Monday, March 21, 2016

EARLE REYNOLDS: My dad grew up in a circus (2nd of 3)

Continued from Penny Arcade by Earle L. Reynolds:

     The Schoenes, signing a new contract, now went back into vaudeville. Earle once more was forced to leave his beloved circus, this time for good. Again came the regular succession of theater after theater, of hotel instead of tent, of city instead of town, of solitude instead of the companionship of the show-kids. The game had lost its glamor for him.
     On the same bill with the Schoenes one season was a quiet little Englishman whose act included grotesque impersonations and comic tumbling. A perfectly nice young fellow, thought the Schoenes, except for his ridiculous interest in some new fad in the theatrical profession, a flickering shadow-box affair, calling moving-pictures.
     Of course any professional entertainer could tell you that the dim, jerky figures moving drunkenly across a wavering screen could never supplant the popularity of the established show-world; but they could not tell the serious little Englishman. He seemed strangely confident, so confident in fact that he planned to leave the bill at the end of the season, and sink all his money into a foolhardy attempt to actually make an acceptable picture-play of full length.
   His plot, centering on the life of a tramp, required the use of a juvenile lead, and he offered the part to Earle. However, the youngster was now taking part in the regular act, and the Schoenes did not feel it worth their while to disrupt a signed contract for some fly-by-night scheme. They turned the offer down.
     At the end of the season, the pantomimist left the show, and went to California.
      In the next year, the Schoenes sat in a darkened theater, as did thousands of other skeptical people throughout the country, and viewed, with the sound of their own distant doom in their ears, the first attempt of their fellow-actor of the former season. Outside the theater was emblazoned in electric lights the title of the picture: SHOWING THIS WEEK ONLY
                      CHARLIE CHAPLIN
                              THE KID
                        JACKIE COOGAN

       For two years more the routine of three-a-day went on. Earle was now billed separately, as a juvenile singer, and drew each Saturday night, with pardonable pride, a tidy check from the box office. He seemed destined for a theatrical career, and quite probably his future would have gradually merged into a settled decision to enter permanently into show-business. But this was not to be.
     War broke out; all plans were upset; William enlisted, and the Landre Troupe again broke up, this time forever. William was detailed to the South, as an acrobat! Not even in the stress of war-time could he escape his career. The Schoenes now turned entertainers--for khaki spectators. From training camp to training camp they went, from Texas to Carolina, giving free exhibitions for soldiers, and operating a shooting-gallery. Earle still sang and practiced faithfully on his own trapeze. . .
     William had perfected an entirely new type of performance. He had evolved an unrivaled trick, inverted walking. This consisted of walking head-downward, supported only by the strength of the toes, which were thrust into little U-shaped loops. At that time, it was an absolutely novel act in the field of entertainment, and he won wide acclaim. His new program consisted almost wholly of variations of this trick, and for his trapeze he substituted a long looped apparatus, which he hung between office buildings.
   Now William played only cities; voluntary contributions were collected among the thousands who crowded the down-town streets to see the feat; the proceeds went to the Red Cross.
     In August, 1918, he gave a special performance between two of the highest buildings in Dallas, Texas. During the course of his act, a high wind blew in from the Gulf. Had it been an ordinary performance, the show would have probably been quickly concluded, but now, with literally thousands looking on, with hundreds of dollars in contributions already given, the performance must continue.
     It was a tremendous gamble, and William lost. He was blown from his precarious hold, and fell to the street below. He was instantly killed.
     In November Madelaine left the game forever, and went home, for the first time since her madcap marriage, eight years before.

      The traveling was over. Madelaine and her son settled in Vicksburg, Mississippi. For the first time in his life Earl lived in a house, slept in the same bed every night, completed an entire year of school.

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