- Historic Sites
Sex Death And Ronald Mcdonald
ON THE ROAD DURING THE ERA OF GREATEST PERIL FOR THE ONE INDISPENSABLE AMERICAN SHOW
September 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 5
I walked back to my van, tossing up and most of the time catching two of the three balls I had bought. After dropping them off in the van, I wandered into the sideshow, where Froggy, a short, heavy man with lemurlike glasses, was feeding Leo, a year-and-a-half-old lion cub; Zelda, a spotted South African leopard the size of a German shepherd; and Mike, a Borneo baboon. When I walked in, Zelda, who had been lapping water out of a tray like a house cat, snapped her head up and stared at me. Her tongue, as pink as bubble gum, lazily licked her nose.
“Come on, Zelda,” Froggy said, “what are you looking at?”
Leo pushed his forehead against the front of the cage so hard that little pads of fur poked through the wire mesh. Froggy scratched Leo, murmuring, “Hey, you like that, huh?”
When Froggy left to get the meat, Leo started pacing in a figure eight and Zelda started leaping high up onto one wall of her cage, landing lightly, and leaping up against the other wall. She stopped, turned to stare at me, and started leaping again.
The other animals in the sideshow seemed to react to the two cats’ restlessness. Victor, the camel, with an almost birdlike movement, turned his head to the right and to the left to check out the scene first with one eye, then the other. Pete, the elephant, starting nodding. Every time he raised his head, the tip of his trunk uncurled like a New Year’s Eve noisemaker; every time he lowered his head, the tip of his trunk rolled up again.
Froggy returned and, using a long fork, stuffed a shank of raw horsemeat, colored purple, phlegm yellow, and black, through a flap in the bottom of Leo’s cage. Leo grabbed the meat with his forepaws, threw it into the air, caught it in his mouth, and slammed it against the side of his cage. Zelda took her hunk to the back of her cage and, stretching out with the meat between her paws, licked it with long strokes as though she were grooming it.
Froggy left the sideshow and went from cage to cage, softly talking to the cats used in Dave Hoover’s animal act. John-John, a golden-maned Nubian lion, paced so furiously that he made the cage rock and its wheels squeak. Radar, a lion named after a character in the television series M.A.S.H. , lay on his side, his two forelegs crossed and his two hind legs crossed. The animals had a smoky, sweet smell almost like that of broiled lobster.
THE AUDIENCE IS used to background music on television, which of course is always perfect. . . . If we do a perfect show, no one notices.”
“Looks like you could just reach in and pat them, don’t it, they’re so friendly,” said Froggy. “But a guy once tried that, a vet who got out of Vietnam without a scratch, and he got his arm ripped off his body. And the cat was probably just playing.”
“The worst mauling I ever got was in Texas,” said Dave Hoover, “I got chewed up pretty bad. I’ve been in the hospital thirteen times, mostly only two- or three-day stays. You can’t get sloppy in your act. I was making a mistake earlier this spring. I just caught it a few weeks ago. I was leaving the chair out of reach. A lion charged me. I got back to the chair just in time. You know, those cats don’t make any mistakes, so the trainer can’t make any mistakes.”
Hoover joined the Beers-Barnes Circus, run by his wife’s father (Barnes) and her uncle (Beers), a show that was started in the first decade of the century.
“I thought I was getting a circus,” said Hoover. “My father-in-law thought he was getting a lion act. We were both fooled.”
A year later Hoover joined the Hunt Bros. Circus, and after jumping around among a number of other circuses, he joined the Clyde Beatty show.
“It’s my twelfth year here,” he said. “I had an agreement to replace Mr. Beatty when he retired. He died.”
Hoover and I sat in my van, watching rain bead on the front windshield.
“Wet canvas, hard surface,” said Hoover. “Best acoustic.”
Frances Padilla ran across the back yard of the circus, holding a newspaper over her head to protect her hair from the drizzle. I had a fever that spiked, and everything happening outside the van, in pantomime because the windows were rolled up against the weather, seemed to be a silent film run too slowly. Noderer slogged past. Kay, who played Zendora in the sideshow, came out of the big top, stood for a moment, getting soaked, and then dashed for a trailer, making a little extra hop every time she splashed in a puddle.