From Barnum & Bailey to Feld

The Creative Evolution of the Greatest Show on Earth

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About the Book

Since its inception in 1872, the Greatest Show on Earth has continually transformed itself to meet changing tastes and cultural shifts. Over the course of its long existence, it has been at various times a biblical spectacle and historical pageant, a ceremonial introduction to the peoples and cultures of the world, and a fairy tale masque. It has also featured sights ranging from gladiatorial combat and aerial daredevils to oddities of nature and foolhardy wonders. This work chronicles the colorful artistry of the Greatest Show on Earth from its beginning to 2010, revealing how each of 12 changes in management brought about changes in style and content. More than 50 photographs bring the flamboyant performers and amazing spectacles to life in this informative appreciation of the circus and its evolution.

About the Author(s)

Ernest Albrecht is the editor/publisher of Spectacle, now a free, online magazine devoted to reviews and features of the contemporary circus. He is also the author of three previous books related to circus history.

Bibliographic Details

Ernest Albrecht
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 308
Bibliographic Info: 54 photos (15 in color), notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2014
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9524-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1777-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments   vii
Preface   1
Introduction   3
One. Before There Was Bailey (1871–1880)   5
Two. Barnum & Bailey (1881–1891)   14
Three. Bailey Stands Alone (1892–1906)   35
Four. Enter the Ringlings (1907–1918)   57
Five. Combined Shows (1919–1932)   73
Six. Sam Gumpertz: The Man from Dreamland (1933–1937)   106
Seven. John Ringling North’s First Try (1938–1942)   121
Eight. Robert Ringling, “a true Ringling son” (1943–1946)   139
Between pages 150 and 151 are 8 plates containing 15 reproductions
Nine. John Ringling North and 51 Percent (1947–1967)   151
Ten. New Blood: Irvin and Kenneth Feld (1967–1984)   177
Eleven. Kenneth Feld Looks to the Future (1985–2003)   203
Twelve. The New Circus: A Sister Act (2004–2010)   238
Notes   263
Bibliography   275
Index   281

Book Reviews & Awards

“bold illustrations…clear and informative…Albrecht’s account balances readability with citations of primary sources that scholars will appreciate”—Library Journal; “fascinating…highly recommended”—Choice; “eminently readable, the book is filled with details that bring the history alive. Insightful and revealing, this volume is a must for circus enthusiasts of all stripes, masterfully balancing meticulous documentation of a mammoth commercial enterprise with critical evaluation of the unique personalities that held the reigns of power”—The White Tops; “an erudite examination of America’s most enduring entertainment empire. Eminently readable, the book is filled with details that bring the history alive. Both serious circus historians and casual readers will be rewarded with surprises throughout. Insightful and revealing, this volume is a must for circus enthusiasts of all stripes, masterfully balancing meticulous documentation of a mammoth commercial enterprise with critical evaluation of the unique personalities that held the reigns of power”—Circus Verlag / Planet Circus; “It’s the rare combination of a good read and a carefully researched treatise on a rarely explored subject and will be a welcome addition to any circus library”—Circus Report and ShowBiz USA; “from extensive research and from his own impressions form the 1940s, his book contains a wealth of information on the artistic creation of the show…an astonishing read”—King Pole.