Saturday, January 25, 2014

"The Greatest Show on Earth" by William Woodward, Part 2

Kenneth Feld as the Ringmaster
For the past 40+ years, Peggy Williams has woken up every day and "done something circus."  Williams graduated from the Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey Clown College in 1970 and practiced her craft as a clown for a number of years.  She then moved over to the business side of the circus, working first as a production manager and now in the area of education outreach.  (This is a definite digression, but I decided to try and find out exactly what the story is with the Clown College.  The website  is pretty entertaining and includes an aptitude test with questions like, 'If you had to do one of the following for 15 minutes straight, which would you choose?  Somersaults, jumping jacks, standing on one leg, sleeping."  Based on my answers to this question (standing on one leg) and the rest of the quiz, I apparently show some propensity as an aerialist.  Who knew???)

Williams' role at the lecture on William Woodward's "The Greatest Show on Earth" was to fill us in on the performers shown in the mural.  I expected a somewhat cursory introduction of a couple of the primary acts. Instead, Williams regaled us with anecdotes about each of the 45 people pictured, most of whom she knew personally.

Tahar Douis 
Take, for instance, Tahar Douis.  Douis, known as the "Alligator King," is legendary for hypnotizing alligators and then putting his head in their mouths. (In case you're wondering, I am NOT going to try this at my next visit to Gatorama.)  Perhaps his real claim to fame, though, is his entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the base of the world's heaviest human pyramid.  In 1979, Douis supported 12 members of the Hassani Troupe in a three-level human pyramid weighing more than 1700 pounds.  The record still stands today.

Flying Vazquez Brothers
The Flying Vazquez Brothers are famous for having been the first trapeze act to complete a quadruple somersault trick.  This occurred in Tucson in 1982, and Peggy Williams was there to witness this feat.  In fact, one of her responsibilities at the time was to send a daily report to headquarters about how the day's performance had gone.  The Vazquez Brothers had been practicing the quad in hopes of adding it to their act, so there was a box on the form that read, "Quad   Yes____  No____."  For 168 consecutive performances, Williams checked the "No" box.  She still remembers with great enthusiasm her report for the 169th performance, when she finally answered "YES!"   As a side note, two of the Vazquez Brothers, Juan and Miguel, married two aerialist sisters.  Miguel and his wife sealed their vows with a kiss while hanging upside down from a trapeze.

Peggy Williams, Janice Aria and
Ruth Chaddock
The wall at Feld Entertainment's headquarters on which "The Greatest Show on Earth" was displayed had a door that Woodward had to deal with in his work.  The door was somewhat ornate, so it was incorporated as a feature in the mural. When the mural was moved to the Ringling Museum's Tibbals' Learning Center, this left a blank area that had to be completed.

As the song goes, "Send in the clowns."  Woodward decided to replicate the real door with a faux door through which three clowns peek in to see the circus world before them.  Williams is featured as the top clown in this vignette, along with two other Clown College graduates.  Needless to say, she is thrilled.

The next time you're at the Ringling Museum, stop in to see "The Greatest Show on Earth."  While the mural is more fun art than fine art, it is definitely worth a visit.


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