There have been many stories published in this and other publications about the Gentry Bros. Shows, when the four brothers had their shows on rail, however I have never read any article anywhere about the Original Gentry Bros. Famous Shows when it was a motorized show. I was with the show in 1931 and 33, and my good friend Charlie Duble suggested that the readers of Hobby-Bandwagon would also like to read something about the truck show.
H. B. Gentry managed the Sparks Circus for the American Circus Corporation in 1929. When the season ended he acquired a fine groupe of dogs, ponies, pigs, goats and monkeys and broke them at Hollywood, Florida. He later moved these to Bloomington, Indiana, and took in two partners, a Mr. Brown and Mr. Akins. The show opened at Bloomington, June 1st, 1931, for a two day stand. The big top was an eighty with one forty and one thirty foot middle pieces. The show moved on fourteen brand new trucks, in fact every piece of equipment on the show was new. Instead of turning the drivers loose on the highways with the trucks as the shows do now, we always moved in a fleet similar to an army convoy, this prevented the drivers from speeding and wrecking the trucks. There was no side show although Lum Clark of the M. L. Clark family had a pit show with the largest Python the writer has ever seen.
H. B. of course was manager and some of the other personnel were Mr. Brown, assistant manager; Mr. Akins, treasurer; Clint Finney, general agent; Roy Rush ring master; Jim Williams, boss canvasman; Eddy Brody, electrician; Bill Carpenter, boss of ring stock, and Charlie Oliver, steward. There was an excellent band of eight pieces and about thirty working men such as canvasmen, dog boys, pony boys, prop boys, cook house waiters and candy butchers. There were only two women on the show, Mrs. Roy Rush and the electrician's wife.
The performance opened with the ponies doing a military drill as the band played Alfords "Colonel Bogey March." The rest of the show consisted of acts by dogs, ponies and monks. One outstanding number was the Hanneford act, a duplicate of the famous Hanneford family, there was one pony, one collie, and three fox terriers, also two monkeys, all the dogs mounted the pony with one monk on the collie while the other monk ran around the ring holding to the ponies tail, the kids and grown ups too, screamed with laughter at this act. But the act that brought the house down was the Snyder Family - the dogs were dressed in clothes, pushing a baby buggy with a midget poodle as the baby. Other acts were wire walking dogs, high diving dogs and monks, waltzing ponies and the old time monkey fire department. H. B.'s pride and joy was the high jumping greyhounds and he nearly always presented this act personally. The goats and pigs were used in the concert and presented by Veo Powers, all the kiddies staying for the concert were given a free ride on the ponies.
The comfort of patrons to the Gentry show was important, on warm days the side wall was lowered from the top and raised from the bottom. The ring and track was watered to keep down dust, the seats were swept every day between shows. The big top poles and props were painted at least once a month. And unless we were on a grassy lot there were shavings or saw dust every day.
In '31 we showed nearly every county seat town in Indiana where the Gentry name is a household word. We went as far north as Charlevoix, Mich. Other states played were Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, ten weeks in Texas and finally Louisiana.
Some of the incidents that happened during the season I will mention only a few. At Little Rock, Ark., we showed on the market place a three-day stand, the big top was torn down every night so the market could be used the next morning.
W. W. Gentry, one of the brothers, came on for a visit at Little Rock, here a photograph of the personnel was taken in the big top. I have one of the pictures and it is a prized possession.
We played two fairs as a free attraction in Texas, Paris for three days and Beaumont four days.
We showed Houston two whole weeks, on a different lot every day and did big business.
At Oak Cliff, a suburb of Dallas, the lot that had been contracted was a corn field and was in a very rough condition, across the street was a school play ground nice and level and grassy, so Frank Gentry, another of the brothers who was our fixer said, "That's where we ought to be, so Frank contacted a member of the school board and he gave Frank the go a head, the boys put it up on the play ground. About the time that the doors were to be opened the chairman of the school board come out and made us tear down, all hands pitched in, we didn't even unlace the canvas, we gillied everything back across the street to the corn field lot and had the doors open in sixty-six minutes, needless to say with the word of mouth publicity we had a straw house. I have seen Frank pull the show out of some mighty tough circumstances but, that was one time he couldn't fix.
Tragedy struck the show on the night of November 17th, at Lake Charles, La., four days before the season ended. Our bandmaster John Fingerhut and sign painter Dinty Moore, went down town after the performance, there was a dense fog and while crossing the street both were hit by a car, Fingerhut died instantly and Moore lived only a day or so. Fingerhut was our mail agent and both men were admired by everyone on the show. The flags on the big top flew at half most the next day at Crowley.
The show closed at Baton Rouge, November 21st, and it was a very successful season, in fact the only good year the show had out of the four seasons it was out. The show wintered at Mobile that winter.
I was on the front door and was also H. B.'s personal valet, he also was on the door and never a day passed but what he had to explain to some visitor the so called Sparks deal, when he bought the Sparks Circus for Jerry Mugivan.
He was manager of the Floto show for Tammen and Bonfils and he took a great deal of pride in relating that the show had a million dollar season the last year he was there when the Floto show was sold to Mugivan.
It is just a coincident that I was with the only dog and pony show that I ever saw, I mean by that a complete performance consisting only of animals, presented by one man. I don't believe there has ever been a show on the road as large as this show was with as small a nut. I might mention here that this show operated during the depression years, and it was not altogether the lack of business that forced it into the hands of the receiver.
The Gentry title as far as I know was used by more separate individuals than any other title, the title was used by Newman and Austin, James Patterson, King Brothers, and Sam Dill. It is the only title that was reacquired by its original owner after being used fourteen years by other persons.
Dog and pony acts on other shows even today get a big hand, but in my opinion there will never be another dog and pony show to compare with Gentry.
I have an enlarged framed photograph of H. B. hanging in my room and has been since 1931, I need only to look at that picture to remind me of two happy seasons of trouping, one of the greatest of showmen, one of my all time favorites, H. B. Gentry.
Here is a review of the Cole and Walters Circus as it was on Aug. 29th, here in Trenton, Nebr. Incidentally this was the first circus in Trenton since 1946 and proved quite an attraction to the natives, and every one seemed to enjoy it very much. The day was beautiful and a big crowd turned out bright and early to watch the show set up and were given an extra thrill because this was the day they oiled the elephants. The show is loaded compactly and the average man marvels at the fact that so much circus can be loaded in that amount of truck space.
The trucks are nicely painted white and decorated in a variety of colors with red and blue predominating. There are two elephant semis, midway lunch semi, seat semi, light dept. semi, concession semi, pole and side show semi, canvas truck (spool loader), new cookhouse truck, pit show, prop trailer, stake driver and water tank truck, and some privately owned trucks to haul performers, stock and equipment.
There is a big semi cage with a Hippo, two dens of bears, and two lions, and a trailer cage with a kangaroo, black bear, deer, and a groupe of monkeys.
There are 3 very large elephants, a dandy baby elephant, 1 camel, 1 mule and 12 head of horses and ponies. An organ is used for the program and in addition to the organ a saxophone, trombone and trap drums are used to play the come in.
Following is the program (performance is presented in 3 rings): Spec, Trampoline, Riding Monks, Tight Wire, Clowns, Mixed animal acts (dogs, monks, ponies), Educated horse on the track, Ladders, Globe, Clown Walk Around, Single bull acts, Contortion, Clowns, Announcement, Menage, Cloud Swing, Acrobats, Posing Horses, Baby Bull, Second Announcement, Web, Clowns, Big Bull act in center ring finishing with long mount on track.
Principal performers are the Newmans, the Kriels, Wally Ross, Beverely Vannett, Dean Goodsell, Happy Irwin, and Mr. and Mrs. Joe Wright.
A six piece hill billy band, a trick rope spinner, comedy mule, and a pulling match between an elephant and a tractor make up the concert.
The Cole and Walters is a swell circus-operated by swell folks and should be welcome to return to any town it plays.
The JOHN H. SPARKS OLD VIRGINIA SHOWS season 1901 and later traveled on five cars made up of one coach, two flats, one stock and a big baggage and cage car. Show cost about $350 to $400 to operate and did from $600 to a grand a day. Charles Sparks was manager. The program as follows: The Kadells opened with a double trapeze act; Berger, hand balancing; Ashton, balancing traps; Eddie Brown and Billy Reid in a 10-minute January act; Hines-Kimball Troupe consisting of Jenny Rooney, Mayme Ward, Mrs. Hines and Kimball and Guy was also in the act; Al Millett hand balancing and boss of props; Minnie Fischer, iron jaw act; Eddie Brown with ponies; Chas. Elliott and Walter Guice, bars; Ashton, slack wire; Archie Falls, acrobat and clown. A fellow named Costello worked Mary the only elephant, and also the lion in the concert. Walter Guice's sister did traps and Eddie Brown closed with Pete Jenkins, a riding act. Basil McHenry paid the licenses; Barney Shea did a little of everything: Red Wion was trainmaster; Bill Curtis on big top as boss; Bert Cole, advertising banners; Mrs. Charles Sparks ran the cookhouse and the show had an advance car ahead. Admission 25 and 35 cents; concert 10 cents; Side show 10 cents; and lemonade a nickel. Reserve seats 25 cents. Louis Chasm was manager of side show and Clarence Cooper of Vandergrift, Pa., was leader of big show bond.
Eddie Brown sold tickets in the wagon, bought the gasoline, led the parade, did two acts in big show, took tickets at side show come in, made concert announcements then made announcement on the rough roaring lion in the after-show. Meals were served on the car and it was a happy family. John H. Sparks is buried at East Brady, Pa. The writer was with the Sparks Circus season 1916 and later.
In 1904 the Forepaugh-Sells Circus carried 44 cars. The ticket wagon was robbed the night before the show closed in the South and the personnel had to remain in town until fresh money was sent from New York to pay off. Some of the employees that had a long seasons work complained that while they were waiting for the money that W. W. Cole sent from New York they had to pay their own hotel bills. The show was owned by James A. Bailey, W. W. Cole, and Lewis Sells. The show was sold at auction in January, 1905, and was extensively advertised. Showmen were there from all over the country and there was great dissatisfaction as they didn't get a chance to bid piecemeal as the entire show was sold to the highest bidder, James A. Bailey, for $150,000. The writer saw the Forepaugh-Sells Show season 1906 in Louisville, Ky. It was next in size to the Barnum & Bailey show and the Ringling Bros. Show. Final year for Forepaugh-Sells was 1911.
At Elwood, Ind., early in May, 1900, a new circus took the road, it being the Sells & Gray New United Shows (Wm. Sells and James H. Gray equal owners). The show was at Jeffersonville, Ind., May 14 that year, the writer distributed hand bills the day the Advance Car was in. I saw the parade and night show. All new white canvas and show gave very nice performance. Carl Neel was band master big show band. I knew a few musicians later who were in his band. I recall Wolfscales was leader colored side show band. He later was with Forepaugh-Sells. Major Rhinebeck a midget, and Prince Mungo, Zulu warrior, were among the side show attractions. A fine route book was put out at the close of the 1900 season. Seasons 1904 and 1905 the title was changed to Sells & Downs United Shows and this show become COLE BROS. WORLD-TOURED SHOWS, with Martin Downs, proprietor for seasons 1906-1909. Martin Downs died the fall of 1909 and in January, 1910, the show was sold at auction by Fiss, Doerr, & Carroll, New York horse dealers.
From that time the title "COLE BROS." was kicked around quite a bit up to 1935 when Terrell and Adkins organized Cole Bros. Circus which ended its tour Aug. 5, 1950, at Bloomsburg, Pa.
The Coop & Lent Circus was organized in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; the spring of 1916 by Frank C. Cooper who was its General Agent. The capital was furnished by a group of business men who had financed Hugo Bros. Dog & Pony Show the year before and found themselves with a complete 15-car show on their hands as Hugo Bros. Show was short-lived. Chas. and Vic Hugo had operated theatres in Cedar Rapids for some time. The Coop & Lent Show opened in April, 1916, about a 20-car show. Used a good line of paper and was well billed. The route was through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York into Canada. Show did well in Canada and if the show had been properly managed and had not had so much leased property it would have shown a profit. Show returned to the states through Michigan and went on lots around Chicago, where it closed and was shipped back to Cedar Rapids.
That fall L. J. Stark, one of the owners and a Cedar Rapids jeweler, made a deal for the show and sold an interest to Mr. Andrews of Dixon, Ill. Show was shipped there and J. H. Adkins, later one of the owners of Cole Bros. Show was engaged as Manager. Early in 1917 the Dixon Amusement Co. was organized under laws of Illinois and acquired title and all property of the show. Mr. Andrews was President of the Corporation, L. J. Stark, one of the officers, Mr. Adkins, manager. It opened in April at Dixon in 1917 and headed East playing a few stands in and around Chicago, then into Indiana and Ohio. In Tiffin, Ohio, the elephant car was burned losing the four elephants leased to the show by W. P. Hall, Lancaster, Mo. The show was in financial difficulties at the time, however the corporation was able to get more funds to pay Mr. Hall $10,000 for the elephants and secure more. Show continued on into Pennsylvania and New Jersey where several towns were played and show headed west again into Pennsylvania where it had a disastrous end at Connellsville in June of that year. Jess Adkins although young was a real showman even at that time and deserves much credit for keeping the show going as long as he did under the circumstances. Performance was given in three rings and pleased all. Lon B. Williams was General Agent; Bert Andrus and L. B. Greenhaw contracting agents; and J. F. Keller in charge of the Advance Car. At a forced sale by creditors in Connellsville the show was sold to I. S. Horne, Kansas City, an animal dealer, and was shipped to that point.
The next year Mr. Horne in association with R. M. Harvey, placed entour the first motorized show billed as Coop & Lent Motorized Show, with Mr. Harvey as Manager. Three rings were used. There were few good roads at that time and the show could not keep up with its paper. Being two days or so behind its billing, it soon closed. Ed. C. Warner was General Agent, and Will Haines contracting agent. The show often has been termed the "Coop & Lent Ill-Fated Show" because it seemed to get off wrong from the start. It had good equipment and pleasing performance and all three managements did their best to make it a success.
William H. Purtill
The death of William N. Purtill, well known circus collector, occurred at Westerly, R. I., on August 17, in his 70th year. Mr. Purtill was widely known as a circus fan and numbered among his friends several of the greats and near greats of show business.
He trouped with the circuses at one time. On June 25, 1894, he joined the Bob Hunting Railroad Show as outside program and candy man. He remained with the Hunting show for two years. In 1896, he joined the J. W. Goodrich Wagon Show as concert and reserve seat ticket man. In 1898 he was with the Goodrich-Loughlin Wagon Show as sideshow ticket man.
After two years with the Goodrich-Loughlin Show, he joined the Goodrich-Hoffman Wagon Show and had the sideshow tickets there. At the close of the 1901 season, Mr. Purtill returned to Westerly where he took up the carpenter trade and married.
For 62 years he collected circus material, having started at the age of seven-years. It is believed that he had one of the largest collections of programs, pictures, tickets, portraits, biographies and other items ever assembled by any one individual.
Many newspapers, magazines, authors and biographers frequently called upon him for original photographs and information about leading performers in circus life and show business. He was a member of the Circus Fans of America and the Circus Historical Society.
Mr. Purtill was the husband of Helen (Driscoll) Purtill who passed away on August 25, 1949. He is survived by one daughter, Mrs. Helen Peckham, and two sons, William M. Purtill and John R. Purtill, all of Westerly, R. I. Hobby Bandwagon, Vol. 5, No. 8-9 (Sep-Oct), 1950, p. 13.
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Last modified November 2005.
without written permission of the author and the Circus Historical Society, Inc.
Last modified November 2005.