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. 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bread for the masses

This story about Frosty Little comes From Angel Ocasio  CC '84.............
Here is my Frosty story from Clown College.
When I went to clown college, there was the weekly french bread pickup at Albertson's, for .50 a loaf. One day he asked me to go with him. I remember entering the store and grabbing a shopping cart, maybe two, and filled it to capacity with hot french bread (you had to get there around 4:00 to get them out of the oven). When we got back to the Vela, all who ordered gathered at the trunk of his car and handed out loaves of bread. Man, the french bread tasted sooooooo good.
26 years later, whenever I walk into my local Albertson's and pass by the bakery, whether I pick up a loaf of french bread or not, I think of my day with Frosty.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Frosty Little

 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. 
Think about the job he had! Not only as a boss for 30 clowns but as a politician with Mr. Feld. 
 He was a perfect bridge between the generations of clowns. Remember we had clowns ranging from 17 to 80 years old. Not only did he keep order, he let us have just enough fun without letting it get out of hand.
 He was always thinking of the clowns. Many of the gags he created were specifically designed to utilize everyone in some way or another. Even if you didn't know what you were doing. If it wasn't for him and these gags many of us would not have had the opportunity to work in the show our first year. 
 When it came to Mr. Feld he was a great negotiator. He would always try for the most spots in the show for the clowns. We would show about 50 gags every year and he would be able to get at least 30 of those in the show. 
 The alley was like our own little community. What went on and how we did things were under the complete trust in Frosty from Mr. Feld.

 And lets not forget Pat his wife, who was always there with her camera taking photos. If it wasnt for her many of us would not have some of the photos that keep these special days in our memories. She was always beside him for support. They have a special bond that cant be separated.
 He was not just a boss but has remained a real friend. 84 now he's recently come under the weather and his memory is slipping a little, but I assure you he will always remember those days and the many clowns who came through those doors....  

Monday, April 19, 2010

Well in that case!

 It was my third year with the show, when a rookie clown named Chuck Sidlow came on the show.  He was a young kid of 17 and pretty crazy!  I don't know how... and I don't know why... but before I knew it, I'd taken this kid under my wing.

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...
In those days we always opened the second half of the show with some two minute track gags, while the audience came back to their seats.  As we were there talking to these girls, time slipped us by, and all of a sudden we heard the music start!  We told the girls we had to go and in a panic we ran down the ramp....
We arrived just in time for the music to end.

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?"
I looked at Chuck and told him in these situations it was best to tell the truth.  So I told Frosty we met some girls and went outside with them.  Fearing the worst Frosty looked at the two of us he threw his arms up and just said, "Well in that case!....." and walked away.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Coming Home

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. 
 The Myaka bar down the street. A circus bar that was full of old photos from the early days of the circus. And lets not forget Big Daddys a disco on Tamiami trail and ABC liquor with the revolving bar. 
 There were the local girls who we met year after year who would come and take us to laundry or shopping. Two in particular were Gigi and Jeri who were always there every year, waiting for us when the train pulled in. No matter what time of day it arrived. They became family who we would share stories with from our past season. It was if we grew up with them year after year. They would get joy out of just being able to say they knew us. Grants City with the all you can eat buffet. Publix and of course Winn-Dixie. 
 Venice didnt even have a movie theatre then. Every week I would hitch hike up to Red Lobster in Sarasota, treat myself to dinner and go see a movie at the theatre next door. This was the theatre that later became famous for the Pee Wee Herman scandal. It was a legitimate theatre then. 
 There was the pay phone at the end of the train. I would go to the bank and get a roll of quarters just to call home. There was always a line of people waiting to use it. Some times you might wait for hours. Stottelmier and Shoemaker hardware store was also at the end of the train. It was where we would all invade every year to get things to fix up our rooms on the train for the following year. Because once we left Venice our schedule was so busy you could never do it on the road.
 There was Smokey the train guy who was covered in black grease all year long . All you could ever see were his eyes. That first day in Winter Quarters  he would grab his things and go to the building and take a shower. He would get cleaned up, put on a suit and take himself out to dinner at Smittys Steak house. That was the only time you would see him clean. And then it was back to work for another year. 
 And Larry Robey who was the person who took care of the band. He had a loft room downtown run by two older women. They would save it for him all year long. When we came in town he would dissapear from the train. You would occasionaly see him around town getting groceries or running errands for the two ladies. He really took care of them. 
 One year Serf Rocha and I were the only two clowns to ride the train to Venice. It was the six week break so most people went home out of Cleveland. We didnt have much money so we thought we would take what money we had and buy some fishing gear. We figured if nothing else when we ran out of money we could catch some fish out of the canal behind the train and survive. We bought some bait and realized neither of us were any good at fishing. Our money ran out in about a week and no fish. We started to go through all of the abandoned rooms of people who had left the show. We found enough change to get some hot dogs and bread. We survived on these for two more days.
  My parents showed up shortly after that took care of us and everything was fine. Those are some of my memories of a time and place I will cherish forever. It truly was our home........ 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mr. Tim

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.