The Suicide Circus


Early in 1941 I went to work for Bethleham Steel in the clearing re-bar plant. The war was coming and Bethlehem had a contract to supply the re-bar for the new ordnance plant being built at Kingsbury, Indiana. Gene Jordan and Wally Gora were among the first to be hired and had told me to try to get on. The next day I applied and was hired. I filled in my application telling them I was 18 years old and had dropped out of high school after 2 years. With my size I had no trouble passing for that age. I worked on a metal break which was used to form the re-bar into pre-bent shapes to be used in the construction of the ammunition bunkers. It was a pretty good job, paying about 32 or 33 cents an hour, and while hard work was required, it was not the constant repetitious work I'd so hated at Barrett. I was bringing home some money, and Misko was happy and when I said I wanted a car he agreed to my having one as soon as he felt we could afford it. I guess it was March when we went out and bought my first car. It was a 1932 Plymouth PB Roadster. No side windows, but it had snap in curtains to keep out the weather. It had a rumble seat and a fender mounted spare tire. A sweetheart of a little car and it cost $70. I was in my glory and was chasing about town finally making a little time with the same girls who in grammar school had thought I was nothing. But now that I had a car and some decent clothes and a little pocket money, finally had came around to the idea that I might not be so bad after all. Let it be known today I contributed enough to pay for the car. In April I received a letter from a Dave Williams. He had been the clown with Thor's Thunderbolts, and he was asking if I might be interested in going with a thrill show he was trying to put together. It was to be called "The Suicide Circus", and he had already lined up bookings for 4 shows, would I call him, etc, etc. Well I called and I agreed to go with him and I quit the job at Bethleham Steel. Most of all I truly pissed Misko off. I was told that by God I was to square away and begin acting like a man. If I'd left this time there was no way I was ever going to be allowed to come back, and that I owed him $70 for the car and if I thought I was going to take it, I had better think again. And so I left home. This was to be the last days I lived in the Oak Lawn house. I took the car. Dave William's dream of a thrill show was exactly that, a dream. He had me, a motorcycle stuntman named Rocky Wolfe, a rummy named Archer who billed himself as Steel Chest Archer. He would lie on the track and place a 2 by 8 plank across his chest supporting it on his forearms and let the car be driven over him. It was not the car going over that placed him in any danger, but his trust that the driver was going to hit the plank. I always thought he was a few bricks short of a pile, and he was always pretty well tanked up. There was also a guy whom I had never heard of who was supposed to be a whiz at the High and Low Romans and Wing Overs, which was and still is the standard ramp work in thrill shows. Our tryout show was not too bad and it seemed it might work. We were to play in Soldier Field on Memorial Day in a combination rodeo and thrill show. It was big time. The Cowboy singer "Smiling Bob Atcher" was the star and host and it was here I first heard the song "Cool Water". The thrill show was a bust, and we flopped in a big way. The guy who was the ramp work whiz didn't even show up, and Dave tried to fill in damn near killed himself when he missed a ramp. The junker cars which were to be used in the crashers were reluctant performers at best. And while I did the human battering ram and slide for life using my little PB Plymouth, I refused to endanger it in any other stunts. It was pretty much the end of the Suicide Circus and my life in show business. That same month the B. Ward Beam Shows bought out Dave Williams, and took on most of the employees. But he said he would not touch me without a waiver from my parents due to my status is a minor. I knew getting a waiver from either of them to continue as stuntman had about the same chance of happening as me being ordained into priesthood. I did not even entertain the idea of asking. At this time the PB was in need of work, the car had been put into just too many reverse spins in the couple of shows we had done, and had developed a habit of loosing its left rear wheel when going around corners too fast. One night Rocky Wolfe I were out cruising when she threw a wheel in the area of 95th St and Cottage Grove, and I just walked away from it, never to see the car again. Dad was notified and he did salvage it and I guess sold it.