I donít know
if I told you this little story or not? I included in my biography
been along time since
I have read it.
I was about three or four years old, I was born and
lived in Nebraska it was very very cold there in the
mother said that one cold winter day we were in the
kitchen. I had two kitchen chairs, I put them back to
back maybe two feet apart. I took a blanket and put
over the backs of the chairs, I was underneath this
blanket and my mother ask me, what are you doing their
Ward? Iím playing in my circus tent and to my familyís
knowledge the word
circus had never been used it the house in my presence.
There were no newspapers this was during the heart of
the depression so we didnít get news papers or
television there were no magazines. There was no movie
theater in town and
that age I probably wouldnít have seen one anyway, we
never had a radio until I was seven. So no body could
figure out where I had ever heard the word circus or
would know that I was playing in a circus tent.
only guess that
I was per-ordained to be in this business.
When do you remember seeing your first circus?
By the time I saw my first circus I was eight, I
saw another one when I was nine and then again when I
Then my father
and I moved to
So you were very young when you saw your first circus.
How old were you the first time you worked on the circus?
When I was fourteen, I worked as a prop boy for Cole
Brothers Circus for a very few days.
The next spring I
was still fourteen I worked on a show by the name of Sun
Brockís Super Colossal Wild West Show and Hollywood
Thrill Circus Combined it was an indoor show that was
playing in the stock show coliseum, I worked as a clown
there is a picture of me in my biography as a clown.
is certainly a blessing that I didnít follow that line of
business because, I had to be the worlds worth clown
ever. The show only lasted maybe ten day to two weeks,
the man got arrested on several charges like fails
advertising and parading without a license so the show
Sun Brockís Super Colossal Wild West Show and Hollywood
Thrill Circus Combined closed what did you do?
I spent the rest of that summer in Lakeside Park in
Denver as a bingo caller. I had turned fifteen by that
time, it was right after that my father
let me discover or should I say he showed me my first Billboard
Magazine/newspaper which always had the circus new in
it. They had the circus routes listed, I noticed the Daily
Brothers Circus had been routed into Boulder
which was about thirty miles away. I caught the bus
went up there and spent the day getting acquainted with some
of the people in the sideshow.
That next spring I wrote
a letter to that show, Milt Robbins had an ad in for a
fire eater and a magician. I answered the ad because I
had learned to do a few magic tricks out of a book that I got
from the library.
I also learned to eat a little
fire by pain and error so Milt gave me the job. I
remember he sent me a telegram salary OK show opens
April 1st join anytime winter quarterís
I had been
working on the Colorado and Southern railroad which had
a camp in Denver. I was a waiter for this Gandy Dancerís
camp in their diner. I had enough money so I bought my
ticket to Gonzalez Texas, the ticket cost me $51.50.
When I landed in Gonzalez I had two dollars to my name.
I went out to winter quarters met Milt Robbins.
Milt became one of my very best friends for the rest of
his life. I worked for him on that circus for four
years and in later years I worked for him when I was a
motion picture publicist. Then the last seven years of
Miltís working life he worked for us.
That was my start
in the business.
When you went to Boulder you said you got acquainted
with some of the people in the sideshow do you remember
who some of them were?
I donít remember many of them really, I remember Wait
Cercis was the inside lecturer and outside talker. John
B. Williams was the leader of the band which on the
bigger circuses and even on the smaller ones they use to
have a band of black people they would do about a ten
minute act that usually started the sideshow
performance. The band also played for the bally on the
Daily Brother Circus if they had a full crew on the band
it would be five chorus girls, two comedians, and Johnny
was the MC and led the band. I think that was a total
of seven plus six musicians. I got to meet all of them,
I met Millie Curtis and her husband, her husband Dave
was doing magic in the show that year. I really canít
remember who else worked the show.
You said you
got your start when you answer an ad in the Billboard and went down to
Texas, did you do any of the acts or were
you just working the circus?
Milt hired me to do fire eating and magic in the
sideshow. I need to tell you at this point that I never
wanted to be in the sideshow. My goal was to become a
circus performer, I was not a big kid and I had no
athletic ability. I didnít know how to do anything, but a little wire walking in the back yard. The
sideshow was to be my stepping stone to becoming a
circus performer. I actually did become a circus
performer but my foot got caught on the stepping stone
and I never left the sideshow.
Your goal in
life was to work in the circus and you used the sideshow
as your stepping stone. Why did you decide to
stay working in the sideshow business?
When I was
about eight or nine years old we lived in Kankakee Illinois.
This particular time they had a
promotion with Medal Gold Dairy, after school on one particular day you could go down town to the show and
it would cost you a nickel. For the nickel you
your would get a little tube of ice cream and get to see the
show. One of the things I remember about that show was
an Indian with a full feathered headdress. I also
remember they had a strongman and this guy the did
Popeye the Sailor. There was a tattooed lady, a pin
head and most of all I remembered seeing the magician.
The magician did his act and when he had finish all of his
tricks, he would put them all into a paper bag and sold them for a quarter.
You knew if I would of had a
quarter at that time, I would have for sure bought that
bag of tricks, but I didnít.
This was like I said I was
eight or nine years old.
From there where did you go?
We went back to Nebraska I think I was twelve years old
then, we were still in Trenton. My father had a job as
time keeper at the Air Force Base which was being built
in McCook Nebraska which was twenty miles away.
father invited me to come down and stay with him for a
week in McCook. It just so happened that Johnny
Howardís store show was in McCook that week. It was a
dime admission so of course I went every day to see the
There was a ventriloquist his name was, well
it slips me right at this moment. He did the Vent act,
the magic and sold the tricks. By hanging around for
several hours every day, I would see that the fat girl
was cutting out the little paper dolls to make the
dancing girl and the little black dwarf was folding the
papers to make the coin vanisher and so on, of course I
bought one of the packages.
Once I got the job on,
Daily Brotherís we had been living in an old broken up a
hotel in down town Denver. This would have been 1945
the war was still on. There were a lot of hotels in down
town Denver at that time. All the hotels had a writing
desk in the lobby so once a week I would make my rounds
and go to all the hotels. I would promote their writing
paper and envelopes out of the writing desks. Then
I would go back to the hotel where I would cut out my
two trick and paste them together. By the time I
was ready to leave for Texas my truck was almost two
thirds of the way full of these magic packages. I
didnít have much of a wardrobe at that time, when I
arrived there it was opening day, I remember this so
well I can say in verbatim. I ask Milt, ďI said
Mr. Robbins would it be alright when I do my act if I
sold some novelties?Ē He said what are you talking about
we have a novelty stand out on the Midway. He ask
me what kind of novelties, I said ďI have some magic
tricksĒ he said Oh! you want to
pitch; I had never heard that word before. I told him
yes I would, he said the package doesnít cost you more
the nickel does it? I said no, what are you going to
ask for it he said a quarter? I said yes, he was telling
me the answers I was just wondering about how to answer
him. He said OK and I get a third, I said thatís fine.
So the very first day I was in a sideshow I started
selling something, I didnít know what I was doing and I
know I wasnít doing it correctly. It took me a couple
of years before I started doing better stuff. Milt and
his wife were so good to me they took me under their
wing and treated me like there own son. I was only
fifteen years old then; I ended up make five pitches
every time that show went round. I was doing five
things on that show and I was making a pitch on each
one. That was remarkable because as an operator, Iím
reluctant to let anyone have even one pitch.
Circa 1940s Dailey Bros.
Left to Right
Milt Robbins, Martha Ali,
Rex "Americo" Carson, Ward Hall age 15
person to have more than one that would be impossible
with me. I think that should be the rule of thumb.
started making some really good money; I was getting
thirty dollars a week salary the first year and was
raised to thirty five dollars a week the second year.
By the third year I found out what the
star of the circus was making. I realized because I was
selling all this crap in the sideshow, I was making more
that the star of the circus. That was one
thing about Daily Brotherís Circus it was one of the
reasons I loved it and when I first saw it I thought
this would be a good place for me to break in. If you
had the ambition and wanted to learn something or do
something they gave you that opportunity. If you wanted
to make money you had the opportunity to do so. After
about two week of selling in the sideshow Millie Curtis
who was still the inside lecturer, she saw me handing
some money to Milt, she called me over and ask me ďWard
are you giving Milt some money from your pitch?Ē
ask me how much was I giving him? I told her it was
a third; she said your doing to much work around here to
be giving him anything so from now on you didn't give him
anything. She was trying to take care of me by looking
after me money.
I never gave Milt any more money and he
never asks me again for any.
Millie Curtis said you did too much work
around the show. When did you normally start your day?
We were on a railroad show and I would sleep on the
train, each morning my call was either five oíclock
or when the train got into town which ever came first.
You know I use to pray for the late arrivals, they got
me up at five oíclock in the morning, I would go with
the sideshow boss canvas men, the lot superintendent,
the big top boss canvas men, and the menagerie
superintendent. We would be taken by
the twenty four hour man, he would meet us at the train
in his station wagon with the bundles of layout pins and
we would be taken out to the circus grounds and the lot
superintendent would look it over and he would say put
the bid top there, sideshow there and so we would start
measure things and putting the pins where the stakes and
the poles should go. Then I had to help put the sideshow
up, once it was up. I would go get cleaned up and work
in the show and that night I would have to tear the show
back down again.
I had a pretty heavy job for a kid,
but I loved every day of it for many reasons.
all I was where I wanted to be, I wanted so very bad to
be with the circus. The people at the circus were very
kind to me the help me to become friends with everyone of
them. That was probably the most important thing, the
other was I escaped from my father.
I loved the circus
but because of the money and what kind of income I had,
I didnít become a circus performer for awhile. Even
after I was a circus performer and even after I was an
executive with the circus, I still worked in the
sideshow and sold the magic packages.
It actually took
me until 1961 to really find the way to proper sell the
Who taught you the right way to sell the magic packages?
I learned that from Bobby Reynolds and Stuart Miller,
they both had learn from the man I had seen in 1938 who
was Walter Delanco he was the king of the magic pitchmen
on Coney Island. Once I learn and could put together the
right stuff then I started to get the more serious money.
Thatís why I stayed in the sideshow, also once I got
into the Sideshow I not only became friend with the
people but I became fascinated with them.
Half and Half, half man and half women Frankie Duran.
Frankie later worked for me and I taught him how to
swallow swords, he did that until he died.
How does the circus sideshow differ from the carnival
A. How do circus sideshow differs from carnival
sideshow, circus sideshow didnít get into freaks.
were more interested in the working acts and the novelty
acts. On the circus the differences on the front was
that the circus always used double decker banners.
Brotherís Circus their bannerline was a hundred and sixty
feet long and twenty feet or a little more than that
high. The banner was ten feet high and sixteen feet
long on all of them. Each one depicted two different
things. The carnival show used a long narrow tent,
with the circus they used a smaller version of the
circus big top. With the carnival most all of the show were
either pit shows where the performers were on a low
platform and they had a pit rail that went around them.
The carnival would have a single deck bannerline as a
The front of the carnival show would be wide
open. The circus front would be closed. On the circus
shows you had individual stages for each act. In 1948
when we join the show in Idaho that time they had a
fighting lion act. It was one of the features on the
ďThe untamable lion that has already killed
four trainers and today you will see the man go into
that cage without any gun without any whip and with his
bare hands he will fight the lion you will see the man
fight the lion and the lion fight the man, he is ready
to go into the cage now get your ticket and hurry alongĒ
In 1949 we had this girl working for us and she was out
of Atlanta. The lion/lioness actually was
trained to attack the legs of a kitchen chair Ann Westley got careless she had put her hand to far
down on one of the legs and the lion clawed her. It
got infected and she had to leave the show and went
There was nobody to work the lion act, I was only nineteen years old
this has to be a lot of fun to go in there with the
lion. When I went in, I know the lion had
been trained to attack the legs of that chair and not the
minute you set the chair down the lion would go over and
lay down. I could set down beside her and, pet and
play with her.
I went to Mr. Robbins and I said, I
would like to have a raise and Milt said ya why, Iím
doing the lion act and I would like to get paid for it.
He said yes and nobody told you to do the lion act.
You shouldnít be doing it, you donít know what the
hell your doing and if you keep doing it you are going
to get hurt.
are doing five other acts on the sideshow and I donít
want you doing the lion. I said well Milt the point is I am
doing it and I would like to get paid for it.
ask me how much raise do I think he should give me. Ann
was getting fifty five dollars a week all she was doing
was the lion act, I want a twenty dollar a week raise so
I will also be getting fifty five dollars a week but I
will also be doing all the other stuff too. That year I
was doing a marionette act, a vent act eating fire, I
think I was working the electric chair with some body
and the lion act would have been the fifth thing I
will go see Ben Davenport he owned the circus. I can
remember verbatim what Ben supposedly said.
going to give the snotty nose punk no twenty dollars a
week extra to work that cat . I will get Joe Harwood to
double out of the big act, out of the big top and he will
do it for ten dollars. To his dying day Joe Harwood
said he never did it for ten dollar a week but I still
say he did.
always say my careers as a lion tamer was fortunately very short lived.
that was some of the differences, we had things like the
fight lion act which would not be a carnival act.
always had the jig band in the minstrel show band on
the carnival thatís a separate show. We had musical
acts and the magic. Harry did the punch and Judy and
the knife throwing. There was also a Hawaiian act with
several people that played Hawaiian music.
carnival we did the same working acts because we did the
acts, but you need to get the freaks in there also, I hired
other people to help
with the set up and take down.
What was some of the thing you wanted to do in the
The first year I was on the circus I decide I wanted to
become a ventriloquist. I order my first figure from a
wood carver in Los Angles by the name of Turner. It
cost me a entire weeks salary of thirty five dollars.
I Actually it cost me more than a week salary, anyway it cost me thirty
Between the time I order the figure and
the time it arrived a guy by the name of Jean Merser
joined the show he was a ventriloquist and doing the
vent act. So when the figure arrived I took over
to show to Jean, he said that is a beautiful vent
figure how much did
you pay for it? I told him thirty five dollars, he said
Iíll give you thirty five dollars for it right now. I
said I donít want to sell it I want to use it, he ask me
do you know how to do the act? I havenít got the
slightest idea, he said I will tell you what Iím going
to do. If you will sell me that figure for thirty five
dollars I will give you my figure, which was actually a
better figure and I will teach you how to do the
ventriloquist act. I said OK fine, about two weeks
later Jean came to me and said Ward Iím going to leave
the show. I donít expect to ever do vent again, so if
you want to buy the figure back you can have it back for
thirty five dollars. So now I had for a thirty five
dollar investment, two figures plus I had learned
to do the act which I did for forty years. The next year Floyd
Arnold the musical rude, played music on whiskey
bottles like a xylophone he also played the musical
saw. He taught me how to do that.
next winter I was with a tent show, we played three days
stints that means we had to play a different show each
night. One night I would do the ventriloquist act,
another night I would do the musical act and then one
night I would eat fire.
was the first year I worked with ďAmerico the anatomical
wonder, the man who could collapse his stomach to such an
extent that you see the front side of his back bone
through the skin the normally covers his abdomenĒ.
was kind of a crotchety old man, he was very old.
It was a very big circus that year it was
on twenty cars, twenty rail road cars. One reason that
they would have such a big show on so few cars because
nobody except for the department head got a birth by themselves on the train. Usually they didnít have a birth
by themselves because most of them were married. They
double everybody else up, My birth mate for about the
first half of the season was Americo the old anatomical
wonder and then he left the show.
he left the show that's when Jean Mercer the
ventriloquist, the musical rube and the man who became
my partner Harry Leonard, who did knife throwing and
Punch and Judy joined the show.
It all happened during the 1946 season. It all happened that one season. I was on the same show all of
the 1947 season also.
winter of 1947 and 48 I was with that little tent show I
mentioned. In the spring of 1948 we were not getting
paid so we left the tent show and joined Rogerís
seventeen years old, the owner of that show was Cy
Rubens and the manager of the sideshow was a really nice
fellow and his name was Carl Stone and his wife
swallowed swords they had two small children. But
Carl was an alcoholic, every few days he would get drunk
and couldnít work. On the days he got drunk, I took it upon
myself and went out and made they opening on the bally.
Cy Rubens came to me and told me the next time Carl gets
drunk Iím going to have to run him off, I just canít put
up with this any longer. I
want you to be the manager of the sideshow. I said give
him a chance he has two little kids, he did give him the
chance but it was the second time he got drunk, thatís when I
became the sideshow manager and I was only seventeen
we had an opportunity in June of that year to go out to
Kansas and join a carnival called Frears United Shows.
They had a cook house
which they had built into
a carnival, my Dad had known them. They built a
brand new sideshow, I mean everything was brand new
except the iron stakes to hold up the tent. They wanted
a sideshow manager, in those days you didnít telephone
anyone you telegraphed back and fourth. We made a deal
and Harry and I went out and joined them in Leavenworth Kansas.
We spent that season
with them and not knowing
what to do on a carnival. All I knew was when the
circus came to town they put up a lot of posters and the
people came to see the circus. I found out quickly in
the carnival business that isnít necessarily the case.
If I was having a ten dollar night with the sideshow
that was pretty good and a twenty five dollar night was
excellent. Fortunately we had saved up some money from the
circus, we made a living but didnít make any
end of that show came in September.
That sideshow was on a carnival?
Yes it was on a carnival, we closed with that show in
After that show closed where did you go?
We stored our house trailer and car, took the train and
went to Twin Falls Idaho were we joined the Daily
Brotherís Circus again we spent the rest of the year
with them and all of 1949, that year was a very good
year for the circus and a very very good year for sideshow performers the sold things.
We made two coast
to coast tours of Canada, we start from Sharnea Ontario
which was right across from Fort Huron Michigan and went
all the way west to Vancouver and then went
on barges up
to Vancouver Island and then back all the way east past
Halifax to Sydney Mines, then back again to almost where
we started which was Windsor Ontario where we across
over into Detroit.
Then in 1950, well in the mean time
Iím getting a little ahead in my story.
the winter of 1948 we started doing a night club act.
Iím getting ahead of myself.
During the season of 1948
there was a press agent on the Daily Show what they call
the press agent, he
was the press agent that stayed with the show. When the
newspaper people would come he would see that they had
reserved seats for the show.
name was Mel Miller a real fine guy, he was older than
me. Mel wanted to learn
how to juggle and so did I. I donít remember if anyone
with that show showed us how to juggle but we would
practice every day between shows. I learned to
juggle a little bit, Harry and I, He did the knife
throwing and I did some juggling. We both did an act so we
did night clubs in the winter.
In 48 we wintered
in San Antonio Texas. Spend 49
in New Orleans we went to work a theater show that we put
together. It was a musical show called Frisco
Follies. That show was the first time I had ever
been to Florida in fact we came to Tampa. The man who
was to do the comedy and MC did a black face act.
He was a Canadian by the name of Deacon Slim Williams, he
became ill so they needed somebody to MC the show and do
some comedy so I step into that roll in the show. But
actually it was called a tab show a musical show cut
down to fifty minutes. The reason for the fifty minute
was if a touring stage show ran an hour then you had to
carry four stage hands, They had to be Union stage hands with the
show. But if it was less than an hour if it was fifty
nine minutes you didnít have to have union stage
In that fifty minutes I was one stage thirty
five of the fifty minutes did six wardrobe changes. I
sang a little, I danced a little, did comedy and MC the
show, I loved every minute of it.
In New Orleans we did
five show a day and six on Saturday. Thatís how we
spent that winter. Toward spring we booked with an
agent to do grand stand shows at fairs, I think we had
three or four fairs booked. Then we went up to Cincinnati
where we worked club and then to Detroit.
By the middle of May the club work had dried up. Our
first fair wasnít until August, we knew we couldnít hold
out. We are going to have to get a job so lets find a
circus. We went down town and bought a
Billboard opened it up and what do we see?, Was an ad the says sideshow manager with acts wanted for
Seals Brotherís Circus, Ward Hall and Harry Leonard
please answer. We exchanged telegrams and were on our
way to Williston North Dakota where we joined Seal
We went the high road up into Montana
going into Miles City Montana the owner
loved his horses he always drove the horse truck
himself. The brakes felled on the horse truck and he
went over the side of the mountain and was killed. The
show lump along for about another three weeks maybe in
that period of time we had one long jump into Oregon.
There was another circus that was playing Mountain Home
Idaho it was right on that jump, right on that route.
Because of the long jump we only had one show schedule
so we stopped and visited with that show it was the
Stevenís Brother Circus in the afternoon. Bob Steven
said I need a sideshow manager you know that show is
going to close why donít you just stay here. I said no
we have a commitment with those people so we are going
to stay, I know it is going to close but we are
going to stay with them until it does then we will come
So when did the Seals Brotherís Circus close?
It closed on July the third in Wasco Oregon they came
around and told us after the matinee that it was going
to close that night so the next morning we jumped over
to Mountain Home Idaho and
joined the other circus. We spent the rest of the
While you were on the Stevenís Brother Circus what did
you do on that show?
You donít have to pay me but I
want a privilege, he said what is it? I said I want to
put a two headed baby as a second blowoff in the
I will give you twenty five percent. He said
That was good I had the blowoff booked but
the problem was I didnít have a two headed baby so I
went down town and found a dime store and
bought two rubber dolls, I cut the head off of one and
glued it on the other one put a piece of tape over
the whistle in the back, it said momma when you squeezed
it and painted it brown. I found a Tomís peanut jar in a
restaurant. I said how about selling me the peanut
jar? I think they sold it to me for about ten dollars.
When we put the baby in it we just turned it so that
Tomís lettering was on the opposite side filled it full
of water and put some tea in so it wouldn't be to
stuck the thing in there, I made an opening about this
little two headed baby.
took denotations. It worked very well.
I also was
performing at the big show. The next year the man that
owned Seal Brotherís Circus his son Norman Anderson was
going to cut the show down I think we got it
down to eight or nine truck from fourteen or fifteen. He
wanted us to come over and run the sideshow. We went to
Venice California thatís where the winter quarterís
were. We went out there and helped him re-frame the
show. The day the show opened the same thing
happened, there was a family who was to come out and
perform. One of them was
juggling, one of them was doing something else and the other was
going to be the announcer.
here comes another opportunity, I said Norman I have a deal for you. I will announce
the show, l do the juggling and
balancing act on the ladder and in exchange you donít
have to pay me anything, I just want to
have the blowoff with the two headed baby in the
Over the course of the winter I had found a
wax studio, they made me a real good looking two headed
baby. I put it in a good medical jar. The year before
when I had that phony one Bob Stevens thought it
was just great. Anytime a visiting showmen would come
around he would tell them you got to see this. This is
the best three dollar and seventy cent investment that
has ever been done in the sideshow or
circus business. He would take then in and show them
that thing in the jar. When I put the good baby in the good jar
Norman never did fill the same way about it.
We were up in mining country, we opened in Elsinore California on
April 1st we went down throw Arizona while
all the shows back east were fighting rain and mud we
were getting money every day. Then up into Nevada
and on into Utah.
I was making the opening on the thing and I was doing it
Back it those days there were still a
lot of silver dollars in use especially in the mining
towns. I would often get silver dollar donations. One
day I was doing the juggling act my partner came in and
just happened to be setting in the seats. Mr. Anderson
came in and set down beside him. You know Harry
thatís the most expansive act I have in this whole dam
circus. Harry said what do you mean your not paying the
kid anything. He said I know but heís getting all that baby
It ended up that I didnít stay
the whole season thatís the biggest mistake I have ever made
in my entire life. We were getting serious money, it was a beautiful little show and very nice to
be around. About a week later someone came on and I
was able to get out of the balancing act. I was working
like hell, I made the opening on the front of the
sideshow then I would jump in the number two ticket box
and sell tickets. I would go inside and do the
magic, the vent and ate fire, I think I also it stood for
the knife throwing act. Then made the opening on the
dump the people out of the sideshow, I would run out to
the trailer change putting on a top hat and
tails run over to the big top and announce the
opening of the circus. Then I would go back and change
for the juggling act. When the circus
ended I would go out the back door and run as fast as I
could and change again go up on the bally platform
before the people would come out of the big top.
Show Bainbrigde GA,
Hall and Leonard Show 54
Ward Hall, Jan Del Rio, Diane, Frank Donnell, Pooba,
twenty one years old when I did that, I sure wouldnít be
able to do that now. As I said it was a terrible mistake
when I left that show the problem was I wanted to own something of my own
so bad I could