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American Circus Art History Sideshow

Sideshow Banner Paintings

SNAP WYATT – Banner Painter

Snap Wyatt was a prolific painter of huge circus banners primarily in the 1940’s and 50’s.  He was known for his bold, cartoon-like style. His banners were painted with quick caricatures, and only the essential details of the performer were outlined in black to make them stand out. He said he could finish one in a day for about $85. bucks. The bright and colorful banners drew in the crowd with the mystery of what was inside the tent. Wyatt is considered to be among the top in his field. His banners today sell for thousands.

Sideshow banner painter Snap Wyatt and a handful of others including Fred Johnson, Tattoo Jack Cripe and Jack Sigler (now all deceased), brought art to the carnival midways of the 30’s through 60’s with their 10′ x10′ banners that waved outside the circus and carnival sideshows drawing the crowd to come inside.

Originally intended as silent talkers, the huge canvases played to a carnival attendees curiosity and directed them to walk right into the sideshow tent.

The banners portrayed the acts inside the tent and were an interesting combination of the bizarre and human oddities – from Major Debert Tiniest Man to the 643 pound Sweet Marie, Huey The Pretzel Boy to the Alligator Girl, Hydrocephalus Baby to The Penguin Boy.

Few considered the canvasses of sideshow banner painter Snap Wyatt and the other banner painters an art form at the time they were painted, yet today the mega-paintings are being bought almost as fast as they’re hung on an art gallery’s wall.

Snap Wyatt’s banners sell today for thousands. Snap Wyatt (1905-1984)

Some of the original posters are now part of the Kohler Foundation.

For more information and other posters by Snap Wyatt go here.

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Comedy Vaudevisuals Bookshelf Writer

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People”

LENNY BRUCE – HOW TO TALK DIRTY AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE

During the course of a career that began in the late 1940s, Lenny Bruce challenged the sanctity of organized religion and other societal and political conventions; he widened the boundaries of free speech. Critic Ralph Gleason said, “So many taboos have been lifted and so many comics have rushed through the doors Lenny opened. He utterly changed the world of comedy.”

Although Bruce died when he was only forty, his influence on the worlds of comedy, jazz, and satire are incalculable. How to Talk Dirty and Influence People remains a brilliant existential account of his life and the forces that made him the most important and controversial entertainer in history.

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REVIEWS:

“I read this book for the first time when I was twelve years old. It made me want to be in showbiz, have a lot of sex, and be Jewish. I’ve rethought that last one.”

Penn Jillette, author of God No!

“If there was a God, then he sent down Lenny Bruce to create the art form of modern stand-up comedy. He sought the truth fearlessly and hilariously until his tragically muffled First Amendment rights surely enabled his dying for our sins.”

Richard Lewis, author of The Other Great Depression

“Outside every American comedy club, there ought to be a statue of Lenny Bruce—the type of big bronze statue that commemorates and immortalizes heroes…Bringing Bruce’s ideas and stories to a new generation might just be the next best thing to erecting those bronze statues.”

Playboy Magazine – August 2016

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Art Book Shelf Music Writer

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism

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“A “heroic” biography of John Cage and his “awakening through Zen Buddhism”—“a kind of love story” about a brilliant American pioneer of the creative arts who transformed himself and his culture”  The New York Times

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Composer John Cage sought the silence of a mind at peace with itself—and found it in Zen Buddhism, a spiritual path that changed both his music and his view of the universe. “Remarkably researched, exquisitely written,” Where the Heart Beats weaves together “a great many threads of cultural history” (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings) to illuminate Cage’s struggle to accept himself and his relationship with choreographer Merce Cunningham. Freed to be his own man, Cage originated exciting experiments that set him at the epicenter of a new avant-garde forming in the 1950s. Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, Allan Kaprow, Morton Feldman, and Leo Castelli were among those influenced by his ‘teaching’ and ‘preaching.’ Where the Heart Beats shows the blossoming of Zen in the very heart of American culture.

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Great book about a great artist and his personal stories of compassion and insight.

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Comedy Performing Arts Video

Lord Buckley on Groucho Marx “You Bet Your Life” – 1955


Lord Buckley appeared on the TV show “You Bet Your Life” hosted by Groucho Marx. This episode was telecast near Spring 1955.
At the 6:28 mark of this show Lord Buckley utters the word ‘Groovy’ years before it became part of the popular lexicon.
A wonderful example of TV and the shows that use to light up the tube.