Cultural Writing. Memoir. Howard Bone was a sideshow magician virtually his whole working life. During a long, eventful, and adventurous career he lived every aspect of outdoor show business in its golden era. SIDE SHOW captures the flavor of those boisterous times -- the characters, the scenes, the scams, the dodges, the joys and sorrows of carny ways as only an insider could know them. An appealing, amusing and down and dirty glimpse into the rarely depicted nether regions of show business -- Ricky Jay, ...
Cultural Writing. Memoir. Howard Bone was a sideshow magician virtually his whole working life. During a long, eventful, and adventurous career he lived every aspect of outdoor show business in its golden era. SIDE SHOW captures the flavor of those boisterous times -- the characters, the scenes, the scams, the dodges, the joys and sorrows of carny ways as only an insider could know them. An appealing, amusing and down and dirty glimpse into the rarely depicted nether regions of show business -- Ricky Jay, magician, actor, and author.
Bone, who spent most of his life working in carnival side shows, is touted by his publisher as the ultimate backstage guide, though he actually reveals very little in this posthumous volume, which has the enticing yet sleazy feel of a carny con. Time and again, Bone starts describing some fabulous act of his the Blindfolded Drive, the Man Who Can't Be Hung and then, in a classic bait and switch, cuts away without telling how it was done. Yet the book remains compulsively readable. The foreword from comedian Teller (of Penn & Teller) offers an amusing carny-meets-St. Peter joke that establishes the book's sense of tantalizing mystery. The narrative, which reads like a rambling conversation over too many beers, sketches in the rough outlines of Bone's career, from his days as an "inside talker" who lured audiences to watch geek acts (i.e., the Man Who Bites the Head Off a Chicken) to his stints in athletic or "at' shows," where he would fight anyone who volunteered to enter the ring. He also appeared in various torture acts and even performed a dash of magic. Each episode includes colorful vocabulary, which Bone explains as he goes along (there is also a glossary). Apart from all the hoopla, it's Bone's sad but un-self-pitying life that draws readers in. A broke bum when he joined his first side show, Bone died in a dreary V.A. hospital as a broke old man. He had few friends who lasted longer than a carny circuit, and he abandoned a wife and three children along the way. Straight life just didn't have much pull for Bone, who was more at home with the "itchy feet, gypsy souls, and vagabond hearts" of the carny world. (May) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Part of a vanishing culture, Bone led an extraordinary carnival life, and his cumulative experiences throughout 40 years as an itinerant sideshow magician, barker, fakir, fighter, and carny are presented here in a series of quasi-chronological vignettes. Having worked every aspect of carnival sideshows, Bone, a World War II veteran and martial arts master, was renowned for his classic schtick, "The Man Who Can't Be Hung," in which two brawnish farmboy types selected from the crowd played tug-of-war with a long rope looped around Bone's neck. Tough as nails, feisty, irascible, and fearless, Howard spins one fetching yarn after another, all dripping with rich carny slang (an appended glossary of terms is very informative and useful). What emerges is a portrait, devoid of self-pity, of a harsh, nomadic life full of eccentric characters and an inveterate love of the life. Bone died in 1997 in an Indiana VA hospital, destitute and long estranged from his carnival showgirl wife and three children. Teller, of Penn & Teller, perhaps this generation's in-carny-ation of the sideshow, knew and admired Bone and contributes a delightful foreword. This is an excellent contribution to a growing list of recently published circus books like Nell Stroud's Josser (LJ 2/1/01) and Donnalee Frega's Women of Illusion: A Circus Family's Story (LJ 5/1/01). Barry X. Miller, Austin P.L., TX Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.