Monday, August 20, 2012

Marx Super Circus - Pt 1

**** As Seen In 'Playset' Magazine ****

The most current issue of 'Playset' magazine hit the shelves several weeks ago and features the wonderful Marx Super Circus. I'm proud to say that many of the photos used were mine - to include the centerfold. The detailed article is written by Ed Sponzilli with additional photos by Terry Rogers and Dr. Ron Blandon. The publishers have permitted me post my photos on the blog and of course most of them will be the original high-res images plus there will be many more.  Many Thanx Rusty & Kathy!!!

The magazine article covers several variations of the set and includes photos of other manufacturer's circus toys. (copies of 'Playset' magazine can purchased here:  Playset Magazine back issues)

The set will be covered in multiple parts. Today we'll look at the Big Top along with photos not seen in 'Playset' magazine. The following is an independent piece I had been working on for the blog prior to me submitting photos to 'Playset'. The blog was delayed until after the magazine's issuance and is NOT a plagiarized version of Ed Sponzili's excellent article which is more detailed.

From 1949 to 1956 ABC's "Super Circus' was on of the biggest hits during the Golden Age of television. It began as a local television show in Chicago in 1948 but went national on ABC in 1949. Featuring live circus performances the show was aired every Sunday evening from 5PM - 6PM and featured some of the biggest names in the circus world. It also featured one of TVs first sex symbols - Mary Hartline - a tall, long-legged blond and former model. Other cast regulars were: Ringmaster Claude Kirshner; Cliffy, Nickie, and Scampy the Clowns; and the Flying Hartzells. For its last season in 1956 the show moved to Los Angeles and Claude Kirshner was replaced by comedian Jerry Colonna.

The Marx 'Super Circus' set makes its debut as a Sears exclusive in the 1952 Christmas Wishbook. And what a set it is is! The tin-litho Big Top circus tent centerpiece is huge: nearly 25" (63.5cm) L x 10" (25.4cm) W x  9" (22.9cm) H. It also includes two other wonderful tin-litho pieces - two sideshows each with its own unique graphics. The set includes 35 circus people and 31 animals, nearly all different. This set also includes character figures for Claude, Mary, Cliffy, Nicky, and Scampy in colors different from the remaining figures. During the same year the set was offered by Montgomery Ward as the 'Big Top' circus without character figures. This was a huge playset in which Marx seemed to have spared no expense - they pulled out all stops n this one!
Reminiscing Circuses Past
I really enjoyed the circus growing up. I don't know why, I just did, but with all the cool animals, the bright colors, amazing circus acts, and hilarious clown buffoonery it's probably not hard to understand. 'Super Circus' came on TV when I was a wee youngin' but over the years got buried in long forgotten memories of my youth. It wasn't until I got into toys this past twenty years, and Marx playsets in particular, that the memories and interest started to be revived. Watching clips of 'Super Circus' on YouTube brought back long buried memories. There were other circus shows during that era which I also remember: 'Circus Boy' (1956-58) starring Noah Beery and a young Mickey Braddock who would later go on to become Mickey Dolenz of 'The Monkees'; and Walt Disney's movie 'Toby Tyler' (1960) starring one of their most prolific child stars Kevin Corcoran.

As a little kid I remember my parents taking me to Baraboo, Wisconsin, home of the Ringling Bros - Barnum and Bailey circus museum. Unfortunately there are no photos of this trip, which is unusual because my mom was generally a photo taker, a memory maker. As I got older and entered school, many of our field trips would be to the Ringling Brothers circus held in the Milwaukee Auditorium/Arena complex. The smell of the hay, the smell of the animals, the magnificent sound of the circus band and the marches blaring across the arena, the what seemed like a hundred clowns pouring out of that little VW Beetle (how do they do that?) are all indelible memories. And then in the '70s Milwaukee hosted the Great Circus Parade sponsored by Schlitz Beer. AWESOME! Gorgeous antique wagons pulled by beautiful horses. marching bands, the bands atop the band wagons, clowns, vintage cars - I'm tearing up just remembering these spectacles.

Does anyone out there remember the year when Schlitz re-introduced the 40-horse hitch?? Forty horses pulling a wagon hadn't been done since the 1920s. Schlitz had a special wagon built and had to find a person who could handle the hitch. It wasn't a matter of just hopping up on a wagon and plopping 40 horses together. The team had to be specially picked and their places in the line-up determined. The wagon driver then had to practice controlling this lash-up, made especially difficult because of the narrow confines of the city streets they would have to traverse. The parade route had to be re-vamped so that this marvelous display could negotiate the streets. But when the parade came, I was there. Right there on Wisconsin Ave. ahhhhhhh - Wonderful!! But at that time I didn't even own a camera and so I don't have any proof of my own. But I know I was there.

A love of circuses never really left me but in the ensuing years it would be supplanted by other interests, other activities. There was job, family, and all the rigors that entails. But every now and then in my later years the circus would present itself and I would just have to go. While stationed in Germany and prior to the fall of The Wall, we saw a quaint little East German  circus visiting the west. It had a dinky little one-ring 'Big Top' and some scraggly looking animals in its menagerie. My wife wasn't actually interested in the show so we didn't see it but I do have photos of our visit to the site. When we returned Stateside I had the great good fortune of re-visiting the Circus World Museum in Baraboo. I now have a TON of photos of that one! :-)  And sometime in the a mid-1990s I had more great fortune by watching an actual 3-ring circus big top tent being erected using elephants to help raise the poles. That night the whole family went to see that circus!!  

Well, well, well, I did ramble on didn't I? Okay, 'nuff said. On to the pics - Enjoy!

When I purchased my set, the seller DIS-assembled the tent and shipped it as flat as they could. On one hand that gave me the opportunity to assemble a piece of vintage tin. It also allowed me to  take photos of the tent sides, both inside and outside views. HOWEVER, because the tabs had been weakened by its original assembly and subsequent disassembly a couple of them broke off! It also didn't allow me to assemble the tent with the sides laying perfectly flat on the table. This is why you see the tent kind of buckled up towards the rear