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Circus History Videos

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Star Charlie Smith, Ringling trainmaster recalls 70-year circus career. An on-camera encounter in 2000 with the late Charlie Smith, the only trainmaster to be inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame (2004) and to have a Circus Fans Association tent named after him. Though many remember - and revere - Charlie as the man who kept the Ringling Bros. Red unit train on time and who moved circus personnel safely from city to city from 1968 to 1981. The affable Smith actually got his start playing in the band for the Princess Iola medicine show in the 1930s. He also performed on the Davenport Society Circus and Dailey Bros. (both fielded by notorious grift show owner Ben Davenport). Charlie considered himself a show builder, as he explains in the following 27-minute YouTube video that I recorded at the Ringling Circus Museum in February 2000. Listen and watch as Charlie describes how Art Condello recruited him to build the new Ringling ballpark show after the Big One folded under canvas six decades ago. Produced by Lane Talburt, CHS trustee and video producer. Charlie Smith video.

Star Eddie Steeples. Interview with gypsy bear trainer Eddie Steeples in 2000. “Eddie” was not his real name, and that, contrary to his birth certificate, he was not born on October 13, 1931, in DeMoines, Iowa. Nor could he spell the name his Roma parents gave him when he was brought into the world in Italy “somewhere between 1928 and 1931 - take your pick.” The 30-minute interview with Eddie in the back of his truck on a Kelly Miller Circus backyard was one of the most intriguing and entertaining that I’ve done in the past 16 years. Enjoyable and instructive, especially Eddie’s memories of being raised in Europe during the days when the Nazis were hunting down and killing “ethnics” like gypsies. The link to this fascinating conversation is below.
     A couple of back-stories, not included in the interview: The trumpet you’ll hear as background music was that of Bill Reynolds, one of the founders of the Illinois-based Reynolds Family Circus, who toured for a short time with Kelly Miller in the spring of 2000. The caged birds in the background of Eddie’s truck were used by his then wife, Sylvan. Eddie and his wife unceremoniously left the show less than three months after this interview, along with the Russian bear trainer, the result of a rhubarb in the circus backyard in an upstate New York community. His son, Ari Steeples, who is a longtime ringmaster on Jordan World Circus, believes Eddie died in December 2012. Produced by Lane Talburt, CHS trustee and video producer. Eddie Steeples video.

Star Kelly Miller Circus: Kelly Miller Circus: Elephant Power for Set-Up, Teardown. GM/part owner David Rawls always had a well-rounded, traditional one-ring circus, captured here at two stops along the 1999 and 2000 tours. Some of the performers on the 2000 edition - Brent “Cheeko” Dewitt, the Flying Perez, Eddie Steeples, Billy Morris, and ringmaster Bill Brickle among them. You may recognize Tommy Thompson on drums and Raul Gomez as the juggler. Note how Raul helped with the teardown, still in his costume. You’ll also see the veteran elephant, Viola, helping to set up and tear down the big top. Viola was used for this purpose for the final time, and presented in the ring by Armando Loyal, in 2015 on the John Ringling North II-owned Kelly Miller. Viola more than likely was the last elephant to help raise and lower the big top on any American circus. Produced by Lane Talburt, CHS trustee and video producer. Kelly Miller Circus, video.

Star Circo Hermanos Vazquez. Spanish-speaking clowns were the principal cogs on the 2015 edition of the eastern unit of Circo Hermanos Vazquez, which closed its 2015 tour on Sunday, December 6, at CitiField in Queens, NY. During a interview between shows on Nov. 29, managing partner Ramon Vazquez discussed the importance of clowns to largely Latino audiences. But wait, there’s more to this classy one-ring tented circus, with a Vegas-style lighting and sound system and a live 8-piece band that support a stellar cast of human and animal performers. Produced by Lane Talburt, CHS trustee and video producer. Circo Hermanos Vazquez, video.

Star Dailey Bros. Circus. Pete Cristiani provides an insight to grift on Ben Davenport’s Dailey Bros. Circus, in 1950. During this rail show’s last season, Pete Cristiani managed the pie (gambling) car, married the boss’s daughter (Norma Davenport Cristiani), and took on a new gambling partner, boxer Joe Louis. This is taken largely from interviews with Pete and Norma (who died in 2010). Produced by Lane Talburt, CHS trustee and video producer. Dailey Bros. Circus, video.

Star Ward Hall. This video is vintage Ward Hall, cupping the microphone in his left hand and in full command of the King’s English as he discusses the tricks of his trade - mainly persuading towners to buy into his bag of illusions inside the sideshow tent. Over the past 16 years, Ward and I have gotten together to record his colorful circus and carnival history on numerous occasions. This encounter took place during a break from Ward greeting and entertaining his followers at a 2006 convention of Circus Fans Assn. of America in Hersey, Pennsylvania. As a teaser to get your attention, Ward briefly describes his two-headed baby from India, then reveals how various sideshow magicians and performers influenced his development as the dean of American sideshow owners and performers. In the blowoff of this interview, the legendary showman reveals how his $3 investment in the illusion paid rich dividends. Produced by Lane Talburt, CHS trustee and video producer. Ward Hall video.

Star Circus trainmaster: moving the show. Video interview with Joe Colossa, trainmaster on the Ringling Bros. Blue Unit, which has just completed its two-year tour of the "Dragons" edition and is heading to Florida to gear up for the new "Legends" show which will debut in Tampa in early January, 2014. Lane Talburt followed Joe and his crew with his video camera as he supervised the load-in of the circus train in Bridgeport, CT, on an early Monday morning in October and later the load-out on the following Sunday night. Joe worked his way up from concessions to trainmaster on Ringling Bros. Blue Unit. Produced by Lane Talburt, CHS trustee and video producer. Circus trainmaster Video.

Star Brian Miser, regularly submits to being catapulted off of a supersize crossbow and to the threat of injury. In this YouTube video, Brian explains the risk factors involved in being launched from the barrel of a cannon or from a supersize open-air crossbow, with live-action images of his "human fuse" routine. Also look for the aerial routines of Skyler Miser, the 9-year-old daughter of Tina and Brian. Produced by Lane Talburt, CHS trustee and video producer. Brian Miser Video

Star 1930s Parade, home movie transferred to video depicts a circus parade from the 1930's and shows' wagons owned by Cole Bros., Clyde Beatty, and Allen King. Based on information I found on your site, it appears the circus parade was sometime around 1935 and was taken in Rochester. Contributed by Rob Gates. View the Parade Video.

Star Millette family, scenes from Ringling Bros. Circus, 1931-1936 Home movie video from the Millette family, aerialists of Ringling Brothers Circus 1931-36. Edward Millette (Tilden Wolff), Maud Jennier (Maud Hesselbach), Ira Millette, Jimmy Millette, Penny Millette. Posted on YouTube by Dianne Bartlett, great-grandaughter of Edward Millette. You'll also see the tent going up with horses pulling the quarter poles up, the legends of clowns in and out of make-up (including Lou Jacobs in a monkey costume), Fred Bradna, Frank Buck on the elephant during spec, a glimpse of a giraffe being led around in spec, a casting act and more.

Star Tribute to 'Little Pete' Terhune. Here's a memorial video tribute to Pete Terhune, known as "Poobah" for many years on Ward Hall's various sideshows. Pete died on July 30, 2012 at the age of 82. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt. Ward Hall has written a more detailed biographical tribute on Pete which has been posted John Robinson's internet blog, "Sideshow World." Biographical Tribute

Star Deiter Tasso. Celebrating his 60th year in America, 78-year-old Dieter Tasso sat before my video camera in the Wisconsin Dells recently to provide insight into his evolving career as a juggler and jokester. Part 1 shows Dieter doing what he does best - entertaining the masses - at the legendary Tommy Bartlett Show, where he's been a crowd pleaser for almost three decades. Deiter Tasso: A Jocular Juggler. In Part 2, Dieter explains how he overcame his uncle's initial objections - "You have no talent!" - to learn juggling, and his signature cups-and-saucers balancing trick in particular, to win accolades in his native Berlin and to be signed to a contract on the Greatest Show on Earth. There's no cover video or special effects on the second part, just the spell-binding stories of Dieter Tasso. Dieter Tasso: A Juggler's Journey to America. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

Star International Clown Hall of Fame. Some of the world's funniest and best-loved clowns, including Lou Jacobs, are honored in the International Clown Hall of Fame at Baraboo, WI. Executive Director Greg DeSanto hosts this video tour, as edited by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt. International Clown Hall of Fame

    Star 2011 Circus Ring of Fame induction ceremonies. The video also captures Floyd Kruger giving a tour of St. Armands Circle, describing the history of the landmark and pointing out that many of the bronze plaques of circus greats are in need of refurbishing. YouTube video. 2011 Circus Ring of Fame. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Circus Harmony. Building acrobatic skills and self-confidence is the mission of Circus Harmony, a social circus founded and directed by Jessica Hentoff. Circus Under Glass. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star The Amazing Sladek. Gary Sladek has been on the circus/fair circuit for 33 years, entertaining crowds with his chair balancing and trampoline routines, among the dozen or so he has mastered. Caught at the Haddam Neck Fair (100th edition) in South Central Connecticut at the start of the Labor Day weekend, where Gary was performing with Cirque Du Jour, a small sidewaller, on Chuck Reed's Imperial Shows, which tours exclusively in the Nutmeg Stage. Amazing Sladek: Circus Life in the Balance. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Circus Smirkus 2011. As Troy Wunderle, the artistic director of Circus Smirkus, would say, "witnessing a performance of this youthful band will "blow you away." This small but exuberant New England touring group typifies the growing American youth circus movement. As portrayed by Lane Talburt, Circus Smirkus offers youngsters from 10 to 18 the opportunity to reinvent themselves for the summer and, hopefully, for their future careers. Circus Smirkus. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star John Pugh's New Big Top, the first in a series of YouTube videos on Cole Bros. Circus, commemorating John W. Pugh's 30 years of ownership and 51 consecutive years on the same show. Cole Bros. part one. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star It's the Show, a fast-paced performance, with lots of thrill and animal acts. John Pugh and Elvin Bale don't want "filler" routines, as they explain in Part 2 of a multi-segment series on Cole Bros. Circus. Part 3 will deal with the unpredictable elements of the touring season: stormy weather and local inspections. Cole Bros. part two. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Coping with Tornadoes, Local Regs, Cole Bros. owner John Pugh gives eye-witness details to tornadoes that have plagued Cole Bros. Circus, seemingly for eons. He also discusses the recent interpretation of the Connecticut fire code which prevented the show from setting up its tent for the first of a three-day mall engagement, resulting in losses estimated by Pugh at $32,000. Cole Bros. part three. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star John Pugh tutored by 'Digger.' Johnny Pugh is walking circus history, and Part 4 of my YouTube series on Cole Bros. delves into his performing and managerial backgrounds, with a couple of jackpots thrown in for good measure. Cole Bros. part four, John Pugh tutored by 'Digger.' Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Elvin Bale in the shadow of the cannon, Part 5 of my YouTube series on Cole Bros. delves into his performing and managerial backgrounds, with a couple of jackpots thrown in for good measure. Cole Bros. part five. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Cole Bros. Circus, the teardown (blow-off), part six. The last of the YouTube series on the Cole Bros. Circus. This one needed no narration, just the nostalgic sounds of a circus band led by Richard Whitmarsh conducting the South Shore Concert Band (from its very first of many albums). Still in awe of Johnny Pugh's 51 years on the same circus - and still under canvas. Cole Bros. part six. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star If it's Ward Hall, it must be bally time. Some of you may have had the opportunity to see some of the illusions and human oddities on World of Wonders over the years. Here's Ward at his best describing some of these freaks and working acts, as videotaped in front of a bannerline at his home in Gibsonton in mid-January, just after he had been inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt. Links to the two-part series: Ward Hall, Part I     Ward Hall, Part II

    Star Lee Andrews-circus advance clown. Lee Andrews has packed a lot of tomfoolery into his young life. He's the new advance clown on Cole Bros. Circus. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Larry Rothbard-Circus Music Maker. Chicago music director Larry Rothbard sets the tone for the Melha Shrine Circus, blending the old with newer audience tastes. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star In Circus Spotlight: Ringmaster Peter Sturgis. Peter Sturgis is celebrating his thirtieth year as a circus ringmaster this year, having got his break at Circus World Museum in 1981. A native Mississippian, he's lived in Baraboo since then. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Piccadilly Circus. Zack Garden, at 23, has risen to the position of general manager of Piccadilly Circus from his first job on the show - driving a semi-trailer tractor at age 15. Zach describes the one-ring show, which is owned by long-time circus producer, and Zach's father, Dick Garden. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Jack Cook's comedy car act. Jack Cook has been delighting circus audiences for more than 40 years with his comedy car act. CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt interviewed the funster recently at Piccadilly Circus in Danbury, CT.

    Star Brent 'Cheeko' DeWitt. Interview with clown Brent 'Cheeko' DeWitt. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Fairground Organ. Mini concert on old fairground Stinson Organ, owned and exhibited at circuses, carnivals and special events by Brent DeWitt of Sarasota, Florida. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Tribute to Manuel "Junior" Ruffin. Manuel Ruffin was the first African-American performer inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame, was shown at a memorial service in the North Port, FL, city hall. Ruffin, a protege of famed wild animal trainer Clyde Beatty, died on September 14, 2010. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star P. T. Barnum's 200th birthday. Amid the celebration of P. T. Barnum's 200th birthday in Bethel, CT, the present-day owner of Barnum's birthplace, historians and a sculptor completing a bronze statue reflect on the life and times of the famed showman. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Making of a Sideshow 'Talker'. Veteran sideshow performer-owner Ward Hall explains the characteristics of a good fairgrounds "talker" (also known as "barker" by outsiders). Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Sideshow, "building the tip". Ward Hall, dean of American sideshow 'talkers,' explains how he entices fair patrons into the "World of Wonders." Videotaped at New Jersey State Fair at Meadowlands and at Hall's home in Gibsonton, FL. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Bill Reynolds video. A 2000 video interview that CHS trustee Lane Talburt did with Bill Reynolds on his early '80s experiences in driving a six-horse-hitch team pulling a Carson and Barnes parade wagon. A six and one-half-minute segment on YouTube. Bill was band leader for D. R. Miller for several seasons. He and his parents and siblings took out a school show, Reynolds Family Circus, for about 15 years. Produced by CHS trustee and video producer Lane Talburt.

    Star Kenneth Feld interview. A new video interview with family-owned Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld, operator of such events as Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus and Nuclear Cowboys. Kenneth Feld discusses the leadership qualities needed to not only operate a large family-owned business but also those needed to operate such complex events as only circuses can be. I thought this would be a fascinating video to share with your students and members. I have attached a link below to the video as well as the accompanying article on Kenneth Feld. Information from Ian Saleh, Washington Post. Article

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CHS webmasters J. Griffin and Bob Cline, last modified May 2013.