Posts Tagged ‘Ringling Circus’

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown/

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown. Photo © Feld Entertainment

Last week’s headlines were about a national clown shortage. This week brings news of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus holding auditions for their Clown Alley on March 12th at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Auditionees must be 18 or older and come prepared to show a 3-5 minute routine. This routine should display exaggerated facial expressions and body language, showcase any unique physical skills (juggling, unicycle riding, gymnastics, etc.) and demonstrate an understanding of their comedy, a sense of personality and a true desire to become a member of the world famous, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Clown Alley.

IMPORTANT: Auditionees should not wear any clown makeup and should not wear any costumes. Loose, comfortable clothing should be worn. It is preferred, but not required, that you bring a headshot and a resume to your audition.

Register for the New Jersey audition here. If you can’t make it, here’s where to send your DVD.

Competition for these jobs is always keen. According to Feld Entertainment, approximately 14 people are selected from the more than 4000 per year who apply for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. Would Judy Garland and Gene Kelly have made the grade?


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In this newly released video of the Zamperla-Zoppe Bareback Riders performing with Ringling’s Gold Unit last spring, the brothers Olissio, Gino and Ermes leap on and off the backs of cantering horses, turning somersaults and back flips with ease. Ringling skipped Coney Island in 2011, but we met Olissio Zoppe when he was here for a few days last July with Circus Vidbel.

At the Coney Island History Project, Olissio vaulted onto the Steeplechase horse’s back in a split second when asked to pose for the photo shown below. Circus people never cease to amaze. Olissio and his brothers have been acrobatic equestrians since boyhood and their skill goes back six generations to two illustrious Italian circus families. If the ceiling had been taller, we bet he would have done a somersault on the horse’s back and landed on his feet–even in flip flops!

Olissio Zoppe Rides the Steeplechase Horse. July 9, 2011. Photo © Coney Island History Project. All Rights Reserved

Are the Zamperla Zoppe troupe, who are distantly related to the Zamperla family of Luna Park, returning for an encore performance? Will there be a circus in Coney Island in 2012? It’s unlikely since the lot where Ringling’s Coney Island Boom-A-Ring and Illuscination played in 2009 and 2010 has become the temporary home of the Seaside Summer Concert Series. The City-owned lot where Circus Vidbel played is the site of the new Speed Zone amusement park set to open this season.

Thor Equities brought in Cole Brothers Circus in 2007 and Reithoffer Shows and other attractions in 2008, but that’s ancient history. Since Joe Sitt got his rezoning for 30-story hotels and retail, we haven’t noticed any press releases saying “Thor is fully committed to the amusement industry.” In 2012, there are still a few empty lots in Coney Island big enough for a big top, but they’re held by real estate speculators. The saying “May All of Your Days Be Circus Days!” is one we don’t expect to hear in Coney Island this season.


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July 13, 2011: Circus Portraits: Photography by Kevin C Downs

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Ringling Poster

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Side Show Poster. Printed by Erie Litho & Printing Co. Estimate $800- $1,200. Mosby & Co Auction. November 12, 2011

This rare and delightful poster from the 1930s advertising Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus Sideshow is up for bid in Mosby & Company’s Fall Auction. Strange People from the Remote Corners of the Earth? The performers are not ID’d but we think the musicians are Margaret and Mary Gibb, from Holyoke, Massachusetts, who were celebrated as “The Only American-Born Siamese Twins” and the Texas giant is Jack Earle. Both were with Ringling in the 1930s.

Looking into the Gibb girls bio, we discovered that they made their show biz debut at the age of 13 in Dave Rosen’s side show and museum, then located at Bowery and West 15th in Coney Island. The date was April 11, 1926. After a couple of days, the Coney showman was arrested for exhibiting minors and the twins were given into the custody of the Children’s Society over the objections of their father, who said he was with them all the time.

The incident gets a mention in the book “Sodom by the Sea: an affectionate history of Coney Island” (1941):

The side-show successors of Chang and Eng were continually getting into legal hot water at Coney Island. Around the time of the First World War, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children objected to the appearance of eleven-year-old Godino and Lucio Simplicio, Filipino double monsters, and proved them to be without proper guardianship. The SPCC followed up its success in the Simplicio case by raiding David Rosen’s side show on the Coney Island Bowery because of the exhibition of thirteen-year-old Marjorie and Mary Gibb, Siamese twins from Holyoke, Massachusetts. Rosen had studied the law during the previous Coney Island controversy and wriggled out of the trouble by arguing that the girls were still in the custody of their father, by contract, and moreover were not violating the statute by dancing or singing.

However, the Gibb girls returned home for a while, announcing that they had been so shamed by the publicity that they were consulting medical experts as to the possibility of being cut apart. That in turn created more publicity, which made their parents so nervous that the operation was postponed. Several years later the Gibb girls proved to be still on exhibition at Coney Island, when their attorney, Abraham Reiss, raised the roof over the unfair competition furnished by a Cuban pair of Siamese twins who he declared were not genuinely married in gristle.

According to the Gibb Sisters obit in 1967, they went on to become vaudeville and circus stars with an act that featured dancing and piano playing. From 1934 through 1937, and again in 1939, they toured with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The twins were joined at the base of the spine and despite sensational articles from the 1920’s about proposed operations to separate them, the only direct quote that we could find states they did not wish to be separated: “We are perfectly happy as we are,” said the Gibb Sisters on their 50th birthday. “We never wanted to be separated.”

Mosby’s live auction is on November 11 and 12 in Frederick, Maryland, but the catalogue is online and you can bid now or in real time during the auction.



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