I had the pleasure of meeting the long term ringmaster who retired from the circus in 1982 and boy was he full of stories. Harold Ronk. Worked or observed the production of three movies and was in one of them.
Worked the show while it was still in the tent "Big Top" and then when it went to arena only.
Said one had to be careful around the elephants when they did their routine as they worked with such intensity/concentration to please their trainers, they could accidentally step on a person.
I attended the Circus after Harold's time and had a front row seat. The bond between the elephants and the trainers was unbelievably demonstrated during their routine. The line came in front of us and faced the opposite side of the ring during a pause in the routine. A trainer in a blue jumpsuit came up behind one of the performers (right in front of us) with a massive shovel, tapped one of the performers on the rear and the manure flew into the shovel!! He got most of it too! I don't know how in the world that elephant could signal to the support team "she needed to go potty"? I was so close I could smell it and the elephants went on with the routine without missing a beat!
I tell you, I could not make this up if I didn't see it with my own eyes.
During one stop in New York city the cast wanted to go out and do some shopping. There was a rule that no one could go off-venue in costume. Since they were pressed for time the proprietors relaxed the rules and the clowns
went off downtown to go shopping. One of the most famous clowns who appears on a postage stamp, Lou Jacobs, was in Macy's making some purchases in full clown regalia. Now Harold said that Lou could be a gruff SOB at times, not
always fun and games. The checkout girl (not recognizing the famous clown) asked, "Oh! What's the special occasion?" Without missing a beat, Lou stared at her and deadpanned, "My mother died!!"
Harold also saw Cornel Wilde sitting on the trapeze whining about having to work up in the air in the movie "The Greatest Show on Earth". Cecil B. DeMille was down below and yelled up, "You blankety-blank should of blankety-blank thought of that before you signed the blankety-blank contract!!"
I asked if he ever had any tense moments with the animal acts, specifically the big cats, during a performance. He replied "no" but one of the trainers had hand raised a tigress from a cub to perform. He regularly would go into the tigers holding cage
not during a show to socialize with her. One afternoon he opened the door to the cage, the tiger was at the opposite end, was startled and went into attack mode. He barely made it out and got the door closed before she slammed into the door
ready to kill. He told Harold he was never going into the holding cage ever again. I just read the autobiography of the actress Tippi Hedron who was captivated by large cats and created a preserve for them. She mentions that she was told that one
minute your acclimated big cat can love you and something sets it off into instinct mode and they'll just as soon kill you. Once the "spell" passes they go back into "love you" mode.
Harold said the trainer still performed with the Tigress and she did her job and didn't go after him during a show but the trainer never tried to socialize with the animal again inside the cage.
When Roy Horn of Siegfried and Roy fame was attacked Harold said to me shortly thereafter, "Well that cat had a bad day!" (Harold was not talking hip-hop, he meant the tiger and I knew that.)
Harold told me you won't see trained bears in circuses anymore because they get too darned unpredictable. He did recall they had this East German gal who worked with polar bears. I believe some scenes from the act were shown in "The Greatest Show on Earth" movie.
Also educated me that a "Dog and Pony Show" is a low budget circus that uses, you guessed it, trained dogs and ponies(horses) I did go to one of those and by golly they did a very good job and comedy routine between a
cowboy and a horse was simply hilarious.
I asked Harold how he traveled from show to show. He said they would have given him his own railroad car for personal use but he liked driving his personal car to see the countryside.
I found one of three record albums he did of circus songs and I was glad he autographed it for me before he passed. He was the originator of the "Singing Ringmaster" and said he originally
wanted to be an opera singer!! Said he was at an opera audition and he wasn't needed there but go see so and so at the circus and "maybe" they'll give you a job! He did and spent his entire
career as the Ringmaster of the "Greatest Show on Earth".
Too bad it has to end but between the animal rights stuff and the cost it takes to support the show it just became too much. Kurt