Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Circus Year in Review, 1978 Season..Tent Shows..

Bandwagon, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Jan-Feb), 1979, pp. 10-20.
The 1978 circus season was one that is difficult to fully assess in terms of financial success for the various shows which were on the road. There appeared to be an abnormally large number of early closings and some scribes compare the season to 1938, a year which spelled disaster for so many circuses. However, there was a difference in that season and the one just concluded. In 1978 there were individual circumstances which caused the downfall or early closing of several shows but by contrast other circuses had very fine seasons. In 1938 the severe economic recession did the damage and very few circuses were able to complete the season with a profit. This past year, although inflation cut heavily in everyone's pocket-book, the overall economic situation of the country was still healthy. The long coal strike in the spring destroyed planned itineraries of some shows and another winter and early spring of severe winter did its damage but generally neither business nor weather conditions played much of a part in the downfall of several shows. Actually, the season was more similar to 1956, a year which saw a number of circuses close early, each due to circumstances peculiar to the show in question, while other shows had an extremely fine year.

Don Marcks, editor of Circus Report, and who handled these reviews for several years, has again kindly furnished us with a list of circuses on tour in 1978. This review written by the Bandwagon staff is based on reports from many individuals, some of which are actively employed by circuses. An effort was made to secure as complete and accurate account of the circus situation in 1978 as possible, however information on a number of circuses was virtually impossible to obtain. In any event it is hoped that at least one centralized report of the overall circus season of 1978 such as this will serve as a source of research for the circus historians of the future.

Several circuses (as was true in 1977) claimed to be the largest under canvas, Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros., Circus Vargas, and Carson & Barnes No. 1. Each had their fans supporting their claim. These were at the top with Hoxie Bros, and Carson & Barnes No. 2 not far behind. Rest of the canvas outfits ranged from those travelling on a dozen vehicles down to three or four.

The troubles of Acme Circus Corporation units in which two of them, Sells & Gray and King Bros.-Cole closed much earlier than usual, was the primary reason many observers termed the 1978 season a bad one. How much of these difficulties can be attributed to the illness of Acme's president, Frank McCloskey, is not publically known. McCloskey, who with his partner, Jerry Collins, has been a guiding force in the circus world for so many seasons, was sick throughout the year and spent much of his time resting in the Bahamas.

All three of the Acme units, Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros., King Bros.-Cole, and Sells & Gray made their usual season debut in the spring moving out from their DeLand, Florida winter-quarters.

The smallest of the trio, Sells & Gray, dropped the Hagan-Wallace portion of its title which had been used in 1977, and opened its season April 11 at Live Oak, Fla. The rather worn square end big top which had seen considerable service in the past was used and the show as usual moved on about 10 trucks. Wilson Storey was manager, Phil Chandler, ringmaster, and Henry Thompson in charge of the sideshow. The route took the show rapidly out of Florida, across the southern part of Georgia and Alabama and into Mississippi and Louisiana. It later headed northward to Illinois and then over into Indiana. Although a solid string of early dates had been booked, by mid June the show ran out of promoted stands and was experiencing serious routing problems. The advance headed by Bill English had not been able to book enough dates for the show and it was forced into several layovers due to lack of route. In some stands such as Lowell, Ind., June 18, which produced half houses, there had been less than a week's advance promotion. Other dates with adequate advance such as Highland, Ind. with Chamber of Commerce sponsorship, saw the largest crowd of the season with full and straw houses. In late June the show moved into Michigan and picked up some former Beatty-Cole dates such as Ann Arbor, June 24. A visitor that day said the trucks were highly painted but the canvas was well worn. Another observer said the show had a very flashy front end and all reports pointed to a strong performance and well managed show.

The route situation by mid July had become intolerable so after the stand at Radcliff, Ky., June 24, the show closed for the season and the trucks were moved to Sarasota for storage. Bill English told the press that the lack of an adequate route had closed the show and that booking problems had been encountered during the season. English pointed out that at the dates that had been booked and well promoted the show had done well and referred to the record business produced at Highland, Ind. and Grandsville, Mich. With the exception of several acts most of the show's personnel were absorbed by either King Bros.-Cole or Beatty-Cole.

King Bros.-Cole using the same title as the year before opened its season April 14 at Brunswick, Ga. B. H. "Whitey" Black was manager and Mike Nauton had the sideshow. The 90 with three 40's big top, new in 1977, was still in excellent condition. At the third stand of the season, Tifton, Ga., April 16, the show played day and date with the Great American Circus, owned by Hoxie Tucker. Both circuses claimed good business.

A Bandwagon staff member caught the show on April 22 at Ft. Gordon, Ga. and noted it had an outstanding performance which included the Flying Padillas, top notch flying return act. A four piece band headed by Willard Manley played the performance. The show moved on 10 trucks, had 2 elephants, and a cage of wild animals. At the previous day's stand, Winder, Ga., the show had posted a moderate amount of billing paper using half sheet and panel pictorials, dates, and window cards.

After 9 dates in Georgia King-Cole went into the Carolinas and then northward into Virginia. In mid May route trouble developed. The show had planned to play through the West Virginia and eastern Ohio coal fields extensively but the long coal strike cancelled these plans causing a shortage of dates to develop. In late May the show was playing some stands two and three days when normal business would call for only one. The show picked up a few dates in West Virginia and Ohio in early June then moved eastward through Pennsylvania. Some stands saw the show coming in completely cold, others with only a minimum promotion, and on other days the show just sat idle. During this period a number of acts, including the Flying Padillas, were let go in an effort to lower the daily expense. The route next carried the show into New Jersey, then into New York, and finally New England. Routing problems continued and the show had a six day layover in Wildwood, N.J. in late August and early September. A long jump next took the show to Morehead City, N.C., Sept. 3. where the day's business was one of the largest of the season, however subsequent dates in the Carolinas were not up to par. The season came to a close at Athens, Ga., September 8, then the equipment was returned to its DeLand quarters. Manager Whitey Black told the press that business had been disappointing for several weeks in the east and the poor take of late had caused the show to close some ten weeks earlier than usual. At the end Henry Thompson was serving as sideshow manager coming over from Sells & Gray when that show shuttered.

In contrast to the below par seasons of the smaller shows, Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros, had an outstanding year. The show was now fully committed to playing shopping center dates of three to four days duration. Marketing directors Tim Stinson and Doug Lyon and a staff of promotional directors set up the successful tour which began March 27 at Ft. Walton, Florida. John Pugh continued as road manager with Count Nicholas, announcer, and Charles Bertini, bandleader. A new blue and white stripped big top, 150 with three 50's, was on hand to begin the season. Physically the show was the same size as in recent seasons. There were 9 elephants, 1 camel, 8 ponies, and several cages of wild animals in the sideshow-menagerie. This year the menagerie animals were in small individual cages and consisted of a young lion, tiger, cougar, and 2 baboons. Dave Hoover who presented the trained wild animal act in the steel arena worked 5 lions and 5 tigers. Improvements noted at the opening stand included new light towers for each of the 3 rings, illuminated ring curbs, and the installation of showers in the clown sleeper.

After two Florida dates the show played Columbus, Ga. then went on to Charleston, S.C. where there were seven packed houses. The route continued through North Carolina and by May the show had moved northward into Pennsylvania. It was in New York, New England, and from the middle of July was in Ohio for several weeks. The July 22, 1978 Amusement Business reported the first half of the Beatty-Cole season had seen a six percent increase in business with 90 percent of the stands on hard-top shopping center lots. The writer was impressed with the capable staff of young marketing promoters, mostly college graduates, both men and women.

During the season Stinson and Lyon were promoted to vice presidents and Irvin Kirby, formerly with Amusement Business, was hired as national press director.

The Southern Park Mall date in Youngstown, Ohio produced record gross during its four day run and it was reported that it was the best take in 20 years. Other August dates came in Indiana and Michigan.

In Crawfordsville, Ind. in early September tragedy struck the Beatty-Cole show when the arm of a four year old boy was bitten off by one of Dave Hoover's lions. The youngster had somehow gotten past the barricade and stuck his arm inside the lion's cage. Parents of the child filed suits of 1.5 million against the show.

Bad luck again hit at Owensboro, Ky. when the show's cookhouse truck exploded and burned. It was replaced by the Sells & Gray unit which was sent promptly from Sarasota. Beatty-Cole continued stands in Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio through September then moved south for dates in Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.

A Bandwagon staffer caught the show at its October 26-29 stand at Northlake Shopping Center in Atlanta, Ga. and reported there was a heavy advance sale and big crowds at all performances. Since schools were in session the promotional director for the date called principals of all schools in a wide area and invited them to bring their pupils to see the big top go up. Our staffer said it was the biggest lot crowd for set-up he had seen in 25 years. Two television stations covered the lot activities. Perhaps the most pleasing change noted over last season was the rather extensive amount of billing paper that was posted. Half sheet and panel pictorials from Enquirer with fully a dozen designs were used, plus dates, window and tack cards. These were placed primarily in windows of service stations and other businesses throughout a radius of ten miles from the exhibition site. Veteran circus fans in Atlanta said it was the most paper they had seen posted in the city since Ringling-Barnum's under canvas days in the early 1950's. Many favorable comments on the large use of billing paper was heard from fans and non fans alike.

The 1978 edition of Beatty-Cole following its date in Vero Beach, Florida, Dec. 10, returned to DeLand quarters for 16 days then went on the road again to play three locations in the Miami area beginning December 27 and finishing on January 7, 1979. Then the show returned to quarters to frame its 1979 edition. The season was termed highly successful.

Naturally there was much speculation on the fate of King Bros.-Cole and Sells & Gray but no decision by Acme had been publically announced by the year's end.

Clifford E. Vargas' Circus Vargas which had been the talk of the tented field for the past few years opened its season after a very short layoff at Clearwater, Fla. on December 30, 1977. An unfortunate accident marred the inaugural when two poles supporting the props for a high wire act fell causing injuries to a spectator.

During the early part of the season Circus Vargas had a spectacular layout when set up on the lot. The blue colored big top, 150 with three 50's which was purchased the previous season, was used when the show was set up on hardtop while the older orange colored top was put up when on a dirt lot. The front end featured a large sideshow-menagerie using an 80 x 160 top plus a pony ride and bubble bounce. New equipment included a large restroom facility mounted on a semi. This unit eliminated the necessity of renting portable toilets. Vargas again had a strong performance and Jim Gibson's band which played traditional circus type music. At the beginning of the season there were 18 elephants which included 3 owned by trainer Rex Williams. The policy of playing shopping center dates which Vargas pioneered a few years ago continued with most stands being of 3-4 days duration. Most of the time during the season no days were lost in moving between stands as distance between them was considerably shorter than in the past.

For the second consecutive season Vargas ran into very inclement weather during the winter months as it moved out of Florida and west through southern Mississippi and Louisiana enroute to Texas where it remained five weeks. Freezing weather and sleet was encountered in some spots and at Donna, Texas it rained during the entire stand. Enroute to Harlingen, Texas the show's office semi caught fire and burned to the ground. A replacement came on later in the season.

After Texas the show played Tucson, Ariz, then moved into California at Corono in March and remained in the state until early July. At Riverside, March 31, a section of seats with more than 90 people on them collapsed but fortunately injuries were few and slight. The opening in San Diego was delayed when the city fire marshall refused to approve the seating making it necessary to have metal frame bleachers brought in from Los Angeles before performances could be given. A squabble over the number of lighted exits also developed. California, due to its stringent regulations, was becoming one of the most difficult states in the country to play.

In the meantime Clifford Vargas developed health problems and on April 3 underwent arterial heart bypass surgery and was away from the show for a number of weeks. During this time a severe slump in business developed. When Vargas returned he immediately made some major changes. While in Salinas in May he eliminated the large sideshow-menagerie citing publically that it was too heavy and took up too much space on the lot. Only a pony ride and bubble bounce remained on the front end. Near the conclusion of the long California tour Vargas in an interview said the show had its best business ever in the State despite a three week slump in the Bay area, the best business was in the southern regions of the state. Vargas also denied rumors that his show was for sale, also there would be no second unit, and no Canadian tour in 1978 because regulations and taxes were too severe. Earlier the show had sold three elephants, a camel, and truck to Mexico's Circo Union and had purchased a baby elephant.

Vargas next went into Oregon for several weeks, then on to Washington. In late August the show left the Pacific Northwest and played through Idaho, Utah, and Colorado.

CHS Mike Sporrer of Bellevue, Wash, saw Vargas in his area and termed the circus, despite the dropping of the sideshow-Menagerie, still a first class show with a very strong performance. The circus scored turnaways in Tacoma and Seattle and the entire Pacific Northwest tour produced excellent business. At the time Sporrer saw it there were 12 elephants, 2 camels, 1 zebra, a 6 pony sweep, and liberty horses.

In late September Vargas played Kansas, then toured Oklahoma which included a 11 day stand in Oklahoma City. Latter part of October saw the route take it into western Texas followed by a further westward move to New Mexico and Arizona. Final dates in the latter state were at Mesa, Phoenix, Casa Grande, Tucson with the season's closing coming at Yuma, November 21-23. The show planned to spend considerably more time in quarters than customary. A new big top was ordered for next season and many changes in personnel and acts were expected in 1979.

The winter of 1977-78 was a busy one for Dorey R. Miller. He purchased the equipment of both the George Matthews Great London Circus and Fisher Bros, and announced he would field two shows in 1979. He also bought a number of new animals, however due to the extremely cold winter he lost three hippos, a tiger and several other beasts who succumbed to the severe weather at the Hugo, Oklahoma winterquarters.

The equipment and animals were to be used in framing the new show. Both units were titled Carson & Barnes with the original show being known as No. 1, Eastern, or Red unit and the new show as No. 2, Western, or Blue unit. Both were on a five ring format and heavily endowed with animals in the Miller tradition. Both shows continued with the local sponsor format and ordinarily playing daily stands. These two shows along with Hoxie Bros, were the only really large circuses moving every day.

Carson & Barnes No. 1 with Ed Russell, performance director and Perry Johnson, bandleader, opened in Texas in March. A balanced performance featuring caged wild animal acts, riding numbers, flying acts, and a walkaround spec entitled "The Reign of Caesar" was presented. The big top had been used the previous season and was a 120 ft round with five 40's, push pole type. During the early part of the season visitors reported the show had a total of 29 semis, 9 straight bed trucks, 3 trailers, and 6 pickups. Animals included 25 elephants, 2 zebras, 3 camels, llamas, and caged animals which were displayed in an open air arrangement between the marquee and big top as per past years. A hippo pit show was on the midway. A truck walkthru marquee with ticket window on the side was used. The route took the show on a western swing through Texas and New Mexico and then eastward and north into Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and afterwards on further east through Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and into Pennsylvania. In late June the show turned around and backtracked through Ohio enroute to Michigan.

On May 26 at Meyersdale, Pa. the big top was blown down in a storm and destroyed. The show sidewalled a few days and in Dearborn, Mich, during the annual CFA convention raised a new big top manufactured by O'Henry. It was a 125 x 335, push pole type, made of blue and orange stripped canvas.

Rest of July was spent in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota and in August the show played dates in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. It remained in the mid-west with dates in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois until early October then headed south through Missouri, Arkansas, and on to Texas where the final date came November 1 at Paris. The show then returned to its Hugo, Okla. quarters.

Carson & Barnes No. 2 had Johnny Frazier as road manager, Bobby Gibbs in charge of the elephant herd, and Charlie Stephenson, bandleader. The equipment came from several sources. At the start of the season the former George Matthews big top was used, a 140 ft. round with three 40's. The tent was several years old but was reconditioned and expected to last for a while. The show moved on 22 trucks and had 3 in reserve. Menagerie consisted of 10 elephants, a large hippo, and variety of other animals. The hodge-podge equipment included the former George Matthews cookhouse, seat wagons, canvas spool, ticket-office wagon, pole truck, and stake driver. From Fisher Bros, came the blue colored marquee, hippo, and big top which was carried in reserve on a spool truck. Initially there was no sideshow but it did feature a free animal display which included the 8 Asiatic and 2 African elephants. Other equipment had seen prior service on Royal Bros, and Kelly-Miller, as well as the other Carson & Barnes unit.

The show opened April 15 at Tiskomingo, Okla. and after a few other dates in the state moved into Kansas for a week then went westward fast into Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and on to the Pacific northwest for dates in Oregon and Washington. During late May it. was playing western Washington. In early June the show headed into Canada where it would remain until mid-September covering the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. The big top wore out during the early weeks in the Dominion and was replaced by a former Carson & Barnes tent sent from Hugo, a 130 with three 40's. On July 13 just outside of Atha Basca, Alberta the cookhouse semi caught fire and burned to the frame, however the tractor was saved. A sideshow and Manuel King's snake show joined and these along with elephant and pony rides gave the show a strong front end. Unconfirmed reports said that several of the Circus Vargas sideshow attractions joined Carson & Barnes for the tour of Canada.

Returning to the United States at Langdon, N.D., the show played a couple of weeks in the Dakotas then headed south through Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and on to Mississippi.

In late season the show was reported to be using its third big top, the latest a push pole tent also sent from Hugo. Carson & Barnes No. 2 made a long tour of the south including several weeks in Alabama. Final stand was at Gilberton, Ala., November 18, after which the show went into quarters near Mobile. Despite the rather well-worn appearance of much of the equipment there was an excellent, well-balanced, performance and the live wire five piece band headed by Charlie Stephenson reportedly had the best old time circus music repertoire of any show on the road in 1978. Both Carson & Barnes units had good seasons and No. 2 came through its long tour of western Canada without too much hasslement over the stringent regulations and taxes.

L. B. "Hoxie" Tucker again had both of his circuses on the road, Hoxie Bros., the larger show, and Great American. Hoxie Bros, had a new stake driver built in Miami winterquarters and made a number of changes in the motorized equipment prior to start of the season. A two center pole round big top made of blue canvas, now in its second season, was used and the show moved on approximately 18 trucks painted with the traditional Hoxie colors of purple and white. No regular sideshow was carried but two pit shows were on the midway, Snake Exhibit, and Egyptian Mummy. A total of 8 elephants were on the show early in the season.

Hoxie Bros, opened April 3 at Stuart, Fla. and did excellent business in Florida and Georgia during the first weeks of the season. The route took the show up the east coast through the Carolinas and Virginia. By the middle of May it had moved into the midwest playing dates in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. Its customary lengthy tour of Pennsylvania began in July and afterwards it played familiar territory in New Jersey where CHS Bill Elbirn caught it and reported that Joe McMahon was serving as road manager and his long time agents, Jake Rosenheim and Dick Georgia were contracting the route south playing mostly former Beatty-Cole towns. Leaving Jersey in September the show went down the eastern seaboard picking up stands in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and northern Florida. Next it went through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana which included several days in New Orleans. Whitey Black, former King Bros.-Cole manager joined in the fall to handle concessions. Returning to Florida the show closed for the season at Coral Gables on November 12. Hoxie Bros., which had dabbled some in the shopping center promotional stands for past few years, seemed to be content to go it the old way with local sponsors and phones. Since Beatty-Cole's departure from this format and early close of the smaller Acme units, Hoxie pretty well had these shows' former territory and dates to itself.

The smaller Hoxie show titled Great American Circus eliminated its canvas spool truck and loaded the big top on the pole semi. The top was colored orange and blue and had two center poles and was of conventional design. The show carried 3 elephants, a camel, llama, and burro, and moved on 6 semis, 2 straight bed trucks, and 2 trailers. Jim Silverlake was road manager. There was a regular sideshow with animals, fire eater, sword swallower, and tatoo artist. The show also followed the eastern seaboard route northward through Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia and on to Pennsylvania.

In June Great American moved over into New Jersey and then into New York state for several weeks. Later it headed west through Pennsylvania and played dates in Ohio and West Virginia prior to going south for stands in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. In mid October it was in Alabama and Georgia. Closing stand was at Cairo. Georgia, October 25. The season's business for Great American was termed as excellent while for the larger Hoxie show it was spotty.

Kelly Bros., owned by Gordon Walsh with Heinz Frauenstein. manager, opened March 29 in Tulsa, Oklahoma and during the season had a number of encounters with bad weather. Very cold weather forced the show to leave its big top and go indoors during the early weeks at several stands including Perryton, Texas, and Liberal and Garden City, Kansas. At Dodge City, Kan., May 3, there was freezing temperature and an inch of snow on the ground so the big top was left on the truck and the show moved into a nearby armory to give its performances. Heavy rains at Beatrice, Neb., May 8, also forced the show to seek out an armory. The big top suffered a blow-down in Chillicothe, Mo., May 12, forcing the show to sidewall for several stands until it could be repaired. After playing through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri the show then played in Illinois and remained in that general area until it returned to its home state of Oklahoma where the season ended October 20 at Bristow. It then went into quarter at Tulsa.

Circus Kirk which was started in 1968 by Dr. Charles Boas as a youth project and operated successfully since that time until it came upon lean days in 1977 was an early casualty in 1978. The show had played a lengthy route in 1977 not closing until December 4 in Ocala, Fla., but at that time rumors were strong that the show was on the verge of collapse. It did fold in January 1978 when the North American Operating Co. of East Berlin, Pa. filed a bankruptcy petition listing assets of 10,000 and debts of 100,000. On March 3 the court approved sale of the assets to Royal Shows Inc. of Dunn, N.C. for $42,500. George Hicks, president and executive director of the new owner, had the equipment shipped to Dunn, N.C. where preparations were made to put the show on the road. New title was Hix Bros. Circus. The former big top, 80 with two 40's, a sideshow, and cookhouse were carried and reportedly several new diesel tractors were leased to help move it. The season opened in Dunn with a two day stand, May 12-13. Jim Hand was general manager. After 23 days on the road in North Carolina the show closed June 3 at Rocky Mount and returned to Dunn for reorganization. Lack of proper publicity, booking of dates, and setting an adequate route, plus many truck and mechanical problems, all coupled with slow business forced the closing. The show had 10 trucks, 2 rented elephants, and a good performance line-up, but it just didn't click.

A smaller unit went out later in the summer to play stands in the Carolinas. Date cards were observed by a Bandwagon staffer for the stand in Brunson, S.C., August 7, but no details on the size of the show were obtained.

Hix Bros. Circus was advertised for sale in late September. The ads claimed one unit was in quarters and one unit still out. An inventory of property listed a bigtop complete with seats and all equipment, six trucks, electric generator, stake driver, music library, and misc. items. Future of the show was still uncertain at the end of the year.

Roberts Bros., owned by Bob and Doris Earl, moved on 3 trucks and a number of privately owned motor units. The show had a 60 x 150 big top made of white canvas and equipped with a blue and white stripped sidewall. One elephant, leased from Dorey Miller, was carried. Visitors reported the show had a good performance with music provided by an electric organ. The show opened in mid April in Jasper, Fla. then moved up through Georgia and over to the east coast going as far north as Massachusetts. A number of weeks was spent in Pennsylvania. Ernie King was road manager. Returning south in August the show was in the Carolinas and then in Georgia where it played many small towns, some of which haven't seen a circus in years, some probably never, little spots such as Lula, Whitesburg, and Edison. Final stand came at Sale City, Ga., Sept. 28, after which the show went into quarters in Sarasota, Fla. During the latter part of the season the show purchased some equipment from Ozzie Schleentz which had been used on the Royal Ranch show, however this was not to be used by Roberts Bros, until 1979. The season overall was a good one for the Earls' show but not as good as the record breaking 1977 tour.

Ozzie Schleentz, just mentioned, did not tour his Royal Ranch Circus but kept the equipment at his Valdosta, Ga. quarters. As early as late January he was advertising for sale, seat wagons with or without tractors, air calliope, surplus equipment and an elephant. In July he advertised his complete circus for sale, described as framed especially for shopping centers, animals, props, etc. for 7 acts, trucks, the entire works. It appeared this show had now vanished from the circus scene.

Famous Hunt Circus, operated by Marsha Hunt Jones and her husband, Donald, announced in the early spring that the show would play both canvas and indoor dates during the coming season. The initial stand was at Coatsville, May 5-6 and was followed by other Pennsylvania engagements. The big top, now in its fourth season, had been repaired and the show moved on between 15 and 20 vehicles including those privately owned. Some of the show's diesel tractors were sold to the Garden-Johnson Circus and were replaced by gasoline powered trucks. Hunt moved indoors for its date in Philadelphia, May 12-17, at the Civic Center. More canvas stands came in New Jersey followed by a tour through New York, the latter of which did not turn out to be financially profitable. In July the show closed and went back to its Florence, N.J. quarters. Marsha Jones said the circus should have remained in Jersey. In late summer she said a circus theme park, "Days of Fun" located on a 12 acre tract in Florence would be operated by her husband and herself in 1979. There would be rides and a one hour circus performance would be presented.

Wayne and Kathy Franzen's Franzen Bros. Circus made its fourth tour as a one ring show. It carried one elephant. The show opened April 1 at DeBerry, Fla. and later moved northward through Georgia. In May it had reached Illinois. The big top was in a blow-down at Dodgeville, Wis., June 17. Playing small towns in the mid-west during the summer the show was in Indiana in September just prior to moving south. It put in a long season not closing until December 19 in Louisiana. Business for the year was said to have been good.

Big John Strong, owner of the circus bearing his name, celebrated its 30th anniversary during the 1978 season. The show had a red and blue stripped big top, about an 80 with two 20's and a 30. It traveled on a half dozen well painted and lettered trucks. The show opened and played several strong weeks in California, then moved east through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Later it went northward to Oklahoma, Kansas, and on to Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois. Returning west it went through Kansas on to the Pacific coast in Oregon and Washington. The show played Vancouver, B.C., Sept. 8-10, but the elephant, Neena, was not permitted to go into Canada as the necessary permit from the Department of the Interior had not been obtained. Big John later moved south along the Pacific coast picking up stands until close of the season. Strong said that the first 7 weeks of 1978 were the best in years and was as profitable to him as the entire 1977 season. Big John also said there had been some rough spots with 2-3 circuses in ahead of many of his dates. He concluded by saying it had been a pretty fair year, terming California stands very good, both Illinois and Iowa good, but the Pacific northwest in the early fall was down due to heavy opposition. The final weeks in California were better. Strong also said he did not have his route published because of heavy opposition. He advised that other shows were playing his route and trying to sign up his sponsors. The Big John Strong show went into quarters at Yucaipa, Calif, where it had moved in 1977 from its long time base in Thousand Oaks.

Title used by John "Gopher" Davenport's show in 1978 was World Wide Jungle Wonders Circus. Later he dropped the "World Wide" portion. The show opened in January in the Phoenix, Ariz, area and while playing nearby a few days later had snow on the lot but despite bad weather did good business. Ken Benson was ringmaster and announcer and Mel Silverlake started the season as road manager. Prior to the opening Davenport reportedly purchased a number of animals from the Houston, Texas zoo plus others from Monroe, La. and Hugo, Okla. His show had 4 elephants and featured a strong menagerie. Although in past seasons Davenport had operated several units it appears he had only a single circus on the road in 1978.

Returning eastward from Arizona the show played in New Mexico and Texas and encountered some unusually cold weather during the early weeks. When spring arrived the show headed west again and picked up stands in Nevada, Utah, and on to Oregon and Washington. In June the show went into Canada and had a blowdown of its big top at Strathmore, Alberta on June 15. The route carried the show northward to Alaska where it was at Dela Junction on July 4 and at Fairbanks, July 5-8. After the show returned to the States a visitor caught it at Post Falls, Idaho and reported the 3 pole big top showed a lot of wear and tear following the Alaskan tour. It was still carrying a large contingent of animals, including several elephants, llamas, Sicilian donkeys, goats, monkey, lioness, hippo, leopard, and bears. The show gradually moved south to Texas where it closed in December in the Houston area.

Although Johnny Frazier, who had operated Fisher Bros, in 1977, a title used off and on as far back as the 1930's, had sold his equipment and joined as manager of the No. 2 Carson & Barnes Circus, there was still a Fisher Bros. Circus on the road for a short time during the summer of 1978. Very few details on the show are known but it was said to have been operated by Mel Silverlake and Neal Franzen was with it and had his trained llamas, goats, and elephant. The show played stands in Kansas in July.

Dixiana Circus, owned by Peter Luvas, opened at Crowley, La. March 14 and played a spring route in Louisiana. Observers sthe show had a new ticket office and several older trucks had been replaced. It moved on about 7 vehicles. The show carried one elephant and used posters by Neal Walters Co. The spring tour came to a close May 20 at Lufkin, Texas and no further reports came in on the show. Possibly it resumed its route later in the season.

DeWayne Bros, was spotted played in California around July 4 but there are no further details available on the show. The DeWayne title was another which had been in use since the 1940's. Happytime Circus operated on the Pacific Coast under canvas and while playing the Redwood Acres Fair in Eureka, Calif., June 21-25 used a much larger than normal big top, an 8 center pole, 80 x 360 tent.

The George Hanneford Family Circus had a red and white stripped big top and played the Lakeland, Fla. fair in February and supposedly made a full season's route.

Vic Bros. Circus, operated by Victor and Linda Flores, made a fall tour playing in the southeast. It moved on 5 trucks, had a big top, and performance was presented in two rings.

Jerry Booker who had been on the road for a while in 1977 with a standard under canvas circus changed his format this season. His title was Royal Horse Fair and Animal Exhibition and opened at the San Mateo, Calif. County Fair, July 24, using an 80 ft round big top of red, white, and blue canvas.

The Stebbing Royal European Circus was on the road for part of the season. During July and August it played a string of daily stands in Michigan. The show had a strong performance with a one ring format under the big top. Trevor Bale was ringmaster and the show was heavy with animals, including a caged cat, elephants and horses. In the fall the show played several fairs including Shelby, N.C., Oct. 3-7 and closed for the season following the fair in Stuart, Va. The Stebbin family which had purchased the Polack Bros. Indoor Circus in the summer of 1977 finally got it on the road in a bid to get into the major indoor field with a date at Springfield, Ill., Nov. 12-19. At the time of the Polack purchase William Stebbin said it was planned to operate both shows, Polack Bros, sticking with the indoor format, and the Royal European under canvas.

There were several circuses which played both indoor and canvas dates in 1978. One was the Emmett Kelly Jr. Circus which covered a wide territory from Baltimore to St. John, Newfoundland, to California. Kelly even presented an outside free show at the Music Center in Los Angeles in May. One of the best canvas dates for Kelly was in Louisville, Ky. where the show used a 150 x 300 big top rented from Florida Tent Rentals.

Another show playing it both ways was Tommy Hanneford's Royal Hanneford Circus which opened in January at the Roanoke, Va. Shrine date in very cold weather. Later came other Shrine stands including Columbia, S.C. and in late March the show was at Syracuse, N.Y. Hanneford played 15 weeks during the summer, May 20-Sept. 5, at the Americana Great American Amusement Park in Middletown, Ohio using an orange and blue plastic fabric structure with a rigid frame which seated 2,000. A second unit was fielded to play a date in Massachusetts in August. In the fall the show played some dates in Ontario and was at a major stand in Baltimore in early November.

Paul Binder, founder and director, staged his Big Apple Circus in New York City using a 1,000 seat big top in Bryant Park which ran from June 7-Sept. 10. It had a one ring format. Results of the lengthy New York engagement were not very successful. The show played Cincinnati at Christmas time.

Wonderful World of Circus owned by Harry Dubsky and John Jordan played at the Circus Hall of Fame in Sarasota under a red, white, and blue big top from Dec. 14, 1977 through April 1, 1978. Then the show opened on a shopping center route April 15 at Bessemer, Ala. and in May were in Ohio and Oklahoma. The show was scheduled to play fairs during the fall.

The Great Ron Morris Circus made a winter tour of Florida in January playing 8 stands but was hampered by unusually cold weather. Equipment was leased from Hoxie Tucker and included the Great American big top, seats, light plant, pit show, concessions, elephants, and a caged animal act.


B.J. said...

The Culpepper and Merriweather Circus will enter the State of Oregon on May 11th.

Logan Jacot said...

Do you have any more year in reviews?