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Excerpt from Tim O’Brien’s book “Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow”

WARD HALL – The Official Biography by Tim O’Brien

I attended the ‘launch party‘ for this book at the ‘Morbid Anatomy Museum‘.

I ask Tim if he would be so kind to share some of the wonderful text with my readers. He agreed!

Ward Hall biography by Tim O'Brien

Ward Hall — King of the Sideshow
“Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow!” is the first-ever biography of the man who has helped shape the American Circus Sideshow into what it has become today.
Ward has worked with monkey girls, half-people, fat men, sword swallowers, fire eaters, giants, colossal snakes, huge rats and diminutive horses. In addition to owning dozens of sideshow and circuses during his long career, Ward has written four books, four musical stage productions, has appeared in seven movies, and more than 100 videos and TV specials, performed at Madison Square Garden and Lincoln Center in New York City and has sung at Carnegie Hall.
Ward has the memory of an elephant, the exagerative dialogue of a Ginsu Knife salesman and a sequined wardrobe that would have made Liberace turn his head.
Ward Hall joined his first circus in 1944 when he was a 14-year-old kid living in Colorado. A year later, as a 15 year old 10th grade dropout, he ran away for good, joining the Dailey Bros. Circus. He never looked back. By 16 he was performing in a sideshow and by age 21, he owned a sideshow!
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It was spring 1946, Ward was 15, and he was prepared, or at least he thought he was, when a Billboard ad caught his attention. Dailey Bros. Circus was looking for a magician and fire eater. He didn’t know how to do either very well. He didn’t tell them he was only 15, and he didn’t have a plan. He just knew he had to join the show at that time. Ward responded to Milt Robbins asking for the job, and soon a telegram arrived that read:
Salary OK.
Show opens April 1. Join anytime.
Winter Quarters, Gonzales, Texas.
– Milt Robbins, Show Manager
Ward daringly told his father that he was going to leave and take the job with the circus. His father didn’t argue, telling Ward that he would get the circus out of his system and be “back in two weeks.” Ward laughs. “They are still waiting for me.”
Using what he had left of his last paycheck from the part-time job he had on the railroad to buy a $51.50 bus ticket, he caught up with Dailey Bros., still at its winter quarters in Central Texas. He borrowed his uncle’s steamer trunk, packed it with his one suit, a few other pieces of clothing and a small collection of homemade magic tricks. The day he climbed off the bus in Gonzales, Ward recalls thinking that at that point, he “was beginning the second part of my life. On that momentous day, my childhood ended.” It was March 27, 1946 – 116 days before his 16th birthday.
Anxious to get on with his life, he arrived in Gonzales more than two weeks early. Instead of the circus bosses sending him home, he was put to task on several small projects. He slept in a small shed along with sideshow equipment that would be traveling with the show that year. Ward’s pay was $30 a week with cookhouse privileges, which meant he could eat at the official circus cookhouse and share a berth on Car 79 of the circus train when the show hit the road.
While new to the circus itself, he had a pretty good idea of what to expect before he stepped off that bus, having been reading news and stories about the big top in Billboard for years.
It didn’t take Ward long to be noticed on the lot, but not necessarily in an endearing way. On his second day, he decided to further educate himself on fire eating, having never truly learned the skill. In his letter to Robbins, Ward claimed he could eat fire, so he thought he had better learn as soon as possible. On his first attempt he badly scorched his lips, turned around in pain, kicked over the fuel can and caught the shed on fire. Needless to say, a good eye was kept on this aggressive but polite newcomer to the business from that point on. Ward moved into the men’s dormitory where he spent only a few nights. “Having been a loner all my life, I was not knowledgeable on how men act after drinking large quantities of alcohol, so I discovered an abandoned circus wagon which became my living quarters until we moved onto the train.”
***
In August 1973, while playing in Indianapolis, Ward appeared in a television special called On Location: Alan King at the Indiana State Fair. Alan King kept asking very basic and non- informed questions and it was obvious to Ward that King didn’t quite understand, or like, the sideshow business. “I can’t imagine why anyone would pay 50-cents to see this stuff,” the comedian told Ward, referring to the sideshow acts. Taken aback, Ward retorted, “I can’t imagine someone paying $5 to go to a nightclub to see your act.” King bragged, “They pay $15.” To which Ward responded: “That’s actually worse!” The network edited out that exchange, but the edited segment effectively showed that freak shows “provide honorable livelihoods for handicapped men and women who otherwise might be unemployable.”
***
With the life that Ward Hall has led, it seems impossible that one single event would stand out to him as the best. What’s even more improbable is that event had nothing to do with a sideshow.
On April 22, 1994, Ward was the singing master of ceremonies at Carnegie Hall for Circus Blues, a show that was part of The Carnegie Hall Folk Festival. Stephen Holden, a reviewer with the New York Times, attended the show and wrote of Ward. “Wearing a sequined top hat and tails, Ward Hall, a former lion tamer and pitchman, presided over the program of old-time circus musicians, like Ralph Edwards leading a big top version of This is Your Life. Ward sang three numbers with the orchestra to get the show under way. “Hi, Neighbor!,” “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” and “When You’re Smiling.” Among the musical guests on the same bill were Blind Willy, Guitar Gabriel (Robert Lewis Jones), Diamond Tooth Mary and Willa Mae Buckner.
“I have said it many, many times that singing at Carnegie Hall in New York City was the highlight of my life,” said Ward. “It’s the one singular thing that I have enjoyed most, and being a part of that program is one of my proudest moments.” Surprisingly, not too many people who know of Ward and his sideshow prowess know that the Carnegie Hall event took place, said Ward. “I don’t usually tell people that I sang at Carnegie Hall. It is so unbelievable that this sideshow bum would have been top billed in a program at Carnegie – with great reviews the
following day.”
***
Ward celebrates 70 years of working in the weird, wacky and wild world of the sideshow in 2014. Now 84 years old, he doesn’t travel often with his show and he has passed the baton on to a younger generation who are now his partners. But he checks in daily and occasionally surprises them all by showing up in his red, sequined jacket, taking the microphone as he immediately starts attracting the curious to the front of the tent. There is only one person silver throated kind of the carnival talkers who could do that, Ward Hall.
__________
Tim R. O’Brien is the author of Ward Hall — King of the Sideshow!, available wherever books are sold and online at Amazon.com and Casaflamingo.com.

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Ward Hall 'talking' at Rock ShopA recent photograph of Ward Hall doing his pitch.

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Categories
Coney Island USA Exhibit Performing Arts Photography Sideshow

Chris Allison – @ 2009 at Coney Island Sideshow – “Coney Island Chris”

CAllison.5Chris Allison and I did a series of ‘promo’ shots for his “Coney Island Chris” website.

The side show at Coney Island was still active and run by John Strong.

Chris Allison had this to say about the day:

“I remember heading out to Coney Island that day to shoot pictures with Jim. We had no idea John Strong was going to be set up there. I had met John at the Sideshow gathering and thought lets see if we could shoot some pic’s on his lot. ….. John was very gracious to let us shoot wherever we wanted…. great pictures that day! Thanks John and thanks Jim!”

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Categories
Performing Arts Photography Sideshow Variety Arts Vaudevisuals Interview Video

Vaudevisuals Interview – Armitage Shanks – “The Carny Preacher”

Armitage Shanks - The Carny PreacherArmitage Shanks – Photographed by Cyrus Sky

A good friend(Zero Boy) let me use his apartment for this video interview of Armatage Shanks. Dark and moody lighting lends itself to this interview.

For more information on Armitage Shanks: http://www.bookofburlesque.com/armitage-shanks-the-carny-preacher/

Carnivalesque Poster

Categories
Magic Performing Arts Photography Sideshow Variety Arts

Scott Baker – Outside Talker at Coney Island USA

A few Sundays ago I wondered out to Coney Island to visit and watch Scott Baker.

He was working as the ‘outside talker’ that day for Coney Island USA Sideshow and I was able to grab a few minutes of his delightful routine.


To hear more from Scott Baker go to my earlier interview with him here.

See His One-Man show “BANG!!! The Curse of John Wilkes Booth”.
Verse, Song, Magic, Sideshow antics and standup comedy!
At the Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street, NYC: Sat., Aug 11 @ 4PM; Fri., Aug. 17, 7:15PM; Tues., Aug. 21 @ 5:45; Wed., Aug. 22 @ 2PM; Sat., Aug. 25 @ 7PM

Categories
Circus Magic Music Performing Arts Photography Sideshow Variety Arts Video

Scott Baker – A Video Interview and more…

I first met Scott Baker at BB Kings’ music club in Times Square. We were attending the Coney Island Sideshow by the Seashore performance.

The show was ‘on tour’ and I wanted to do some photography of the show. Scott Baker sat across from me at the table and we talked  ‘sideshow‘ and variety arts. Lots in common regarding our favorite performers and genres.

Not long after that evening I heard Scott was in ‘chemo therapy’ for cancer. I  hoped for the best!

Once I heard he was better I wanted to interview him about his work as a  ‘Human blockhead, fire eater, glass eater, escape artist, master magician, ventriloquist, eats live crickets and lit cigarettes, swallows and regurgitates razor blades, performs levitations, outside talker.’.

We met a music rehearsal space near Times Square and the room was perfect for the interview. I ask Scott about his illness and he wrote this:

“To some, hearing that you have “The Big C” is a death sentence. It only made me furious, and I was determined to not let it get the better of me. Going for chemo and getting a radiation per day for seven weeks, I worked until I simply couldn’t move. It was extremely rough going, but through the miracle of modern science, medicine, and the faith of many friends, we kicked the thing! I had to learn to do many things all over again, and now hopefully do them much better. For the record, I had cancer of the squamous cells on upper left soft palate. To this day, nobody knows how I got it!”

Scott is Back and better than ever! I am posting a several videos for your enjoyment.

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Sideshow banner painter Marie Roberts paints Scott Baker

Scott Baker Banner by Marie Roberts

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One of Scott’s achievements has been to be the star in a film! BALLY MASTER.

Scott Baker is the BALLY TALKER
Title of film about Scott Baker on Coney Island Sideshow

BALLY MASTER Directed by: Gary Beeber

5 Awards for Best Documentary

Get it here!

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Here are some other links to sites that contain information on Scott Baker.

http://www.staythirstymedia.com/200706c/html/0507coneyisland_scottbaker.html

http://www.coneyisland.com/per.scott.shtml

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Last but not least is Scott talking about Passion and Vision.