The following article was run in the March 12, 1959 “The Ojai Valley News”. It is reprinted here with their permission.
Clowns, Weight Lifters Shine at Aliso Street Kids Circus
by Arlou Mashburn
“Ladeez and gentlemen! We are proud to present the ‘East Aliso Street Circus’ “.
With that shouted salutation, a seven-year-old’s excited voice announced to an audience numbering approximately 30 persons a combination circus-puppet show planned and staged by seven neighborhood youngsters aged four to eight years old.
Prompted by the John A. Strong Circus which was recently presented in Ojai, the backyard performers utilized several acts they had seen the professional clowns and circus folk present.
Also benefiting from more experienced show people’s talents, the young puppeteers had borrowed a number of ideas from the puppet show recently held in the valley which the Ojai Festivals sponsored.
Spirits exalted by the carnival atmosphere, many youthful observers suddenly found themselves “carried away” and in front of what remained of the audience. It was rather difficult to determine at times who was “audience” and who was “show”.
Recorded music offered background atmosphere. Due to lack of calliope selections, such songs as, “Doggy in the Window” and “Davy Crockett” from the limited record collections of the children participating sufficed. As the energetic performers grew more and more enthusiastic…and of course, noisier…the music was dispensed with entirely since it was inaudible anyway.
Audience participation was rewarding materialistically as well as self-satisfactorily with balloons awarded as prizes. Young Blaise Castren, who journeyed three blocks with his younger brother, Chad, to attend the Saturday afternoon affair, was winner of the marble-guessing game.
Paying one penny to guess how many marbles were in a jar proved to be one of the most popular events of the day. Six-year old Donna Phillips was in charge of the money-making game.
“Strong Man” Clark “Corky” Davis, 4, amazed all with his astonishing strength when he hoisted a 500 pound barbell above his head not once, twice, but ten times! “Muscles” fashioned from inflated balloons inserted in his shirt sleeves, were eagerly touched by “Corky’s” many admirers… at no extra cost.
Mark Phillips’ over-sized tennis shoes, worn for his role as the hobo clown portrayed by Emmett Kelly, became entangled with the spurs worn by animal-trainer, Mark Kingsbury. Although the stunt was completely unrehearsed, it brought forth chuckles from the exuberant crowd of onlookers.
Pretty Kathy Nickerson, bedecked with earrings, lipstick, and flowers in her tresses, offered the glamorous touch necessary to all circuses. She won great applause as she daintily tiptoed across the “tight rope” (which instead of being suspended in the air was placed on more substantial territory, the ground in this case), balancing a parasol above her head.
Kathy’s brother, Danny, the oldest member of the troupe, was the unsung hero of the day as the behind-the-scenes worker, generally known in the circus world as a “roustabout”. Always there when he was needed, eight-year-old Danny arranged seats for the customers, carried refreshments to the pop-corn-punch-and-cookies table, and aided in the clean-up following the showing.
With poster paint on his face, Greg Davis was barely recognizable. But the make-up was all it took to throw the first-grader into the role of a clown, costume or no costume. His antics amused all.
Instigator of the planned-for-a-week-in-advance adventure was Drew Mashburn, in whose backyard the one-ring circus was held. Drew, due to the unexpected absence of two members of the troupe, Sandy and Mike Payton, found himself a true showman, living up to the old adage, “The show must go on”, as he not only acted as puppeteer but as ringmaster and ticket-taker as well.
Drew’s younger brother, Mitch, a kindergartner, learned to his dismay upon donning a long-cherished pirate costume he had worn with great pride on previous Halloweens, that circuses do not have pirates. So, relinquishing his part in the show, Mitch appointed himself chief-cookie-passer-outer. His enthusiasm was again thwarted when he was told that the refreshments were not free, but were to be sold at the close to the show. He then resigned himself to the fact that he was not the circus type, and became a member of the audience.
Perhaps the amateurish efforts of the youthful troupe would win no blue ribbons, but in the hearts of the mothers who watched the eyes of their youngsters sparkle as they talked about the anticipated “Big Day”, and as they listened to the squealing voices of these same kids as they presented the hour-long show, there is no prize worthy enough for the memories they will all cherish from now on.
And what makes the parents even prouder is that the children, themselves, decided from the beginning that the money earned from the circus would be given to some deserving charity, rather than be kept for themselves. And they say youngsters of today will grown up to be unfit adults!