Circus Circus! December’s Conversation at the Crocker!

Deborah Walk,  Curator of the Ringling Circus Museum, invites three famous circus friends to sit and chat about performing, rehearsing at winter quarters and much more. Hear insider stories about circus luminaries and how they influenced the development of Sarasota and Venice while thrilling audiences all over the world.

Circus Circus, the December 2013 Conversation at the Crocker, by the Hisotrical Society of Sarasota CountyDeborah Walk, Tibbals Curator of the Circus Museum and Curator of Historical Resources at the Ringling Museum, takes to the stage at the Crocker Memorial Church on Tuesday, December 10 for a conversation with three famous circus performers who will share insider stories about life under the big top. Joining Walk will be Jackie LeClaire, Karen Bell and Mary Jane Miller for a evening of thrills, chills and circus recollections that will leave you breathless.

This Circus Circus! event, organized and presented by the Historical Society of Sarasota County (HSOSC), takes place on Tuesday, December 10, starting at 7 p.m. at the Crocker Memorial Church, 1260 12th Street (Pioneer Park) in Sarasota. HSOSC members admitted free; guests, $10.

In 1942, Mary Jane Miller’s friends coaxed her to answer an ad in the Herald-Tribune that announced  Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus was looking for girls for the season.  Against her mother’s wishes, Mary Jane went to the Winter Quarters and tried out. Tuffy Genders, aerial director of the show, was reluctant to audition her because of her young age and lack of experience. But, he asked Mary Jane to climb a flexible metal ladder 40 feet high. He watched her quickly scramble to the top, hang on by one hand and wave to him.  She was hired, went on the road and the rest is history. Mary Jane spent 13 seasons with Ringling. She performed nearly every type of circus act – elephants, flying act, iron jaw (hanging by your teeth), even handstands on the top of the Wallenda’s Roman Ladders act. Mary Jane also appeared in the 1952 Cecil B. DeMille movie The Greatest Show On Earth. Her stories are priceless and she’s anxious to share them with Conversation guests on December 10 at the Crocker Memorial Church.

Jackie LeClaire

Click to visit Jackie’s web site

Jackie LeClaire has delighted and amazed audiences for almost seven decades. His first salaried position was as a clown in partnership with his father on tour with the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus. At 18 he became an aerialist for a while before returning to clowning. But, Jackie kept up his trapeze skills and was a double for Cornel Wilde in the film, The Greatest Show on Earth. Jackie LeClaire has traveled the world making people laugh. He was inducted into the International Clown Hall of fame in 1966 and in 2002 he was inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame on St. Armands Circle. Although officially retired, Jackie continues spreading joy through programs such as Laughter Unlimited. In 2010 Jackie LeClaire was chosen by the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art as Circus Celebrity of the Year.

Karen Bell has been performing around the world as a clown for 28 years, beginning with an eight-year tour with Ringling Bros. Circus. She is a well-respected circus performing clown and a ‘producing’ clown for Ringling, Karen has created material for herself and other clowns who perform in the show. Karen has been a featured lecturer at the World Clown Annual Conference twice, the only female clown to be featured. She moved to Sarasota to work with Circus Sarasota’s outreach program, Laughter Unlimited in 2005. She develops humor-based interventions for senior citizens living in nursing facilities.

Deborah Walk is the Tibbals Curator of the Circus Museum and Curator of Historical Resources; she oversees the exhibition programs at the Circus Museum as well as the archival program.  She was head of the team that supervised the construction and installation of the Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center, which opened in 2006. Deborah is a past president of the Society of Florida Archivists and Beta Phi Mu (National Honor Society for Library and Information Science): Gamma Chapter.  She is a past member of the State Historical Records Advisory Board and past chair of the Sarasota Historical Commission. She is Secretary for the board of directors of Circus Sarasota, advisory board member at HSOSC and incoming president of the national Circus Historical Society.

Conversations at The Crocker is an annual series of interactive programs focusing on various aspects of Sarasota’s past. Sponsorship of Conversations at The Crocker is provided by SARASOTA Magazine.

For more information about Circus, Circus at Conversations at The Crocker on December 10, call Linda Garcia, Site Manager at HSOSC, at 364-9076 Make plans to join the conversation.

It’s the next best thing to running away to join the circus.

Poster from the 1920s promoting the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Credit: The Granger Collection, New York