Tuesday, August 17, 2010





Must be 18 years old. Rated "R" for expletives

Available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and
many other Internet book sellers.

Retailers may order at INGRAM Book Distributors

Published by Studio "D" Publishing company
ISBN  978-0-615-37758-2

While taking a work break from the theater, I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard and spotted Robert "Locke" Lorraine, my clown friend from the Polack Bros. Circus in Flint, who was window shopping. He was real surprised to see me and asked what I was doing in Hollywood? (He lived there). When I told him I was doorman at the Hollywood Theater, he said, "Doorman! What kind of job is that? Taking tickets?" He didn't understand that it was called "making a living." He said he was about to tour with the Rudy Bros. Circus and that I should try to get a job with them and I could travel with him. Well, it sounded good and I did like the idea of traveling across the country. My plane trips to Michigan, then back to California, didn't let me see too much of the country. I wondered what Mr. Quann (theater manager) would say? I hadn't been back very long and I would be quitting again. After a discussion with him, he thought it would be a good experience for me if I felt that strongly about it. I know he liked me working there but I wanted to give the circus a try. I really enjoyed the Polack Show in Flint. And after all, there isn't much of a career working as a doorman.

I was hired as a butcher. This is the name given to persons who sell things at the circus, everything from souvenirs to hot-dogs. I would be selling snow-cones, which were new in 1960. Locke had thought that I could also do the books, (accounting) but this never worked out. Nobody would give me their social security number. The money they made was sort of an "under the table" type of thing. I was making enemies by just asking for their social security number. The Flying Hartzels, a trapeze act, were paid the most. They were a very good act that would leave the following season to work at the newly opened CIRCUS, CIRCUS, in Las Vegas.

The season opened in Riverside, California. (Ironically, this is where Locke died a few years ago). The circus was owned by Rudy Jacobi, an older, smallish man, and Alfie Altoff, who had owned a European circus which was named after her. The circus wasn't as large as the Polack show, although, performance-wise, it was quite an attraction. It was an outdoor circus, while Polack, like the Ringling show today, was an inside show. We used a canvas backdrop with the acts working the rings in front. It wasn't a flashy show, like the indoor shows. But, to me, it was exciting, although the first few days had given me second thoughts.

 Locke would say, "I may not be a funny clown, but I'm a pretty one."

 Robert "Locke" Lorraine. My friend for many years.

The circus would buy blocks of ice for the snow-cones and I had to use an ice pick to chop it up to fit into the machine that turned it into slushed ice, that would then be covered with flavored syrup. We only had strawberry syrup, so this speeded up the process of making money. But, my knuckles were soon bleeding from hitting them against the sharp edges of the ice. Since I worked on a percentage of my sales "in the stands," I wasn't making anything by spending all of my time chipping ice. That was soon straightened out when Locke convinced them to buy bags of chipped ice. It fit into the machines without me having to break it into smaller pieces. I was also suckered into tearing down the equipment and loading it into a semi. This put us behind the rest of the show that had moved out for the next town. I wasn't getting paid for this, so Locke soon got that matter taken care of too. I was sure sore, for the first few days, from all of the walking and lifting.

In Riverside, cowboy actor, George "Gabby" Hayes, stopped by to see the show. He played Roy Roger's sidekick in films. He came driving into the lot in his white, Cadillac convertible. He said he has wished he had traveled with a circus, over the years, instead of being in films, because circus people were so close to one another, like one big happy family. And he was right. To outsiders, circus people seem to be rude. The circus is a business and there isn't time to make friends in every town, especially during working hours. Charlton Heston, in his autobiography, mentions that fact too, that the circus is one big family. It was Heston's first film, "The Greatest Shown On Earth," other than a silent film he was in as a teenager called. "Peer Gynt."

The Ringmaster was Tommy Bentley. In addition to being Ringmaster, he had a poodle dog act. He used to put them in dresses, like all of the dog acts you see in circuses today. It was a good act and the poodles were well trained. Locke had a good contract and was the "only clown" permitted to sell circus programs, as people came inside and during the "blow off" when people were leaving. Actor, Parley Baer, (known as the next door neighbor on the Ozzie & Harriet show), was the circus's advance publicist. He would hit the cities ahead of the show and arrange interviews and publicity. Locke was often booked for TV appearances but would quite often be arguing with another clown, Chuckles Facer, who was jealous. Every time Facer would foul up on a routine, Locke would ride his ass. He'd call him a, "dumb mother fucker." They never got along.

When Locke was a youngman he had been a skater in the Ice Capades in Europe. He also said he had been a "kept boy" at one time. I met him at the Shrine circus in Flint when he was touring as a clown. There are quite a few gay clowns in circuses. We would go to the "gay" Golden Spike bar at  night after the circus was over. It was a couple of blocks from the I.M.A. auditorium where the circus was playing. Locke was probably around fifty when I met him.

When he left the Ice Capades he had had sketches drawn up of clown costumes. He took them to the Clyde Beatty Circus and told them he was a clown and that the photos were of his wardrobe. He was hired and then he had a tailor make the wardrobe from the sketches. He had never been a clown in his life. He also worked in Hollywood as a dress extra. A "dress extra" is a person who owns his own wardrobe, tuxedos, western clothes, etc. and they wear them in films. When I traveled the RUDY BROS. CIRCUS with him, "AUNTIE MAME," was playing in theatres and Locke had quite a few scenes where he stood out. Many circus performers had gone to the theatre and when they spotted him they all yelled out, "Locke we can see you."  The audience kept yelling for everyone to shut up.

He also had a good scene in "GILDA," with Rita Hayworth. Towards the ending of the film, a guy gets up from a table in a nightclub, and starts pinning something on her when she was singing on the dance floor. That was Locke. I never knew he was in the film until I bought the film on tape and spotted him. He is in several films, always near the stars of the pictures.

It was never a sexual thing with Locke. We were just friends. Years later, he stopped by to see me when the circus played in Ohio. We were still friends and enjoyed one another's company. He was living in Riverside when he died a few years ago.

I had a thing for chimpanzees. I had met the trainer of Bonzo (a chimp in the Bonzo movie series), in Lima, Ohio, where I was living with my mother. Bonzo was used in stage shows at theaters that were showing "Bonzo Goes to college." Actress Jeanne Crain, was in town at the same time, and of course I had to get her autograph too. At that time, Jeanne was best known for her role in "Pinky," playing a woman of mixed race. I managed to get her autograph at the hotel by arriving early, like I had with Roy Rogers in Flint. And the owner/trainer of Bonzo, was also staying at the Argonne hotel. He let me play with Bonzo, who was kept in a cage in the hotel room. (A few years later, Bonzo was burned to death in a hotel fire). Ever since seeing Bonzo, I have wanted a chimpanzee. They used to sell for $600 but now they are on the endangered species list, and are now over $25,000. They can no longer be imported.

Michael Jackson bought his chimpanzee, (Bubbles), from trainer/breeder, Bob Dunne, who owns over a dozen chimps and several other animals that are used in motion pictures. I visited Bob a few times and was appalled to see two large chimps confined to small cages. Two of the famous Marquis chimps were there, in larger cages in the garage. (Both now deceased). Bob said he shot "runners" with plastic bullets. Many chimps try to run away, especially when they are in a new environment. But I feel animals respond more to love, than physical abuse. And to me, shooting them with plastic bullets is cruel and abusive.

Chimps do grow up fast and often turn against their owners, moreso, when there isn't any close bond between them. One time Bubbles knocked Michael Jackson down and scared him so bad that he sold him back to Bob and bought three, baby chimps. (Bubbles is now in the Angeles National Forest at the Wild-Life Animal Preserve). The most famous showbusiness chimps were J. Fred Muggs, who was used on the Dave Garroway "Today" show and Zippy who was often on TV variety shows and in Las Vegas night club acts. He was one of the first chimps who could roller skate. Cheeta, from the Tarzan films, is still alive at the age of 81, and living in Palm Springs, California.

There was a chimp act with the Rudy show, Nicollini's chimpanzees. Nicollini looked like a chimp himself. When he walked into the ring, with a chimp holding each hand, Nicollini walked stooped over, looking just like one of the chimps. Chimps often get a crush on people and one used to like me because I would feed him coke out of a baby bottle. I used to help Nicollini dress them, but when this particular chimp was taken into the ring, he wouldn't work. He just kept looking over at me. After the show Nicollini took a rubber hose and "beat the chimp." Blood was running down its face. Needles to say, Nicollini didn't last out the season and was fired.

The circus had a run of bad luck. The truck that hauled the elephants from town to town, overturned and the top had to be opened with a blow torch to get them out. The Rolling Globe Act, (men and women standing on and balancing huge wooden balls that rolled up a ramp), had the ramp break on them. One of the women had to be hospitalized, and a lion got loose when we played at a race track. It was running loose around the track so I went and told security not to let anyone in because we had a "problem." Alfie stood by the track, pointing at the lion and yelling for it to get back into it's cage, "as if the lion could understand her." It was finally trapped inside the men's room, where it had ran from its trainers. A cage was set up at the front of the door and it eventually got inside. The lion keeper had reversed the process of how they were caged, and the last cage had been left open and the lion walked out. Like the chimp guy, who resembled a chimp, the lion keeper's face resembled a lion's features. He even had long, brown and blond hair.

 Later, Alfie's poodle ran from her trailer, into the street, and was hit and killed by a car. Hope I wasn't the jinx. It would often be dusty, where we would set up the concessions, and this was especially bad for the snow-cones. Someone would pay off the health inspectors and we would continue to sell snow-cones, even though there was dirt in the ice. We added extra syrup to hide the brown spots. I was learning circus ways.

In many towns we only played one day. That made it real tough because then we would drive all night to the next town, have to set up early and not get much sleep. One big jump was from Thermopolous, Wyoming to Seattle. We had three days to make it. We played indoors and we looked terrible. Our ring posts looked drab from being used outdoors all of the time. But there was a large audience and we played there for three or four days.

I wasn't saving any money. I averaged thirty dollars a day, which was a lot of money in those days, and almost a whole week's pay at the theater. But, I had to pay half the motel bills with Locke. I also had to continually buy new, white pants and shirts because the snow-cone syrup would stain them and they wouldn't come clean. After about three or four months, I was ready to leave. I was very tired and I left to go back to Flint.

Writing about the circus leads me into mentioning the greatest animal showman that ever lived. That man is Gunther-Gebel Williams. Although there has been names like Frank Buck and Clyde Beatty, they weren't anything like Gunther. Gunther said he trained his animals and didn't try to tame them. Gunther was only five foot four inches tall. But a giant in the ring. The Ringling circus put on more than 600 performances a year and he never missed one in the twenty years he performed for them. He trained a variety of animals and his acts will probably never be duplicated. I had gone to the Forum in Inglewood, with my friend Preston, who hadn't seen a circus since he was a kid.

But, on the news the following day, Gunther died due to cancer. He was only 66 years old and had retired ten years earlier. Although he still traveled with the circus and his family, he was never again in the spotlight. I took flowers to his son but he was living on the circus train about five miles from the Forum. He wanted to be alone. I left the flowers in the circus business manager's trailer. I reread his biography titled, "Untamed," and now it makes his loss more sad. His son now has an elephant and horse act with the Ringling show and his daughter and widow still travel and perform.

Gabby Hayes was right. Circus people are great people and they become one big family as they travel across the country entertaining circus fans. The Ringling show doesn't seem the same without Gunther and his trained animals. It hadn't been the same since his retirement. The movie that comes closest to the real circus is Cecil B. DeMille's, "THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH." It has the feel of circus life. And shows what it was like before the big circus tents were given way for large indoor arenas. I still love going to the circus and will until the day I die. When I traveled with Rudy Bros., it was fun but also a lot of hard work and little sleep traveling from town to town. But, the excitement and the crowds and music never made for a boring day. Like Gunther said, "Each day something happens to make it more than just another ordinary day."

Locke stopped in to see me when he was traveling in Ohio. My brother in law cooked dinner for us. I had only seen Locke one other time later in Riverside, California. He was retired and not in too good health. (Locke Lorraine is now deceased)