Monday, 1 July 2013
Behind the Big Top by David Lewis Hammarstrom book review
To the 5 Great Circus Books that I recommended in my previous post, I must add a sixth. I’m indebted to David Lewis Hammarstrom, author of the excellent Inside The Changing Circus, for sending me a copy of his first book, Behind The Big Top, which was published by A. S. Barnes back in 1980. Where Inside The Changing Circus provides a clear-eyed guide to the American circus scene of today, Behind The Big Top is an eye-opening journey through its days of glory.
Every chapter is a ringside seat to three-ring spectacle, much witnessed first hand or reported from history with diligent journalism and interviews with the right people and written up with an enthusiasm the spangle-clad subject deserves.
Hammarstrom’s adventures as a “First of May,” with Wallace Brothers circus - “What my mother didn’t know,” as he puts it.... terror on the high wire as the seven person Wallenda human pyramid faltered, then lost its footing and fell... the ticket wagon with a specially built slot to fleece customers of their change... the battle for New York between Ringling and Circus America... band leader Merle Evans calling for “Ten more bars,” to keep the music playing as the big top burns and falls in circus’ worst-ever disaster.
With a large format and huge selection of black and white pictures - scenes of vast circus lots and legions of elephants - this is a book to make you look back and mourn for the circus as it may never be again.
But, then again, with Nik Wallenda taking a half-hour walk across the Grand Canyon on a wire last week... will circus ever lose its ability to shock’n’awe us with what an earlier Wallenda, the great Karl, summarised to Hammarstrom as “Look what a man can do!”
Follow Hammarstrom’s ongoing commentary on the Great American Circus on the Showbiz David blog.
And for a behind-the-scenes journey through the British circus, try my own book Circus Mania - described by the Mail on Sunday as "a brilliant account of a vanishing art form."
Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.