavy prop.
It was sinfully expensive to build.
The few people
who saw it in action were all nonplussed.
By the third day of operation the handwriting on the wall
was plain to see... In short, it didn't win a nickel.
Nobody was interested.
So my mom repainted the banners on the front while my dad
and older brother built a new illusion in the back.
By the second weekend of that fair the newly re-themed show
was a phenomenal success.
The show? " Tasha, the Gorilla Girl !! ".
What are some of the
differences between working the circus and the carnival?
PK: As a circus performer, you risk your neck a few
minutes per show.
A few shows per
You get lots of applause, plenty of adulation.
But, sadly ,very little money.
As a showmen, you
work constantly. Risking your neck even more frequently.
You get no applause. Only hostility.
But, happily ,you can make plenty. If you're smart, you
might even get to keep it.
You say hostility,
what are some of the things that have happened working as a
PK: Once this
older man accused my wife of "gypping" him on the Giant Rat
show. He called her all sorts of things and swore up and
down that " That ain't no rat and ain't nowhere near no
hunerd (sic) pounds!"
It turned out that the old pessimist had peeked in the
window and having spied the rat's basketball ( a beloved
play toy ) he immediately assumed he had been defrauded by a
When the actual rat was pointed out to him he was impressed
but not very apologetic.
We deal with this level of stupid crap all day long.
To be fair, we do see our share of friendly smiles.
While these smiles may not be applause, they are the next
Could you name a few of the
sideshow/grind shows you have operated?
PK: Little Man, Little Woman,
Little People, Snake girl, Spidora ,Gorilla girl ,Headless
Lady, Little Horse,
Two Headed Baby, Man-Eating Chicken ,Unicorn ,Giant Pig,
Giant Horse, Rosemary’s Baby, Fat Man Dr Zodiac's Palace of
Illusion (10-in1) Bigfoot, Freak Animal(10-in1), Snake Show,
Rat Show, Oddities Museum.
Was the “Giant Snake”
the first show you owned on your own?
PK: No. Headless Lady & Little People, as I recall.
What shows did you
have out this year?
PK: My wife Athena & I are taking out 2 shows.
Giant Rat / Giant Snake.
How long did it take
you to frame them? Do you have your own shop?
PK: I started building this Snake Show about 10 yrs
ago and one of these days I'll finish it even if it kills
I've only been two years on the Rat Show so you can imagine
how much I have left to do on it.
Maybe if I did have a nice shop things would go along a bit
faster for me.
But, I’m not convinced.
As it is, I carry all of my tools. All of the time.
Neatly stashed in the capacious (is that really a word?
Hmm.) tool compartments of my hand built motor coach.
Which we refer to as-The Flying Doniker.
This way I'm
always ready for action.
Though I'm seldom inclined towards it.
How many months per
year are your shows out on tour?
We've been doing about 4 months a year starting
out sometime after the 4th of July.
Do you have any plans on
expanding your operation in the future?
PK: Definitely yes. When the time is right. I’ve got
lots of ideas.
When the time is right, would you let us know a
little about what you mean by that statement?
PK: You can burn
out territory by going over it too many years with the same
Also, you can bottom-line as much with two shows in a tight
operation as you can with four that are loose because you
are top heavy.
If you don't follow that let me put it this way... Let's say
I have four shows.
I might actually
be better off leaving two in the barn and swapping them off
with the ones I take out at, say, three year intervals.
The reasons? The particulars?
Mail me a G-note and I'll be glad to explain it to you...
What is it about this business
that has kept you in it your entire life?
PK: I've given this a lot of thought over the years.
There are a lot of other fields that could be just as, or
even more, lucrative than this one.
I think I'd have an easier time making the construction
racket pay, for instance.
Making a buck with grindshows is never a surefire thing.
It's a lot easier to go wrong than it is to go right.
That is what is so addictive.
The thrill you
get from overcoming obstacles.
Add to that all the colorful characters I've met over the
years, all the unbelievable adventures I’ve had in strange
locales under unlikely circumstances and it becomes obvious
that the question isn't "what has kept you in it?" but "Why on earth would you ever leave it?"
If you could frame your "Dream Sideshow",
what would it be?
Something that generates plenty of income on
Yet is paid handsomely just to be brought to
Is criticized harshly by the press and the
cause of much controversy.
Is hounded out of town just as the
engagement comes to a close.
Is invited by all never to return.
Then doing it all over again next time
because everyone had forgotten.
Happens every four years.
They call it politics.
What would you change about the
business if you could, i.e. fair boards, carnival owners,
PK: Nothing. Why
should I try to screw them? They are doing a fine job of it
all by themselves.
Future…if you could choose the era, where would you choose
to operate your grind shows?
PK: Definitely in the present.
We are living in interesting times.
you looked at ladies swimsuits lately?
It can't last forever.
I'm glad I was here to see it for myself.
What is it about
today that makes it different from yesteryear? Perhaps it
takes more to shock people than it did 40 years ago?
PK: Are you
suggesting that people are somehow more sophisticated now?
That would be incorrect. If they are harder to shock it is
because their senses have been dulled, not sharpened.
trick I ever learned as a kid works better now than ever.
There have been a lot of “animal rights” groups
protesting the displaying of animals. Have you had any
encounters with them and how have you handled it? Do you
feel these groups will affect your ability to display
animals in the future?
PK: We've had no problems. We
don't expect to.
Most of us have had a helping
hand when we were starting out. Could you name a few of the
people who have influenced you in the business?
PK: My Dad Laszlo, Jack Waller, Ward Hall,
Constantine, Bill Cody, Lee Kolozsy.
You listed your
brother among your influences. Sometimes relationships
between siblings can get strained. I have read where Chang
and Eng, the famous Siamese Twins, would even get into
fistfights. Would you tell us about growing up in the shadow
of your older brother?
PK: My brother Lee casts no
shadow. Come to think of it, I don't recall ever seeing his
Since you first started in the
carnival backend business, what are some of the major
changes you have witnessed?
PK: Too many suckers buying into the food biz and
jacking up the price of real estate.
The show office forgetting the value of free bally
entertainment on the midway, then later paying the price.
Million dollar ride payments bankrupting the big shows.
Skyrocketing insurance premiums bringing all them geniuses
to their knees.
One show trying to outbid another for fair contracts until
all the fair boards were trained to expect BIG money.
Now, a vast conglomerate buys all the carnivals and corners
HA! HA! HA!
Surely Satan sits in Hell and laughs with fiendish glee!
One thing is certain, the changes we've seen are nothing
compared to what's waiting in the wings.
With the decline of
sideshow operations, where do you see grind shows and
sideshows heading in the future? Do they even have a future
on the midway?
PK: Maybe not on the carnival midway, but certainly
they will always find a home on the fairgrounds somewhere.
Don't forget, shows have a long history and tradition with
these events and the public has not forgotten this.
We have more than once been informed by our public that the
only reason they are at the fair is because they were told
that there was an old time "sideshow" set up there.
Not to mention
that our fronts seem to be the most popular photo op on the
I mean that it
isn't unusual to see people politely waiting for each other
to snap their photo so that they can take their turn posing
in front of one of our shows.
This type of
thing is not lost on the fair officials.
In the last few
years, have you found it easier to deal with fair boards or
the carnival owners?
quit trying to deal with either. Athena does that. I clean
the rat's litter box. Less crap to deal with.
How are the
rises in expenses…gas, rent, supplies, repairs,
etc…affecting the bottom line? Is it still possible
for a sharp showman to make a decent living in these
PK: Lots of folks are complaining about that!
I find all those expenses to be trivial. A mere bag o’shells.
And I don't even consider myself all that sharp.
Is there anyone
special you would like to thank?
PK: Athena does all the booking. She is the sharp
one. She never ask
a question unless she already knows the answer.
She always backs me up when I'm in danger of being attacked
She helps me with the big words.
Of course I'm grateful.
Do you have any
hobbies or interest outside of the carnival business?
PK: Yes, but they all involve the circus.
What is the one thing
you remember most fondly from all your years in the
PK: The smiles.
Is there anything else you would like
to add before we close?
"If you're going
to present a sideshow, promise them the most fantastic
unbelievably strange thing they will ever see.
Thank you Pete,
for making time in your busy schedule to do this interview
for SIDESHOW WORLD. We wish you only the best and look
forward to reading more of your amazing tales in the Grind
Shows section of SIDESHOW WORLD
Interviewed for SIDESHOW WORLD
BY RICK WEST