Duffle Bags, Carnies & Mosasco

Our good customer, Chilean magician, Gerardo Parra paid us another of his annual visits this week. After attending Magic LIVE Gerardo and his wife came and spent two days at the shop perusing our showroom seeking new props to add to his show. As always he was like a kid in a candy store. According to  Gerardo, “There is always too much to see!”

Gerardo Parra, our loyal customer and Chilean magician extraordinaire!

Gerardo Parra, our loyal customer and Chilean magician extraordinaire!

Where he gets the world’s largest duffle bags, I’ll never know, but he manages to stuff them to the gills making sure they don’t weigh over 60-pounds each. And another mystery, how in the world does he work his magic on the airlines? Airlines have trouble just delivering people with just a few bags domestically.

Judging from my expression, Gerardo must be angling for another deal.

Judging from my expression, Gerardo must be angling for another deal.

Gerardo flies internationally with multiple GARGANTUAN bags — and doesn’t lose even one! Now that’s impressive!

The real magic is how Gerardo stuffs these duffle bags so full.

The real magic is how Gerardo stuffs these duffle bags so full.

One day maybe I’ll get him to divulge The Real Secrets Of Airline Bag Management. Until then, it will have to remain a mystery.

Bobby Reynolds, The World’s Greatest Showman

Another visitor this week, our longtime friend legendary showman Bobby Reynolds, now 80 years old. His friend Shay is producing a documentary of Bobby’s life as a showman for posterity. Along for the ride was Bobby’s hairless dog.

Rather than recreate the wheel is an excellent overview of Bobby’s life as chronicled by staff writer, Steve Chawkins of the Los Angeles Times from August 2002.

Carny King’s Sideshow Must Go On

Fairs: Fillmore retiree lovingly tends to his collection of freaks and oddities, though public interest has waned.

Master-of-Magic

Like many other retirees, Bobby Reynolds still likes to keep a hand in the business.

In his case, that means changing the formaldehyde for Ronnie and Donnie the Two-Headed Baby and firing off one-liners like the one about his date with the half-man, half-woman.

“Guy asked me did I have a good time,” he says. “I told him, yes and no.”

At 80, Reynolds is one of the last remaining grand old men of American sideshows. He lives on a scrubby nine-acre spread in Fillmore. His living room is painted black and rigged up with an overhead rack of stage lights. Pictures of the immortals–P.T. Barnum, Tom Thumb, Kokomo the Mule-Faced Boy–line the walls. On a long table sits a fluid-filled bell jar holding a mustached object that Reynolds halfheartedly insists is the head of Pancho Villa.

Bobby Reynolds and his dog Henry in 1966.

Bobby Reynolds and his dog Henry in 1966.

“It was in a museum in Mexico and there was an earthquake,” he says. “Bada-bing, bada-boom.”

The times have not been kind to free-spirited entrepreneurs like Reynolds. When he was young, as many as 200 sideshows crisscrossed the country, displaying their freight of contortionists, five-legged sheep, scantily clad girls, and “human blockheads” who shoved screwdrivers up their noses and spikes in their tongues.

But carnival and fair operators came to reap a lot more profit from big, expensive rides. And the public’s appetite for what used to be called “human oddities” dwindled.

“Now it’s not OK to put on a fat lady and charge to see her,” said John Strates, the third-generation operator of a carnival train that chugs up and down the East Coast. “A two-headed baby is not politically correct.t You get e-mails about sideshows right and left.”

Bobby and his two-headed baby.

Bobby and his two-headed baby.

Reynolds isn’t out on the road much these days. This fall, he and his Reynolds’ Believe It You’re Nuts show will be the centerpiece at a collegiate art festival in Maryland. Afterward, he might swing down to the Carolinas. He says he could get more work, but he ruefully acknowledges that the golden era of sideshows is long past.

“They’re trying to make Disneyland out of fairs,” he says, “and it ain’t working.”

At home, Reynolds helps out his 11th wife, Ruth, who had a stroke a couple of years ago. Her previous husband was a circus man named Big John Strong. Her grown kids and a couple of his from assorted marriages drift in and out. One recent afternoon, Reynolds was visited by a Mormon missionary–Reynolds became a Mormon last spring–and a 7-foot, 2-inch sword swallower from Bakersfield named George McArthur.

Bobby Reynolds and George the Giant.

Bobby Reynolds and George the Giant.

“Meet George the Giant, the Goliath of the 21st century!” Reynolds orates by way of introduction.

McArthur, 32, has been on the road with Reynolds, who taught him the fine points of swallowing swords. And fire. And lightbulbs.

“They were calling me a freak when I was 10 years old and 6-foot-7,” McArthur says. “Now at least I’m paid for it.”

From time to time, some of Reynolds’ fellow performers have lived in trailers on his ranch. Dave Twomey, known professionally as Happy the Clown, was there recently after treatments for cancer. Jimmy Webb–a.k.a. the Ugliest Man in the World–was a longtime guest, as was a hirsute woman who eventually grew disenchanted with life as a freak.

“When your bearded lady starts to shave, you know she really wants out of show business,” Reynolds observes.

Continuous-Sideshow

For him, that is inconceivable. Reynolds is on all the time. In the space of two hours, he dons a pith helmet, a fez and a top hat. He does coin tricks, spews carny patter, bursts into a medley from “Fiddler on the Roof” and hauls a dummy out of his closet for a quick display of ventriloquism. In between, he relaxes with an endless chain of ancient one-liners.

“I’ve been married so many times I got rice marks,” he says. “I got three rings: Engagement ring, wedding ring and suffering…. ”

Filming Bobby Reynolds visit to Hocus Pocus. Shay, the cameraman holds Penny.

Filming Bobby Reynolds visit to Hocus Pocus. Shay, the cameraman holds Penny.

Growing up in Jersey City, N.J., he started his professional life at 13 as a pitchman for a Coney Island attraction called Professor Heckler’s Trained Flea Circus. By night he slept in a cardboard box under the boardwalk. By day he reveled in his spiel, which he will still rattle off at the drop of a pith helmet:

“Fleas that juggle, jump through hoops, play football, operate a miniature merry-go-round, tiny little fleas hitched to a chariot and they actually run a race…. It is without a doubt the most fascinating sight the human eye has ever witnessed!”

At one time, Reynolds had 14 shows plying the midways of America. His “museum show” featured items that were purportedly pickled, like Van Gogh’s ear. Another had strange animals, some with extra limbs. Like other showmen of the day, he displayed actual fetuses, like the two-headed baby, ostensibly to illustrate the evils of drugs and alcohol.

Over the years, Reynolds has performed himself. Among other things, he did an act with a tap-dancing chicken–a chicken trying to shake off the pieces of tape Reynolds had stuck to its feet.

“We were supposed to be on the [Ed] Sullivan Show but I got drunk and missed the rehearsal,” says Reynolds, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 21 years. “Who knows what would have happened?”

Bobby was on the rode so much, they named a highway after him.

Bobby was on the rode so much, they named a highway after him.

Now and then, Reynolds, like other sideshow operators, ran into legal difficulties.

In 1985, his “giant rat” was confiscated at the Ventura County Fair. Police deduced that the 100-pound beast was not a killer from the sewers of Paris, as advertised, but a South American rodent called a capybara.

Reynolds says the case was dismissed when he showed the judge a magazine caption calling a capybara “the swamp rat of Brazil.”

That isn’t how the arresting officer remembers it, however.

“He’s just so full of smoke,” said Steve Bowman, a private investigator now retired from Ventura’s Police Department. “He pleaded guilty and paid a $500 fine.”

Bobby Reynolds and John Strong with Freddy the two-headed calf.

Bobby Reynolds and John Strong with Freddy the two-headed calf.

Another remarkable Reynolds story is pictured above.

The 1978 photo is of Bobby Reynolds and John Strong at the Bakersfield Kern County Fair along with Freddy the live two-headed cow found him in Rockdale, TX.

After discovering the calf, and with no sideshow himself, John took advantage of his future stepfather’s sideshow immediately hightailing it to the Kern County Fair in Bakersfield where he partnered with Bobby joining his already operating exhibit.

Reynods-Animal-Oddities

The LIVE two-headed cow started grossing $1200-a-day on the weekdays, even before the weekends! That was 1978! In today’s dollars that would be the equivalent to $3600-a-day.

Sadly, on Saturday morning, when feeding time came, it was discovered that the cow had died during the night. Bobby was so distraught that he gave it CPR immediately trying to revive it. With tears the size of dollar signs running down his cheeks, Bobby kept going from the right and left mouth attempting to resuscitate this calf. But, alas, this cash cow was dead.

Paul Gross, Tim Mannix, Bobby Reynolds & Gerardo Parra.

Paul Gross, Tim Mannix, Bobby Reynolds & Gerardo Parra.

Donate Now to Help Preserve Bobby’s Contributions

Bobby Reynolds is a living legend whose pitches and performances are still being used by countless performers today.  This project is an opportunity to share his experience with sideshow fans young and old; as well as, generate interest from newer generations of enthusiasts and show people. The outdoor amusement business would not be the same without his contributions, revisiting his career on the road will be significant to the preservation of Americana folklore.

If you like to donate to support the documentary campaign, Believe it You’re Nuts, just click on the link below.

Bobby-Reynolds-Donation-Button2

More Magic on TV

Recently, Patrick Stewart of Star Trek Fame appeared on the Late Late Show with James Cordon. Their take on a Siegfried & Roy type of magic act clearly went over big with the audience.

You may recognize the Allakazam Hat (luckily it didn’t fall off the table) that we produced in association with Mark & Nani Wilson as part of the magic act. That’s because Mark Wilson’s Magic International supplied the props.

Million Dollar Magic Act Appears on Mosasco (Gus’ Garage)

Tomorrow night Linda and I appear at Gus’ Garage on Mosasco in Bakersfield billed as the Million Dollar Magic Act. Thanks Mark Price (Gus) for promoting and having us appear. We’ve practiced about as much as we can practice, and we believe we’re ready to give a great show.

Million-Dollar-Act-Promo-Banner

Gus’ Garage on Mosasco is a new performance venue for variety performers, created by Laurie & Mark Price aka Gus Flamingo.
Mark (Gus) is billing us as the Million Dollar Magic Act. Here is Mark’s most recent Facebook post:

Mosaco-Act

No matter how large or small the crowd is, we’ll give a great show. If you’re in the area, come out and see us.

Globetrotters from New Zealand

We got a visit from our customer Tony Wilson and his wife Mary today as they tour the globe. All the way from New Zealand, they’re taking a 9-week tour of the globe including an 4-week European River Cruise, FISM in Italy, Magic LIVE in Las Vegas, Zion National Park, today at Hocus Pocus Magic, 3 days at Yosemite National Park, and finally five days at Disneyland.

Mary Wilson, Paul Gross, Tony Wilson & Betty Gross in the Hocus Pocus showroom.

Mary Wilson, Paul Gross, Tony Wilson & Betty Gross in the Hocus Pocus showroom.

If you’re in our area or near us, stop in. we’d love to see you.

As always, have a great weekend my friends.

More news later,

Paul

 

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