This engaging memoir follows the life and career of circus performer Tiny Kline (1891-1964) from the burlesque house to the circus tent, and on to Disneyland and the silver screen. While working for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Kline became well known for her signature "slide for life" stunt, an "iron jaw" act in which she slid to the ground while dangling from trapeze rigging by her teeth. Kline renewed her spectacular acrobatics at the age of seventy when she played Tinker Bell in the "Fantasy in the Sky" fireworks show at Disneyland. In that same year, she also began writing her life story.
Extensively annotated by Janet M. Davis, this memoir documents twentieth-century changes in popular amusements, while providing fresh insight into circus personalities such as John Ringling, acrobat Lillian Leitzel, and big cat trainer Mabel Stark, as well as mainstream entertainers like Florenz Ziegfeld, John Philip Sousa, and others. Kline also provides intimate details about the daily machinations at the circus, including fascinating accounts of its sexual politics, racial dynamics, risky nature, and labor relations.
The Ringling Brothers began their business under the most modest of circumstances and through hard work, business savvy, and some luck created the largest, most famous circus in the world. They became wealthy men, one 50 cent admission ticket at a time.
Ringlingville USA chronicles the brothers' journey from immigrant poverty to enduring glory as the kings of the circus world. The Ringlings and their circus were last studied in depth over four decades ago. Now, for the first time, the brothers' detailed financial records and personal correspondence are available to researchers. Jerry Apps weaves together that information with newspaper accounts, oral histories, colorful anecdotes, and stunning circus ephemera and photos, many never before been published, to illuminate the importance of the Ringlings' accomplishments. He describes how the Ringling Brothers confronted the challenges of taxation, war, economic pressure, changing technology, and personal sorrows to find their place in history. The brothers emerge as complex characters whose ambition, imagination, and pure hucksterism fueled the phenomenon that was the Ringling Brothers' Circus.
For more than seven decades the circuses enjoyed tremendous popularity in the Soviet Union. How did the circus—an institution that dethroned figures of authority and refused any orderly narrative structure—become such a cultural mainstay in a state known for blunt and didactic messages? Miriam Neirick argues that the variety, flexibility, and indeterminacy of the modern circus accounted for its appeal not only to diverse viewers but also to the Soviet state. In a society where government-legitimating myths underwent periodic revision, the circus proved a supple medium of communication.
Between 1919 and 1991, it variously displayed the triumph of the Bolshevik revolution, the beauty of the new Soviet man and woman, the vulnerability of the enemy during World War II, the prosperity of the postwar Soviet household, and the Soviet mission of international peace—all while entertaining the public with the acrobats, elephants, and clowns. With its unique ability to meet and reconcile the demands of both state and society, the Soviet circus became the unlikely darling of Soviet culture and an entertainment whose usefulness and popularity stemmed from its ambiguity.
Imagine a stage full of black cats emitting electrical sparks, a man catching bullets with his teeth, or an evangelist jumping on a transformer to shoot bolts of lightning through his fingertips. These and other wild schemes were part of the repertoire of showmen who traveled from city to city, making presentations that blended science with myth and magic.
In Wonder Shows, Fred Nadis offers a colorful history of these traveling magicians, inventors, popular science lecturers, and other presenters of “miracle science” who revealed science and technology to the public in awe-inspiring fashion. The book provides an innovative synthesis of the history of performance with a wider study of culture, science, and religion from the antebellum period to the present.
It features a lively cast of characters, including electrical “wizards” Nikola Tesla and Thomas Alva Edison, vaudeville performers such as Harry Houdini, mind readers, UFO cultists, and practitioners of New Age science. All of these performers developed strategies for invoking cultural authority to back their visions of science and progress. The pseudo-science in their wonder shows helped promote a romantic worldview that called into question the absolute authority of scientific materialism while reaffirming the importance of human spirituality. Nadis argues that the sensation that these entertainers provided became an antidote to the alienation and dehumanization that accompanied the rise of modern America.
Although most recent defenders of science are prone to reject wonder, considering it an ally of ignorance and superstition, Wonder Shows demonstrates that the public’s passion for magic and meaning is still very much alive. Today, sales continue to be made and allegiances won based on illusions that products are unique, singular, and at best, miraculous. Nadis establishes that contemporary showmen, corporate publicists, advertisers, and popular science lecturers are not that unlike the magicians and mesmerists of years ago.
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