George Carl, the Tumbler
George Carl was an excellent tumbler and was the topmounter in the teeterboard act in the Tom Mix Circus. I think he was topmounter to 4-man high. He told me that one day in Chicago he was doing pure tumbling on the grass by the lake, he was tumbling with the Moroccan acrobats and when he did his best tumbling, as a joke the others took off their tumbling shoes and threw them in the lake (acro shoes float so they could jump in and retrieve them easily).
I had a week with him in 1986 while I was hosted by my friends the acro duet Price & McCoy, on the Gold Coast. They and George Carl were in the first show at Jupiters Casino. One day we four went to the gymnastics hall to train. George was coaching them towards more tricks.
At one point when he was being the ‘flyer’ and was asked to repeat something he said “I’m just making this shit up”. So he was actually demonstrating on how to create new material.
Then the duet carried on with some specific skills, and George and I went to train on another mat. Usually Price & McCoy only practice on wood floor, no mat, to keep their performance hard bodies as their stages had no matting. When George and I we’re practicing each our own bits, he suddenly went and grabbed a tumbling beat board and took it to a thick mat (crash mat) and started practicing side salto.
The first 6 or so attempts were not very successful but then he nailed the rest. He was 70 years old at that time. He trained a little acro on the beach every morning to warm up and would finish with about ten standing back saltos – as he told me. In those years, as per this video, he usually did one standing back salto at the end of the performance.
One day in Price & McCoy’s apartment he and I passed clubs a bit. Passing 6 clubs basics. Another day he came over to watch one of my theatre shows on video. I thought he fell asleep on the couch and as he was old I thought he needed to rest. But he was just resting, reclining and watching the whole thing but through droopy relaxed eyelids. He talked with me afterwards about what he saw.
The next day the casino show manager’s assistant told me that George loved my video and recommended for me to take his contract as his was about to finish and he had other contracts to do in USA and Europe. The Assistant gave me the time I was to meet the Manager. In the meantime, I went to thank George and to ask him what fee I should ask for. The next scene … with the Manager was like out of Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose!!!!
Meet the Manager
I arrived at the appointed time. The outer office was that of the Assistant. She welcomed me and wished me luck and said go in.
The Manager’s door was open. So I came to the doorway and said:
“Hello Mr Macdonald. I’m Ira and I was to see you”.
He says quite gruffly: “Well what do you want”.
Implying that I had been ‘bothering’ him in some way. Or had been pestering him to get an appointment. When in fact we both knew that George’s contract was ending on schedule… as in a few days.
George recommended me to the Assistant and as they needed a replacement she informed the Manager. And of course in this time period of the 1980s George Carl was THE living god of clowns so a recommendation from him meant a lot!!
Now, picture this: when I came to the open doorway…. the first thing I saw … à la Woody Allen meets Kafka … was that the Manager was sitting behind his posh big desk. The desk had a LOT Of paper money in high piles!!!! And all the while that I spoke with the Manager, he was literally physically counting money.
I replied: “Well you said you wanted to see me, so you must want something.”
Him: “Yeah well Georgey recommended you, so what do you do”?
“Well I’ve got a comedy juggling act.”
Mr Gruff said: “I can get jugglers anywhere.”
“Well I’ve got a Slapstick chair and newspaper act.”
Mr G: “Yeah well how much are you asking for?”
He has not stopped counting the money. I quoted the fee George told me which to me was a LOT …. but I also knew it was the ‘average’ proper weekly rate for clowns with a good act in traditional circuses. George might have got double that? Or not.
So Gruffly gruffly said: “Okay I’ll give you (and he offered one third what I asked) and you work in the chorus in the show and then do your act.”
I understood that if I worked in the chorus which George didn’t then Gruff could refer to me as a chorus member and thus pay me less than “as an Act”.
I said: “I wasn’t interested in that deal, but thank you. I’m only interested in doing an Act.”
He repeated his offer. Not a bad offer, but not the right thing for me in that situation. We agreed to disagree and I left.
There’s a fab ‘next thing that happened’ to this story…