CLOWN ALLEY by Bill Ballantine


Email this review


The longtime ""dean"" of the Ringling/Barnum & Bailey ""Clown College"" recalls his years with the circus--in an overlong memoir that's rich in backstage detail but too unselective and tediously chronological for consistent readability. First Ballantine sketches in his pre-College circus associations: his own year (1947) as an overage (37) clown, his artwork for the menagerie, his work in administration--all before the circus was taken over by the hustling Feld brothers in the '60s, who created Clown College and soon asked Ballantine to take it over. So then, with interruptions for some general circus-management history, there's a year-by-year rundown on the College: each new rather motley crop of would-be clowns; the shifting faculty, with the constant search for willing experts in mime or juggling or makeup; the increasing friction with the penny-pinching Felds; the frantic preparations for each year's graduation show (a mixture of old pros and College performers), which was in fact the clown-students' audition for the Felds (some would be offered circus contracts, some wouldn't). Unfortunately, however, though dozens of students are mentioned, only a very few are characterized fully enough to generate real interest: the potential here for a Chorus Line-like involvement in the fate of a single Clown College class goes unrealized. Nor does Ballantine himself, though his ultimate decision to quit is a source of much stewing, emerge with sufficient personality to hold this long, occasionally pretentious book together. So though circus buffs will relish the potpourri of information here--on clown techniques (and rotten working conditions), on inter-clown tensions, on dwarfs and elephants, on super-clown Lou Jacobs, on makeups and Clown Cars and circus finances-this remains too much an in-house history to have much appeal beyond the center-ring readership.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1982
Publisher: Little, Brown