Paul T. Gilbert

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the stories: Snake CharmerArthur Borella, ClownThe Flying WardsReporter in TightsElephant TrainerTight WireDress Rehearsal

Nervous Circus Actors Go Thru Final Rehearsal

Jinx of Season Now Passed, and Big Show Opens Today at Coliseum

—Paul T. Gilbert, from the Chicago Evening Post, 1922

It was a professional audience that witnessed the dress rehearsal at the Coliseum last night of the Sells-Floto circus, which opens its Chicago engagement—and incidentally its season—today at the Coliseum.

It was a highly cosmopolitan audience, and foregathered, as the press agent might say, from the four corners of the earth. Japanese wrestlers, Greek strong men, English equestrians, Mexican vacqueros, Australian acrobats.

The little woman in the seat next to you, wrapped up in a purple bathrobe, her dainty feet encased in "slop-shoes," might disappear to amaze you later, radiant in spangles and pink tights, dangling precariously by her toes from a trapeze high in the air.

The bill posters saw the show for the first—and the last time—this season. Tomorrow they will be out ahead of the show, decorating country billboards with gay lithographs of the blood-sweating behemoth, the Flying Wards and the Riding Hannafords.

And as one of them expressed it, "It's a tough grind. Mud in the alleys, the walls full of tacks, and the cops running you ragged."

But how they applauded—these members of the circus colony, these "kinkers," most of them born on the circus lot, and with the breath of the circus in their nostrils. And now they were again eager to "join up" to get out on the big road and under canvas. There is no more enthusiastic admirer of a circus performance—not even a small boy—than one of these very same performers.

And, singularly enough, everybody, from the mammoth elephants to the clowns and the trained dogs, was nervous. Stage fright, combined with superstition. These dress rehearsals are sometimes rather ugly affairs. Somebody is almost sure to miss his catch and fall from a trapeze. The faithful rosin-backs are uncertain, liable to bolt from the ring. Ropes become tangled and the apparatus refuses to work. One must keep mumbling strange charms to keep the jinx away.

Jinx Fails to Show Up.

But last night, despite irritating delays and hitches, the jinx was not among those present. No spangled forms were carried limp and unconscious from the sawdust ring.

Today there will still be an air of tension about the circus, but by next week this will have worn off, the performers will be familiar with their music cues, and everything will be "jake" again.

The elephants, who, despite their majesty, are as temperamental as prima donnas, had been bumped and jerked and jolted during the long haul from Denver, and were by no means in a mood to eat peanuts. They squealed and grumbled and responded slowly to their trainers' commands. Nor did the sharp hooks which occasionally pricked the tender spots behind their ears particularly improve their temper.

It was a brand new, shiny circus, a circus with fresh gold and red paint, that unfolded its marvels at the Coliseum. By midsummer, after a few months on the road, some of the tinsel will have worn off, but it was as new last night as a whistle.

Double List of Acts.

About twice as many acts will be presented in Chicago as when the show is housed under the big top. Many of these acts are being tried out. The best will be retained; others will join up with smaller outfits.

The equestrian director's whistle—the signal to begin—sends a distinct thrill thru the colony. The band strikes up a smashing march. A moment later appears the "dream of oriental pageantry and splendor"—gaily caparisoned pachyderms, Egyptian dancers (some evidently borrowed from Ireland), knights in armor, harem queens swaying in sedan chairs borne by Abyssinian slaves (who double later as clowns) or carried by two languid ships of the desert.

Another shrill blast of the whistle. The march changes into a dreamy waltz as the Flying Wards—fourteen of them this year instead of nine—emerge from their bath robes like butterflies from a chrysalis, and defy death high in midair, above the nets.

Performer after performer makes his bow. There is not only the usual applause, but personal compliments from the circus seats. "Great act, Bill," or "You got away with that fine."

The gentlemanly announcer steps into the center ring. "Let all attention," he begins, "be on the Riding Hannafords, with Poodles Hannaford, the riding comedian.

Almost Perfect Act.

This time the applause is redoubled. The Hannafords! A name to conjure with in circusdom. Here is one act that is perfect. But not quite perfect, at that. One of the snow-white horses is a bit ring shy. He seems dazed by the lights and the music.

Poodles, ridiculous in a comedy checked suit, however, is as gracefully clumsy as ever, and at the end of the act steps down from his horse as if he were alighting from a street car.

Now the English equestrians are in the ring with their dancing horses.

"There's Max Oser," says somebody.

Then come the cowboys with their bucking broncos. And one of the broncos gives the audience a thrill by rearing up over the boxes as if he were about to leap into them.

For the first time the Sells-Floto company has brought its entire menagerie to Chicago—two entire floors of animals—a kangaroo with a baby in her pocket and a huge, blood-sweating hippopotamus, just as you see him on the billboards.