For the first 20 or so years of the circus's existence, each act was responsible for its own wardrobe. The circus itself only provided the costumes for the parades.
Not surprisingly, there was no unity in the visuals. When John Ringling North took over management of Ringling Bros. in 1937, he decided to change this approach.
Each year featured a different theme, with the nostalgia of "Mother Goose" being used in the team's inaugural year. Bel Geddes turned to the talented Miles White to bring his vision to life.
White's creativity seemed to have no limits. He is quoted as having said, "If they can imagine it, we will figure out a way to do it."
Over the years, he developed ideas like making the elephants a part of the set. In this drawing, the elephant became the Alps which, of course, Hannibal would cross. In other years, the elephants became Christmas trees or train cars with life-size puppets hanging out the windows.
The exhibit includes three costumes from the 1955 Rainbow Round the World Show -- one for a clown and two for the mermaids. I appreciated the fact the women's costumes were designed with their actual bodies in mind. The suit on the right provides a bit more coverage for what we can assume was a slightly more endowed showgirl.
White's drawings for the joint project are more precise and the descriptions more fulsome than those for prior years. He also added washes and color to the background.
The costumes for The Greatest Show on Earth were brought to life by Edith Head, Dorothy Jeakins and White, who collectively received an Academy Award nomination for their work. The movie won Best Picture, beating out High Noon and Singin' in the Rain. It is considered by many to be the worst movie ever to win the top prize. Time magazine's review called it "a mammoth merger of two masters of malarkey for the masses -- P.T. Barnum and Cecil B. DeMille."
Kudos to the Ringling both for putting together this exhibit and for displaying it in the Museum proper rather than the Circus Museum. Its location will surely mean more people will have the chance to enjoy White's work.
"A Kaleidoscope of Color" runs through August 5.
The exhibit runs through August 5th.