The Outdoor Show World


So, my Mom and Dad carried their acts to the outdoor show world, traveling medicine shows and carnivals, the same as hundreds of other vaudeville performers did.

Dad, with his gift of gab, soon became a talker (or barker) on the fronts of side shows. Mom became a girly show dancer and in a few months, she owned her own girly show called "Peggy from Paris."

Back then, if you got to see above a gal's knees, that was something. Well, Mom went a little farther than that. She had natural blonde hair and she found a piece of fox fur at a rummage sale and covered the patch on her G-string with it.

So now, as was the practice (the gals flashed their G-strings with rhinestones), Mom flashed the fox fur. Needless to say, there was a beaten path to the Peggy from Paris show.

The furburger was making a killing until she played a spot in Delaware and Peggy and her ticket seller both took a snatch and wound up in the can. They fined the ticket seller two bits, but they made Mom do ten days in the pokie for indecent exposure and lewd dancing. Also, the judge fined her fifty bucks and gave her a year in jail, but suspended the jail time with the provision that she wouldn't work her girly show in the state again.

When Mom got out of the cooler after doing the ten days, she swore that she would never step a foot inside a girly show again.
And she didn't.

She went to work inside the big side show Dad was talking on, helping the magician in his magic act.

The following spring, Dad and Mom took over the management of an office-owned side show, called a ten-in-one by the carneys because it had ten acts in it.  It was a good sized show, consisting of a hundred and twenty five foot by twenty foot tent, a hundred and twenty foot banner line, with five eight by ten pictorial banners on each side of a four by twenty foot center banner. On the top of each upright, supporting the banner line, was a bright colored flag. Out in front of the banner line sat the bally (a raised stage) with a ticket box at each end.

The ten-in-one, having over fifteen people affiliated with it, carried its own cook tent to feed all the help........ the reason? Because it was cheaper than transporting them to restaurants or feeding them at the carney cookhouse.

Everyone had their own bedroll, and like Dad used to tell the new arrivals, he furnished food, but they would have to sleep with Sprawl (Sprawled out anywhere they wanted).

As for acts in the show, Dad had Ellen Johnson, the fat girl; Cabtar Lewie, the kinker (contortionist); Hamlet, the juggler; Happy Mineola, tattooed artist; Hop Gawa, Chinese sword swallower; Bobby Bosley, armless wonder; George Rin, Human Blockhead; Margo, woman bag puncher; Princess Electricia and Ralph Seemone, the Human Volcano, plus four ruffles (working men). Two of them sold tickets while the other two took tickets.

It was quite an undertaking, but with the agreement he made with the owner of the carney, he had to come up a winner.

I'll never forget Dad's method of operation on the front of the show.

To build a tip (draw a crowd), he would pour a little bit of gasoline on top of the water in a metal foot-tub, then throw a lighted match on it. As the flames and smoke went up in the air, he would have one of the 'ruffles' bang on an old brake drum with a hammer and cry, "Fire! Fire!"

Then he had another ruffle crank the handle on an old fire truck siren. The smoke could be seen all over the lot by the marks, plus the cries of "Fire! Fire!" -t he banging on the brake drum and the siren's wail made the marks come running to the front of the ten-in-one.

As the gasoline became exhausted, the flames died out and the smoke diminished (which took just a few minutes), to keep the marks from leaving, now that he had a big tip (crowd) in front of the bally, Dad would say, "Stand where you are, my friends, while I have the Executioner put the rope around the young lady's neck and hang her from the gallows you see before you."

Mom would step up on a chair and the Executioner (the fire eater) would put a hangman's noose over her head.   Then Dad would start his pitch, while the marks stood wide-eyed waiting to see the gal hanged.

Then he would say, "Before we hang the young lady, or have her make her escape quicker than you can bat your eye, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about the show you are standing in front of."

"If you will look over the doorway, the sign says Palace of Wonders in big letters. Underneath it says freaks, wonders and curiosities. That's what we have inside this big tent. If you will cast your eyes from way down there, (and he would point to the banners to the left and then to the banners on the right) to way up there. Each and every one of those pictorial paintings represent something we have inside."

"Now, I could stand out here for an hour and a half, telling you about the little oddities from Yucatan or the pygmy pinheads, the fire eater, the sword swallower or the pain proof man. But I'm not going to take up your time to do that. "

"I would, however, like to tell you about Ellen Johnson, our fat girl. She is so big and so fat, when she sits in a Ford car, the tires go flat. It takes a boxcar to lug her and three men to hug her. She's single and looking for a husband. Now's you chance, you single guys. She offers steam heat in the winter and a lot of shade in the summer."

"To give you somewhat of an idea as to how big she really is, here's a pair of her underpants." At that time he pulled a rope and overhead on a clothesline comes a great big pair of drawers about eight feet across. The marks bust out laughing.

Then he added, "The one we feature here in the Palace of Wonders is Paul-Paulette, our half man and half woman. This person, my friends, could become a mother or a father, as both sexes are productive and could legally marry a man or a woman."

"Now, in order for me to show you how much I appreciate you people standing here listening to my conversation, here's what I'm going to do. Just like a department store right here in your home town has a bargain sale on merchandise, I'm going to have a bargain sale on tickets. The regular price to see this show is fifty cents for adults and twenty five cents for children. For the next five minutes, I'm going to have the ticket sellers take those fifty cent tickets off their ticket boxes and lay them down on the floor." The ticket sellers would hold up the fifty cent tickets, then lay them on the floor of their ticket boxes.

And Dad would continue. "Now for the next five minutes, I'm going to make children out of each one of you and let you go in on a children's half price ticket of twenty five cents."

"Now don't come up here after the sale is over and expect to get in for a quarter, because I don't care if you are the President, it'll cost you the regular price of fifty cents."

"Now, watch as the little lady makes her escape from the gallows."
Then Mom would jump off the chair, and go inside with the rest of the bally acts and a recorded band would play one of George Sousa's marches as the marks lined up at the ticket boxes to take advantage of the bargain sale.

Dad would count down the time left. "You have four and a half minutes left to get in for half price. Now you have four minutes left..... Now three..... Now Two...... Now one."

If there was still a line up at the boxes, Dad would say to the ticket sellers, "Owing to the fact these people are still in line, let them go ahead on in on a kid's ticket."

At the time, Dad was considered one of the best talkers in the business.

To be Continued


Posted here courtesy of Midway Publications - Copyright 1999 William T. Usher All rights reserved


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