Wednesday, April 29, 2009

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

Bandwagon, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Jan-Feb), 1979, pp. 10-20

The indoor field was again led by the two large Ringling-Barnum units. It was the Blue unit's term to have the new performance, the 108th edition. New acts included Jewell New's 15 male African lions, William H. "Buckles" Woodcock Jr.'s 22 elephant number, both of which had previously been at Circus World near Orlando, Fla., the Ringling owned theme park. These acts exchanged places on the Blue unit with Ursula Bottcher's polar bears and Axel Gautier's elephants, which became 1978 features at the park. Returning top notch acts on the Blue show were Charlie Baumann's tigers, King Charles Unicycle troupe and Michu, world's smallest man, Elvin Bale's Wheel of Death, and Tito Gaona's flying act. Tito was seeking a quadruple somersault. Baker Brown was general manager, Charlie Baumann, performance director, and bandleader was Ronnie Drumm. The main spec was titled "Neptune's Circus". The show opened with a Dec. 29-Jan. 1 stand at its winterquarters in Venice, Fla. The annual TV preview of the new RBBB edition had Dick Van Dyke as host and as usual was filmed at Bayfront Auditorium in St. Petersburg, Fla.

While the Blue was at the lengthy Madison Square Garden date, Mar. 22-June 4 the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children charged that seven kids under 16 were doing dangerous acts and took the show to court in an attempt to prevent them from performing in the show. The Philadelphia date, June 6-18, was followed by a two and a half day rail move to Oklahoma City and hence on to the west coast. A rail car on a siding at Redonda, Calif, burned causing damage of $50,000. Concessions consisting of coloring books, crayons, and other items were destroyed. The show had the largest advance sale in history for the 15 day run at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif, and the San Diego date produced the best business ever for the show in that city. Many observers who saw the Blue on the west coast termed it was the heaviest and had the strongest program a Ringling circus had carried since it left tents in 1956. CHS Mike Sporrer caught the Blue unit in the Pacific northwest and inventoried the rail cars as follows - 8 flats, 2 tunnel, 1 by-level, 4 stocks, 1 concession supply, 22 coaches, 1 private car - total 39. While playing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago an elephant on the track stumbled and fell into the first row of seats causing quite a commotion and an undetermined number of injuries. The season ended at Nassau, N.Y. on December 3, then the show returned to Venice quarters. CHS member Bob McDougall was named manager during the season.

The Red unit opened in Atlanta, Ga., Feb. 8 for a 12 day run. The train inventory at the opening consisted of 7 flats, 1 bi-level, 2 tunnel, 4 stocks, 23 coaches, total of 37 cars. The show played a wide route throughout the eastern seaboard including dates in New England. Later it made a swing through the southern states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, then followed with lengthy engagements in Texas at Houston, Ft. Worth, and Dallas. The Red show cancelled a Pittsburgh, Pa. date over a labor dispute involving concession rights, including programs. The show returned to Milwaukee, after a three year absence. There was a narrow escape in Madison, Wis. when a building caught fire adjacent to the track on which were parked the show's train. Quick work by the train crew and railroad personnel moved the cars before serious damage was done, although two coaches were damaged somewhat on the outside.

Major stands in the fall were at Detroit, Boston, and Cleveland. Final date came at Nashville, Tenn. on November 19, after which the show returned to Venice quarters.

Mattel (Ringling-Barnum's parent company) in its report to stockholders at the annual meeting on June 8 said that fiscal 1978 just ended saw the show have an all-time sales and profit margin. Attendance was up 18 percent and revenue up 21 percent. Both the Red and Blue units were reported to have had very profitable 1978 seasons.

The Ringling owned unit which had played at the Ohio State Fair in 1977 did not re-appear in 1978. Instead, a long awaited 3rd unit making a regular tour, was framed in Venice during the year. Railroad cars for a 15 car train were readied to transport the new show which would be titled International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo Spectacular. It was to be a one ring European style circus and according to Irvin Feld was scheduled to open in February 1979. It would exhibit indoors and the route would include smaller cities than ordinarily played by the Red and Blue units plus a number of dates at colleges and universities.

Information was also officially released that Ringling was planning a unit to play Australia under canvas in 1980. The Felds had now become circus giants in their own right, alongside the original Ringling brothers, James A Bailey, P. T. Barnum, Adam Forepaugh, the Sells brothers, and Mugivan, Bowers, and Ballard.

Hubert Castle's Circus also was again a leader in the indoor field. His show opened January 14 at Flint, Mich, and later played a strong route of midwestern dates prior to beginning the 14th annual tour of western Canadian cities which began May 3 in Estevan, Sask. Several acts had difficulty in moving animals in and out of the U.S. under provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Performers said there just wasn't enough time to get the necessary permits and wade through the government red tape. Major cities played included Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Swift Current in Saskatchewan before going into Alberta and British Columbia. A total of 26 Shrine sponsored stands ended in Trail, B.C., June 27, which was followed by an 800 mile jump to Ogden, Utah. On the Canadian the show played some outdoor dates in front of a grandstand. The show finished out the season with a number of stands in the United States annual played by Castle.

The Garden-Johnson show made a full season with initial date coming at Tulsa, Okla., March 16-19. The show suffered a tragedy when on April 29 three men were killed when the property semi struck a railroad bridge at Houghton, Mich.

M & M Circus Internationale, owned by Grace Mclntosh and Charles Marine opened at Rochester, N.Y. for the Shrine on February 15.

Sam T. Polack's Circus began its season in Louisville, Ky. in early February and played continuously on a spring tour which lasted until June 5. Then it laid off for several weeks before making a string of dates in the fall.

T.N.T. and Royal Olympic Circus, owned by E arl Tegge, was well received on its January 12-15 stand at Island Center in San Bernadino, Calif, as it began its 1978 season.

American Continental Circus, a Charles Gatti production, played many stands in the Pacific northwest, including some outdoor in front of grandstands. A number of Shrine dates in Idaho and Montana were some which in former years had been played by the Castle and Kay shows.

John Cuneo's Hawthorne Circus out of Libertyville, Ill. was booked for several Shrine dates. At the Chicago Avenue Armory on May 11, an elephant Joyce, killed a caretaker said to have been abusing the animal.

Hubler's International Circus out of Dayton, Ohio and owned by George Hubler opened its season at Mentor, Ohio in February then played stands in the mid-west as well as New York state. During early March the show had one unit at Poughkeepsie, N.Y. while another unit during the same time was in Galesburg, Ill. In August Hubler said that his business had been below previous seasons and that his first fair date at La Porte, Ind. was not as good as in 1977. Hubler played several fairs in Ohio and at several some of his performers included members of the Hanneford family.

The veteran James M. Cole had his TV Circus on the road with a route which began in January in Oxford, Pa. and terminated April 1 in Sidney, N.Y.

A new indoor show in 1978 was Bentley Bros., owned by Tommy Bentley. Dates began in California in May. At the Carthage Fairground in Cincinnati, July 11-16, the circus was presented under a big top from Florida Rental Sales. Bentley's fall tour started in Devon, Pa., Sept. 8, with performances given in a horse show arena. Bentley's initial season was said to have been profitable.

Other indoor shows included Sandy Dobrich International Circus, Hamid-Morton, a title that goes back into the 1920's, Voorheis Bros., and Harold Bros., owned by Harold Voise.

An unusual titled show was the Kool Aid Circus produced by Eddie Zacchini which played several major fairs including the Wisconsin State Fair and the Georgia State Fair. The show used no big top but set up bleachers in the open on the long and short sides of the arena.

The 1978 circus season in the United States ended with the Circus America, a one ring show, playing Capital Centre in Landover, Md., in the Washington, D.C. area, beginning Christmas night and was to run through December 30 and again from Jan. 4-7, 1979.

Canadian Circuses

There were at least four under canvas shows on tour in Canada. Gatini Circus, owned by Michael Gatien had two units. The main show had a new 90 x 190 ft. big top and an orange and white 30 x 60 tent on the No. 2 unit. Puck's Circus was billed as Canada's largest big top show. Its route included a lengthy stand on Ontario Place in Toronto which ran from late May until July. Royal Bros., owned by Al and Shirley Stencell, was on 15 trucks and made an extensive tour of the Dominion. Ian Garden's Garden Bros. Circus was a major indoor show and played stands in both Canada and the U.S.