Texas to Canada...
In February, 1964, we took off for south Texas, and played two big, two-week celebrations: Brownsville and McAllen. We did real good in these border towns, however, in Brownsville we had heavy wind, and our new 20' x 80' four-section tent got torn up, as it blew down, and 5' x 9' stage tops flew thru the air, ripping huge holes in the canvas! We repaired it, set it back up the next day, and it blew down again, but this time it didn't get torn. This was probably our worst blow-down during all our years. Geary Hearn was wintering in the valley (that area of Texas), and he worked for us at these spots, and also painted some new ticket boxes for us. Working the show with us was Bill Unks and a couple of girls. We came back to Tucson, then played Yuma, and then into California, hop scotching the fairs. I believe that year we played Delmar fair, instead of Pleasanton, as these two big fairs day-and-dated each other over the fourth of July. We closed in October in California, and went back to Catalina.....Lee and I flew down to Mexico City and Pueblo, and toured the Mayan ruins. We had a nice vacation before returning to Catalina.....I had bought a number of illusions from Abbotts' in the 1960's, and a few from other companies. Some we used the full season, but some just weren't practical for our setup and the rough usage we put them thru! Almost all had to be rebuilt or beefed up! And others, like the six-foot guillotine, were just put up on the stage for ambience. I remember we used Abbotts' Basket illusion in Lee's snake act. Some of the other illusions we used were: Ultra-Modern Suspension; Sacrificial Cremation; Girl in a Fish Bowl; Dagger Chest; Neck Twister; Super-X; Spider Girl, and others. And on the bally, occasionally, we used Abbotts' Slick Post Escape.....In 1965 we opened in late March at the Pima County Fair in Tucson. And the law closed our blow-off due to a customer complaint! It was Talla Ray doing her hermaphrodite act- it made all the papers, but it didn't hurt our business at all, in fact, it helped! We played some still dates with Capell Bros., and while playing a shopping center in Phoenix, our duck, used for the Baffling Donna illusion, was stolen. Lee repored it to the police, and they thought it was funny! We got a little write-up in the paper but never did get the duck back!...Later we joined West Coast Shows unit #1, playing California and Oregon, for the season, with most of our regular crew. After we'd closed the season, back in Catalina, we hooked our Airstream up to a new Jeep station wagon we bought, and drove down to Kino Bay, Mexico, where we stayed on the beach two months, doing nothing, just fishing and drinking tequila! We took Jimmy Bates with us.....In 1966 we opened early at the Maricopa County Fair in Phoenix, with Steve Merton's SJM show. Then on up to Las Vegas playing a couple of community fairs around there. Lee's sister, whose husband had died a couple of years back, and who was not in the business at all, joined us from Pennsylvania. She worked as our main ticket seller, and drove our station wagon and trailer, as Lee didn't drive, and I couldn't count on a driver for our sideshow truck- I always did that myself. She fit in real good, and was with us three full seasons. We left Las Vegas, and drove all the way up to South Dakota, joining Mike Smith's Shows, who had the "B" circuit of fairs in western Canada. We played several still dates in the Dakotas to poor business. People just didn't seem to like our act! And their lot man didn't seem to like us! He didn't seem to like "back end" (sideshow) people. He ran over our ticket boxes, bent our storm guy stakes, and so fourth, with his truck- we seemed to be in his way! But I had heard the "B" circuit was great, so we went along...much to our regret! Business was off in Canada that year, and after playing two fairs a week for several weeks to poor business, we decided to "blow the show". Talla Ray, who was an all-around great sideshow performer, as well as half-and-half and talker, was with us on this tour. She stayed behind and took over the Girl Show, which had been doing so poorly that the guy who had been running it had blown even before we did! We also had with us Bill Unks, Dino Diza, and Niki, who was handling snakes with Lee. She was an old friend of Lee's from her girl show days. She also worked in the illusions. And we had a couple of working men. We came out at Wolf Point, Montana. We booked into Great Falls and Billings, Montana, State Fairs. Then on into Canada for The PNE (Pacific National Exposition) in Vancouver, which we'd had a contract for since the last winter. These last three fairs made up for the earlier fiasco in Canada with Mike Smith Shows! After these it was back to Catalina, where we paid off our help, and then Lee, her sister and I took off for Kino Bay again for two months on the beach.....In 1967 we worked around winter quarters refurbishing equipment till the Tucson and Yuma fairs came around. Then we went on into California and joined West Coast Shows, now owned by Bobby Cohn. I believe we opened in Chico. We had all our regular crew with us, but we needed a bally girl. We saw a young girl hanging around the midway there at Chico, and we asked her if she wanted a job. Her name was Sue Perryman, and yes, she wanted the job- there'll be more about her later, as she was with me for fifteen years!...We played the fair route in California, then Cohn sent us up to the Oregon State Fair in Salem. Then over to Blackfoot, Idaho, then all the way back down to Bakersfield. We were doing big business in all these spots but sure put on the miles!...At Bakersfield we were approached as soon as we got on the lot by Bobby Cohn and a fellow named David Friedman, who was a motion picture producer. He wanted to use our sideshow, while in operation, in a movie he was shooting that took place on a carnival midway. The movie was centered around a woman who takes a job on a carnival midway, but is repulsed by the sideshow and it's people. She marries, and murders, the carnival concession manager, but gets her due from the sideshow people in the end. The plot was very similar to the famous 1932 Todd Browning movie "Freaks", which Schlitzie had had a role in. This new movie was to be called "She Freak". They used the interior and exterior of our show, while we were performing. I was given a role in the movie- "Mr. Babcock", carnival owner! Consequently, I had to stay out of the scenes in and around the sideshow while they were shooting! Lee was in several scenes, as well as Bill Unks, Dino Diza, and Evelyn, Lee's sister. It didn't interfere with business- most of the shooting was done before we'd open for business or after the carnival closed. Bakersfield was one of the biggest fairs in California, and it runs ten days. We had a lot of fun being a part of this picture. For those who have seen the movie: I played another role besides Mr. Babcock- at the climax of the movie, when all of the freaks attack the girl, I was the one dressed as a wild, bushy-haired monster!...After this, the rest of the season seemed rather routine! West Coast Shows had the Arizona State Fair in Phoenix that year, and it was our biggest-grossing fair of the year! We closed the season there, just one hundred miles from home!...
Here's a still from She Freak where I'm running a drunk employee off the midway!...For you She Freak fans, we'll be adding more photos from the movie later, so check back!
An All New Show in '68
We made a lot of changes for the 1968 season. We had a Wells Cargo Show trailer custom built for us. While it was being done Lee and I flew down to Ecuador for a three week vacation. We took a jungle tour; and picked up some "artifacts": pseudo-shrunken heads; bows and arrows; and "authentic" photographs of headhunters. On our way back we came thru Florida, visited some show people in Gibstown, and bought a real eight foot stuffed alligator in Tampa. When we got home and picked up the trailer, we had a guy from Albuquerque come down and paint it all around with pictorials: girl wrestling alligator; girl hugging snakes, and so forth. We called it "Wild Cargo". With all the pseudo-art; some live exotic animals, and a girl handling snakes, it was quite a good little walk-thru show. We carried it along with the sideshow for the next three years. We also ordered a new tent from Anchor- 25' x 60', green and orange striped, with sidewall; and some new 10' x 12' banners from O'Henry- the banner art was by the famous Fred Johnson. Over the course of the years we probably had seventy-five or eighty banners painted by him. The painter from Albuquerque made us two life-sized dummies: a mechanical three legged man whose extra leg made a kicking motion; and a "Ubangi" woman who had a long neck and lip rings. I also bought a Girl Without A Middle illusion from Abbotts. When I got it I set it up in the yard at winter quarters, and Lee got in it to try it out. The whole thing immediately fell over and sort of broke up! I patched up Lee, and then the illusion. I just had to reinforce parts of it. We used it all season long with the same girl, Sue Perryman. All of our illusions were worked on 5' x 9' platforms, with only a three foot guard rail in front so people couldn't touch. The Girl Without a Middle was worked just as close but angle-proofed in a corner on the stage. When we worked the Owen's Half-Lady, we worked it in the annex, with the proper lighting. We also used an old Broom Illusion I'd picked up somewhere for a hundred dollars. It was used in the first bally opening to build up a big tip. But we'd only use it on the first bally, as the gimmick was bulky and rough on the girl. Guess today they're easier to use, as I see they're for sale for about $2500!.....We opened the 1968 season at the National Orange Show in San Bernardino, California. It was a good run even with the three days of rain recorded in my books. Working with us were Mr. and Mrs. J. Bradshaw and their daughter Monica. They worked many of the illusions: Blade Box; Electric Chair; Spidora; Head Vanisher; Duck Vanish, as well as lectured on the dummies. Mr. Bradshaw also ate fire. Bill Fitch, an old-time sideshow human pincushion and torture act, also worked at San Bernardino with us. Lee handled the snakes, and lectured on "Billy Bryson", the real two-headed pickled punk. I worked the front, preformed magic, and worked Sue in the Girl Without a Middle illusion. This was more or less the line-up all season. We had a separate ticket-seller for the walk thru Wild Cargo show. A lot of the time there was no girl on the inside, just the snakes, animals, and "oddities". A recorded tape was grinding on the front at all times. It ended up being only an eighteen week season for the sideshow that year. From San Bernardino to Tucson, then Las Vegas, where Lee's sister Evelyn rejoined for the third year as our #1 ticket seller. Then on to Fullerton; Costa Mesa; Colusa; Pleasanton; Santa Rosa; San Mateo; Stocton, and Lancaster (all these are California fairs). At Lancaster the Bradshaws up and quit without notice. We couldn't get any replacements for them, so we cancelled the rest of our California run, and came on home. We sent Sue back to Oklahoma, and Evelyn back to Pennsylvania. Lee and I took the Wild Cargo show to Texas and played five fairs, closing Oct. 27 in El Paso, then came back to winter quarters. We had bought a new 1968 Ford pickup with a twelve-foot fully self contained camper in September, and that's what we pulled the Wild Cargo show with. We didn't go anywhere on vacation this winter, as we now had quite a menagerie including exotic animals (Slow Lorus, Capybara, Squirrel Monkeys); reptiles; a pair of Elephant-Skinned dogs to care for, as well as our pet poodle, Mr. Andre.....For the 1969 season, Sue came in from Oklahoma, and we were able to hire a couple of other sideshow people as well. And we opened Feb. 21 in Imperial, California, at the Riverside County Fair. Then on to San Bernardino again, opening March 6. According to my books the whole run was very cold, and our gross was way off from the previous year. March 19 we opened again at the Pima County Fair at Tucson. Our gross was $4 more than the year before! Lee was a few years older than me, and the traveling and lifestyle were starting to catch up with her. So after Tucson she decided to stay in winter quarters and not go out on shows anymore. We parked the travel trailer we'd bought while filming "She Freak" in 1967 permanently at winter quarters for her to live in. Believe it or not, it's never moved since, and it's where I sit now as I write these words!.....What's next for us?...Everything Changes...
Tales of an Outdoor Showman
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