William Goyen Northwestern University Press, 1994 Library of Congress PS3513.O97A77 1994 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
Completed while he was dying, William Goyen's Arcadio is one of the most affecting and imaginative farewells to life ever written. Arcadio is a half man, half woman raised in a whorehouse and for years the veteran exhibitionist in an itinerant circus sideshow. After he escapes he searches for his lost family, and during the journey tells the fantastic story of his life.
During the 1920s and ’30s, Franz Taibosh—whose stage name was Clicko—performed in front of millions as one of the stars of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Prior to his fame in the United States, Taibosh toured the world as the “Wild Dancing Bushman,” showing off his frenzied dance moves in freak shows, sideshows, and music halls from Australia to Cuba. When he died in 1940, the New York Times called him “the only African bushman ever exhibited in this country.” In Clicko, Neil Parsons unearths the untold story of Taibosh’s journey from boyhood on a small farm in South Africa to top billing as one of the travelling World’s Fair Freaks.
Through Taibosh’s tale, Parsons brings to life the bizarre golden age of entertainment as well as the role that the dubious new science of race played in it. Beginning with Taibosh’s early life, Clicko untangles the real story of his ancestry from the web of myths spun around him on his rise to international stardom. Parsons then chronicles the unhappy middle period of Taibosh’s career, when he suffered under the heel of a vicious manager. Left to freeze and nearly starve in an unheated apartment, Taibosh was rescued by Frank Cook, Barnum & Bailey’s lawyer. The Cooks adopted Taibosh as a member of their family of circus managers and performers, and his happy—if far from average—years with them make up the final chapter of this remarkable story.
Equal parts entertaining and disturbing, Clicko vividly evokes a forgotten era when vaudeville drew massive crowds and circus freaks were featured in Billboard and Variety. Parsons introduces us to colorful characters such as George Auger the giant and the original Zip the Pinhead, but above all, he gives us an unforgettable portrait of Franz Taibosh, rescued at last from the racists and the romantics and revealed here as an ordinary man with an extraordinary life.
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.
A staple of American popular culture during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the freak show seemed to vanish after the Second World War. But as Rachel Adams reveals in Sideshow U.S.A., images of the freak show, with its combination of the grotesque, the horrific, and the amusing, stubbornly reappeared in literature and the arts. Freak shows, she contends, have survived because of their capacity for reinvention. Empty of any inherent meaning, the freak's body becomes a stage for playing out some of the twentieth century's most pressing social and political concerns, from debates about race, empire, and immigration, to anxiety about gender, and controversies over taste and public standards of decency.
Sideshow U.S.A. begins by revisiting the terror and fascination the original freak shows provided for their audiences, as well as exploring the motivations of those who sought fame and profit in the business of human exhibition. With this history in mind, Adams turns from live entertainment to more mediated forms of cultural expression: the films of Tod Browning, the photography of Diane Arbus, the criticism of Leslie Fiedler, and the fiction Carson McCullers, Toni Morrison, and Katherine Dunn. Taken up in these works of art and literature, the freak serves as a metaphor for fundamental questions about self and other, identity and difference, and provides a window onto a once vital form of popular culture.
Adams's study concludes with a revealing look at the revival of the freak show as live performance in the late 1980s and the 1990s. Celebrated by some, the freak show's recent return is less welcome to those who have traditionally been its victims. At the beginning of a new century, Adams sees it as a form of living history, a testament to the vibrancy and inventiveness of American popular culture, as well as its capacity for cruelty and injustice.
"Because of its subject matter, this interesting and complex study is provocative, as well as thought-provoking."—Virginia Quarterly Review