The purpose of this blog is to share stories from the road of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown Alley. With this resource we can relive those days and have a better understanding of the transitions within Clown Alley over the years. I feel historically it's important to share these stories for future generations. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mr. Irvin Feld

 Irvin Feld loved the circus and what it stood for. To him it was true Americana. I remember his excitement as he told me about the Bicentennial show, telling me what a better way to celebrate America than with "The Greatest Show on Earth" He was a true example of someone who had achieved the American dream. He expressed this constantly through his actions. He was always proud to tell you how next years new show would always be "Bigger and Better." And it always was. His heart and soul were in the circus.
 As I child from an immigrant family he always dreamed of someday owning "The Greatest Show on Earth" He got his chance in 1967 when he was able to purchase Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. 
Always a true showman he had the papers signed over by John Ringling North in the Roman Colliseum. The home of the worlds original circus. He went so far as to ship some elephants and tigers over there to get that all important photo op.
 He understood the importance of the clowns role in the circus, and really loved to laugh at them. Hence, the creation Clown College. He felt it was an art form that needed to continue. Who better to teach this very important role but the Masters. He had them all so why not?
 When he would visit he'd walk backstage and greet everyone with a smile and a friendly "hello."  Even down to the the lowest working man. It didn't matter to him. You were one of his people. And what a memory he had! He knew everyones name and even what color socks they wore! 
 Mr. Feld was a shrewd business man when it came to contracts. You didn't always get a raise but, instead you might get a larger room on the train or, he might give you a better role in next years show. 
 Not to say you didn't get raises because we did get them. Most of this was controlled by the union at the time. Even so, I was able to get a few over the years, above and beyond the union scale. 
 He took an interest in all aspects of the show. During rehearsals you might see him walking around the track or, standing at the window of his office in the top of the arena. Watching every thing carefully . Every once in a while if  he saw you practicing he might stop and offer you a suggestion. He always wanted the best for his show. 
 His other love was children. He knew they were the future. The children on the show were always showcased somewhere within the show. Even the ones who didn't perform. 

 Every show about 15 children from the audience would be randomly selected to ride a float in the Spec. This was the big number just before intermission. And two of them would get to be part of the actual production.

 Over the years I took care of a lot of  children, helping them board the floats with big smiles on their faces. It was the clowns job to make sure all of them got in and out safely. 
 The other thing he implemented was a program where you could write in and get a free ticket for your newborn child. It was good for one time during their lifetime. Many years later, a lady around 21 years old came to me and told me how she was able to come to that show free because of one of these tickets. He felt every child should have the opportunity to see the circus. At least once in their lifetime
 He was very a compassionate man. When my mother lost her eyesight and would come to the show in Winter Quarters he would personally escort her back to the elephants and other animals and let her pet them. 
 One day in Denver he called me in his office. They had come to do the contracts for the following year. He asked if I could get my mothers medical records. He wanted to send them to his eye doctors who were the best in the world to see if they might be able to do something for her. I got the records and gave them to him. Unfortunately, the report came back that there was nothing they could do. 

 Years later we started doing backstage tours for the blind and the clowns were in charge of it. We even had braille programs ! A wonderful man who made dreams come to life.....  

1 comment:

  1. I've read some more of your blogs; what GREAT memories they bring back. Although I wasn't on "the inside" (i.e., a performer), I WAS the promoter for the Premiere of the Bicentiennial Edition in Venice; which meant that I was in Venice from mid-October through the conclusion of the engagement. That coincided with your Clown College Class; so, when you write about your experiences, and include photos, it's like being there once again! I also like your depiction of Mr. Feld. He was an incredible man...a wonderful human being; and, your story about Mr. Feld and your mother reminds me of a time when my father was in the hospital, and Mr. Feld sent him a floral arrangement! Only YOU know how much that meant to my father!

    Anyway, as Bob Hope would have sung: "Thanks for the memories!"
    ...Bob Collins