Sunday, February 20, 2011
With Presidents Day tommorow I just wanted to share a story. Working come in for Circus Sarasota yesterday Chuck and I noticed a man by himself with a veterans hat that said WWII and Vietnam. We both thanked him for his service. he got a tear in his eye and started to tell us about how much the Circus meant to him growing up as a child and all through his life. He was so happy that it was still alive in America and that Circus Sarasota was there for him to enjoy. He then reached in his pocket and pulled out $10.00 as if it was his last ten dollars. He said he didnt have much money but wanted to give it to the circus to make sure it keeps going in America. At intermission I went up to him and asked him if he was enjoying himself. he told me that he loved the special tribute to the veterans Chuck made during the picture frame number. He asked me if it was done just for him! Some times we dont realize the power of the Circus.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
"Mitch... were you in Macon, GA when it snowed and we kept finding little foot prints and a hole in the snow all the way back from the bar to the train? We finally found Frankie sleeping on a hot rail next to the train. " Ron Jarvis
"Down time...you took it where you could get it. A hot rail in Macon, Georgia or on a rotting hammock in a quonset hut outside of the Chicago International Ampitheater. Sleep was sleep...but rest was rare and heavenly! Eugene Pigeon
"I hear you Eugene... but I am sure glad we found Frankie before the next train did." Ron Jarvis
"I am glad you found him too. It is where Jonathan found Georgie Rollins also...shivering on the tracks. Jesus, life could be so thin on the road. It is a wonder it didn't take more of us. We found a guy in the snow by the train in Greensboro in 1979. Just a townie...looking for food and a place to hide. Eugene Pigeon
"Sounds like a song lyric from Woody Guthrie..."We found Frankie on the rail asleep, it was cold as hell...he had been kicked out of Macon, Georgia in the snow...and with a pink slip from the Bonita Motel!" Everyday was a song lyric on the Ringling Show!" "Like I wrote this one for a showgirl in Chicago on moveout night. "She strutted past the Pie-Car...looking thinner than the soup du jour, there was more fat on the chicken legs than on her legs for sure. I asked if she would sit with me...and maybe have a bite...she said, Pidgeon, I know what you are hungry for...but this cafe is closed tonight!"" Eugene Pigeon
We just figured Frankie got up to the rail and couldnt get over it so decided to just fall asleep. Jim Howle
Thursday, May 20, 2010
When we were on the Ringling Show in the 70's there were many colorful characters on the show from the tent days. One of these was our electrician named Congo. I did some research to find out his real name but it seems no one knew him by any other name. This story of Congo comes from my good friend Chuck Sidlow who was Boss clown at the time.......
Thursday, April 29, 2010
This story about Frosty Little comes From Angel Ocasio CC '84.............
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Frosty Little was my Boss for six years. When I think of Frosty I think of a man who kept things running smoothly in the alley.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Later that year when we were in Indianapolis, I'd received a note that two girls wanted to meet me. I told Chuck I was going to show him how to handle girls and told him to go with me at intermission to meet them. We went out to see them...
The girls asked if we could go outside for a few minutes, which we did. We went to the top of the ramp and started talking with them...
There at the bottom of the ramp, stood Frosty our boss- his arms folded and a scowl on his face. He said to us,"You missed the track gags. Where were you guys?"
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Coming home to Venice was something special for us. We would save our money all year long so we could stay at one of the motels just to get off the train. There was the Candelite , The Kent, the Gondolier and the one of choice The Bonita.
Friday, April 16, 2010
One year ago a legend in our business went on to the great circus in the sky. For many of us on Ringling Tim Holst was always there. From the day he went to clown college in 1971 until 2009 he was an integral part of "The Greatest Show On Earth" From clown to ringmaster on to performance director, and finally Vice President of Talent. What a career! No matter how busy he would be he seemed to always make time for you, even if it was just for a moment. He loved to come to clown alley on the gold show and just talk about clowning. Tom Dougherty,myself and Tim would share stories and memories from the 70s and talk for what seemed like hours. He truly loved the circus, especially clowns. One day he left his briefcase in our dressing room. Being one to not pass up a golden opportunity like that I took some glitter which I used in opening of the show and proceeded to put some in his briefcase. hoping he wouldn't open it until he was gone. Sure enough he got called away and had to leave immediately. While he was on the plane he opened his briefcase and glitter went every where! I saw him a few towns later and he told me what happened. Thinking I was in trouble he just laughed and told me everyone on the plane had a good laugh. Tim was always up for a good practicle joke. I'm so glad he was part of my life.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
On one Miami stop, some of us walked into the Alley and Mike was there, quite upset. He was ranting and raving in Spanish and none of us could make any sense of it. It sure seemed serious, so we asked Serf (who spoke fluent Spanish) if he could tell what Mike was saying. All he could tell us was that Mike was mad and that even he couldn't make sense of it.
Friday, March 5, 2010
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Monday, March 1, 2010
John McHugh was a clown way ahead of his time. He had scientific approach to his clowning and used modern technology as much as possible. Even his costumes were advanced! They were made of a very high tech vinyl material he could only get in New York, so every two years when the show was in NYC, he would get enough material to make his costumes for the next two years. That’s a lot of planning! One of the them that stands out in my mind is one he made where he sewed flashing lights (similar to Christmas lights) into the front of his costume!
When he was in Clown College, he adapted a character similar to Sherlock Holmes. He would wear a cape and carry around a huge magnifying glass. He even had a pipe! As with many clowns, he evolved over the years, and that character slipped away completely. He quit wearing the cape, ditched the lights and the pipe… He added big ears and changed his wig… The birth of a new character!
One year we came to winter quarters and John had a bunch of battery operated cars. Of course, we all wondered what he was going to do with them. They were the type that when they run into something, or off the edge of something, they would turn. Maybe some of you old timers remember these? Way before remote control…
John was always very secretive about what he was building. During the day you’d see him working on something but never knew what it was, then at night he would assemble all of the pieces. You’d walk in the next day and lo and behold, he had a prop!
So we would watch him with this pile of fake fur and foam rubber; he’d be cutting away at the fur, and carving the foam… he’d be gluing the pieces of fur to the foam and we just couldn’t figure out what it was! John would never tell you what he was building. You could ask a hundred times, and he would just say, “Oh, it’s a prop...”
So we kept watching. When all was finished, this talented man had made some giant BUGS that fit over the cars! He took two pieces of plywood and cut out some discs about three feet in diameter. When the bugs were placed on the wood they would turn, move all around and bump into each other. If they got to the edge of the plywood, they would also turn, never leaving the plywood. He would get out his huge magnifying glass from his “Sherlock Holmes” days, and go searching for them. He’d then shoot at them with a pop gun that shot ping pong balls. I believe he also had one of those sprayers that he would spray at them as if he were an exterminator. This was his Track Gag, and it was brilliant! From then on, we called John the "Bug Man."
Another year John showed up with a big piece of graph paper and a bunch of electrical conduit. On the paper was drawn a bunch curved lines. We’d watch him take the conduit and hold it to the paper, and bend it just so. He would never have the whole drawing with him, so we could never figure out what he was making. Of course asking him never did any good, so we just had to watch, and guess. After a week or so of bending the conduit this way and that, it was driving us nuts! Then he would stay late after everyone left, and begin his assembly… Finally the day arrived when we walked in, and there was John, with a set of wings that fit on his shoulders. They could even flap! It also had a tail like an airplane and really looked like a flying machine!
That year for Track Gags, he would be looking for the bugs with his wings on. He had a hoist lift him into the air, and he would flap around and shoot the bugs from the air.
His flying machine became so popular that we made a spot for him in the come in. He would go into the cage at the top of Gunther’s tiger props. We would stop everything to make an announcement and have the audience count to three. He would flap his wings and simply jump down the props level by level finally landing in the ring. This always got a huge applause!
Leave it to John McHugh to leave us all laughing!
Thursday, February 18, 2010
It was 1977 and it was time to present the new season’s gags to Mr. Feld. I was set to go; I had everything except a walkaround. I had no idea what I was going to do!
So on the day we had to present, I just happened to be out and about in Venice and I couldn’t resist stopping in to the local music store. I walked inside, and there hanging on the wall on display was a huge harmonica! My mind started working, the wheels started turning… I figured it was a great clown prop! I had to ask the guy if it was for sale, and he told me I could have it for $5.00! Of course I bought it. What clown wouldn’t buy a prop like that?
So after my day out shopping and scoring a massive harmonica, it was time to head to the arena to prepare for the evening events. I hadn’t even stopped to think about the walkaround I was expected to have that evening! I decided to head upstairs to the Attic, which is a sacred place above Clown Alley where old clown props are stored. I was looking for something… anything that I could use to get through the presentation! Nothing seemed to catch my eye.
Then it hit me! I’m thinking “HUGE HARMONICA!” But what could I do with it besides walk around with it? Think…think…think…
Then it started to come to me. I started to think about some every day clothes I wore almost daily: an old pair of overalls, and my oversize mountain climbing boots... Suddenly, an entire character was born! Adding a pillow in my belly was almost an afterthought, but it had to be…
At this point in time, Barry Lubin was doing Grandma, and he had a lot of whoopee cushions. Ideas, Ideas!! I asked him for one, split it open and put it on my head for a hat. At the very least, this character would look funny and hopefully I could get by with that.
Standing at my trunk, I glanced at the bag of ping pong balls I would use for noses. Hmmmm, could I put them in my mouth… play that giant harmonica… and when I pulled it away, my cheeks would remain puffed out? YES! I had my walkaround!
The presentation began and I was nervous about whether or not this would be enough. So often what seems funny to us, just doesn’t go over well. To me, it seemed pretty funny! I had great fun putting this character together! Now it was my turn to show it. I walked out with the harmonica in front of my mouth sat on the ring curb and started to rock out to the music. I really went at it stomping my feet and dancing around. I waited for a break in the music and just at the right moment I pulled the harmonica away and wiped my brow. I looked up to see Mr. Feld, and he was laughing hysterically! It actually worked! I knew I had succeeded…
This character became very popular and in the following years I would do it more and more in the show. It really worked well for the seats in Come In. With this character, I could do almost anything and get away with it! At the time, I didn't know what I had started but I knew it worked and I was having a blast doing it!
Fast forward to 2000: Tim Holst called me to the office in Palmetto to settle the contract for that coming season. He specifically asked me if I still did the character with the ping pong balls. I told him I did every once in a while but not all of the time. “Well, we want you to do it all the time.” Holst said. I wasn't sure I could, but told him I would sure give it a try.
He handed me the contract to sign. When I read through it, it said, "Jonathan Freddes, clown with ping pong ball in mouth character."
Wow! All the time? I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing. It felt great that a character I had made up on a whim had been so successful and they wanted him all the time, but there’s a lot of pressure in doing that kind of thing. It didn’t take long to figure out that doing it all the time was quite painful with regular sized ping pong balls. I had to do a lot of experimenting until I found something I could use that was less painful. I won't even tell you what I finally found that worked. That’s my secret!
For the next seven years it was written exactly like that in my contract. All of this, for $5.00!
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Back in 2000, when I returned to the show after 20 years, I expected some changes. Tim Holst had told me things had changed quite a bit, and to try not to be too surprised. Walking into the arena for the first time, I noticed there were huge numbers made out of tape laid out on the floor. What were these? We never had them in the past. I was soon to find out...
That first day of rehearsals was really full of surprises. After going through all the introductions, the director told us to line up at the Portal. The what? I looked around to see if I could figure out what was going on just by watching, but I had to ask what that was. “The back curtain…” I was told. The what? In my day, it was called the back door.
Then, the director gave us each a number and told us he wanted a clown bust out. A what? Another term I never heard before. So I just asked him what that was…
He began to explain to me that it was when all of the clowns would run out screaming and yelling and go to their number spot. Ohhhh okay. He told us we would do our skill in that spot. Our skill? I really didn’t do too much in the way of “skills”, but I sure knew how to be a clown.
The director asked each clown what was their particular skill. One clown said, “Balancing…” the next guy said “Juggling…” and he just went down the line until he got to me. He asked me and I thought about it for a moment… then said, "I read a newpaper."
The director looked bewildered and said to me,"Thats no skill!" I had no other reply than, "The way I read one takes a lot of skill." I knew that the director had no other choice but to give me the benefit of the doubt and let me show him. I figured with all of the chaos of the opening I would be subtle and read a newspaper. Now to me, THAT was clowning.
The first time we came out in rehearsal, I obliged this number system, and marched out to my number and started reading my paper. Yes sir, I was reading my paper and ignoring all that was going on around me. We did it again. This time I brought a chair with me and sat down to read my paper. We did it again, and this time I brought a chair and a table with a coffee cup. Yes, I sat down and drank the coffee and read my newspaper. This continued over and over, and every time I brought something more with me. And I read my newspaper…
I finally ended up coming out with a chair, a table, a coffee cup, coffee pot, an extension cord…and… my newspaper.
I set up the chair and table with the coffee pot and cup. Then I would get all caught up in the extension cord, fight that for a bit, then finally get loose from it. I would then look for a place to plug it in… all of this was going on during the Opening Parade. After I would finally get the cord plugged in, I would pour a cup of coffee offer it to an audience member. When they refused, I would sit down drink the coffee and… read my newspaper. This would continue until the opening was over.
It was obvious that the Director wasn’t used to this type of clowning. My how things had changed! After a lot of coaxing, he gave in and let me do it. Old fashioned Clowing prevailed…
Someone got a picture of my routine, and put it in the program. Ringling liked it so much they used it on their website for a number of years under Special Offers.
A few years later, that picture was used for some e-cards you could get for Valentine’s Day, and I was told that picture was the best selling one!
Again, old fashioned clowning prevailed. I was so pleased....
Monday, February 15, 2010
One year, five of the clowns decided to get motorcycles. It was Ruthie, Kerry Griffin, Tim Doody, and John Russell, and me. We were a regular motorcycle gang!
We would drive them overland and when the weather got bad Carl Wong would carry them on a flatbed trailer for 5 cents a mile. The ramp we used to load them was nothing more than a plank of wood. Packing up in Norfolk, it was cold and rainy that day so we decided to load the bikes. As I rode up the plank, the plank kicked out and came straight back and hit me square in the forehead and knocked me out. From then on, I always walked my bike up the ramp.
Later in the season, we were in Washington D.C. and it was our first time in the Capitol Center. The Bullets were in the finals for the NBA. John Russell and I were invited to do the halftime show for their home game while we were there. What an honor! John walked his stilts and I did the hat catch.
But that’s not the story I’m telling today, you'll find out later why I told you that part....
When we left D.C., we were headed for Louisville, Kentucky. The weather was great that day, so we decided to ride the bikes. It was quite a hike and we needed to stop, so we decided a State Park would be a great place to spend the night. We had no idea that Frosty and Ruthie were staying at the same State Park…
We really needed to try to get a good night sleep for the drive the next day, but as the night wore on, sleep was not to be. The people in the campsite next door were being quite loud. John’s idea was to go talk to them and ask them to tone it down. I agreed. Little did we know…
We went over to their campsite, and much to our dismay, it turned out to be six big guys and their girlfriends celebrating their graduation. They were all quite drunk and apparently did not care who knew it. As we walked up to them, they were already on their feet; three of them took their places in front of John, and three of them in front of me. Now bear in mind, John was over 6" tall… and there I stood a mere 5'4." Next to these guys, we seemed frighteningly small… but our leather jackets we wore made us both feel that we could conquer the world. We were TOUGH!
So just then, John decided it was a good a time as any to say, “Why don't you guys shut up! We're trying to sleep over there!" I knew then we were in trouble. One of the guys got all puffed up and asked John, "Do you want trouble?" John said “No." and immediately hit the guy in the face.
The only thing I remember after that was three of those guys were on me and three of them were on John. They threw us to the ground and proceeded to kick the livin’ daylights out of us, and hit us repeatedly. I was on the ground, and I rolled into fetal position and tried my best to cover myself. I remember at one point, I looked over where John was, and saw him laying there out cold. Completely knocked out! I then heard breaking bottles and saw them coming towards us. I had no idea what was coming next… But the guys’ girlfriends stepped in and told them to stop and they all got in their cars and started to leave. The next thing I know, I’m hearing gunshots coming from a few feet away! By now, I’m wondering if we’re going to make it out of here alive…
But lo and behold, it was Frosty at the door of his trailer shooting and yelling, "What's going on out there???" By now, John had come to, and we got up and ran to Frosty’s trailer. We must have terrified Frosty, because all you could see were our eyes… everything else was covered with blood. He didn’t even recognize us at first…
Once he realized it was us, he put us in his truck and rushed us to the nearest hospital. As we were leaving the Park, we could hear the crunching sounds of our bikes being destroyed.
It was about twenty miles to the hospital, and the drive seemed like an eternity. After a few stitches, we started on our way back. That’s when Frosty remembered we left Ruthie back at the Park all alone!
By the time we got back to the Park, it was daylight. We went straight to Ruthie’s camp to wake her up. To our surprise she never heard a thing! Thank goodness!
The police arrived and asked if we wanted to press charges. They said they knew the boys and their parents, that they were influential in the town. One of the boy’s father was actually the Mayor! We were told we’d have to return for court, and that just wasn’t possible, so we decided against it. Frosty and Ruthie had to leave to get to Louisville, we stayed behind…
Sure enough, we found our bikes thrown into a creek with picnic tables on top of them. Since we couldn't put makeup on and couldn't work, we decided to stay to get our bikes in order.
We were moving awfully slow, so on the way to Louisville we got a hotel to rest and recover. Relaxing in the evening, we turned on the TV and the 7th game of the NBA playoffs was on. At halftime they showed highlights of the last six games.
Well what do you know! Right there in front of us was the halftime show we had done just a few days earlier. Watching ourselves on TV was just what we needed to cheer us up and help get us back on track.
The next day we left for Louisville, and two days later we were back to work, none for the worse!