Big Top Boss: John Ringling North and the Circus

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University of Illinois Press, 1994 - Biography & Autobiography - 384 pages
A brilliant, eclectic showman, circus king John Ringling North achieved international fame as a talent scout, booking the likes of Gargantua the Great and Unus, the man who stood on his forefinger. He once engaged George Balanchine to choreograph a ballet for elephants, with Igor Stravinsky composing the music. Big Top Boss explores the remarkable career of North, who ran Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for thirty years. Using as a backdrop North's flamboyant lifestyle and the lavish spectacles he brought to the big top, David Lewis Hammarstrom details in lively and dramatic fashion how North guided the circus through adversities ranging from depressions and wars to crippling labor strikes and rapidly changing trends in American entertainment. This first balanced picture of North's controversial life reveals how his popular image as an impresario was shattered in the wake of his bitterly opposed 1956 decision to strike the tents for good and move the circus indoors. It also shows that North's circus was not artistically run down and losing money when he sold it in 1967 but in fact had been reestablished as a profitable enterprise that earned first-rate critical notices and was attracting larger crowds each year. Hammarstrom has interviewed a host of key circus figures including North himself; his brother, Henry; his famous general manager, Arthur M. Concello; and many performers, directors, and department heads who were involved with the circus when North owned and operated it. Big Top Boss also sheds new light on North's personal life, giving proper significance to his long-term relationship with Countess Ida von Zedlitz-Trutzschler, the onetime ballerina with whom he livedfor nearly thirty years.
 

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Contents

In Uncle Johns Image
1
Ringling Roots
12
Heir Unapparent
19
Gargantua on Parade
36
Shakespeares Roustabouts
44
The Lady Who Wouldnt
56
Brotherly Bombast
65
Dream Seasons
73
His Own Music
172
Gone Are the Days
181
A Stab at Tomorrow
195
The Big Top Falls
212
Once a Circus King
227
Greatest Show on Asphalt
240
At Home across the Sea
251
The Sound of Success
266

Elephants in Tutus
82
Into the Net
92
A Fire He Didnt Start
100
All Eyes on the Courtroom
112
North and Concello
124
JetSet Johnny
137
Broadway to Sarasota
154
Photographed by De Mille
163
Incentives to Sell
281
Lost in the Press Kit
290
A Graceful Exit
301
Interviews
309
Notes
311
Big Top Bibliography
327
Index
329
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