“We bring you the circus—that Pied Piper whose magic tunes lead children of all ages into a tinseled and spun-candied world of reckless beauty and mounting laughter… of rhythm, excitement and grace… of high-stepping horses and high-flying stars.… a mechanized army on wheels...”
In his 1952 Academy Award-winning blockbuster, The Greatest Show on Earth, Hollywood filmmaker Cecile B. DeMille (in an uncredited role as narrator) hooks viewers in from the very first lines.
Long before my editor brought me the idea to craft John and Mable Ringling’s real-life story into a novel—later to become The Ringmaster’s Wife
—I’d fallen in love with the verve and color of DeMille’s circus world.
Memories from my childhood include popping popcorn, and settling in with my mom to experience the film over and over. Or knowing the story would faithfully transport us to the magic of another time, another place…
The opening camera sequence zooms under the Big Top sky, and follows Hollywood heavyweight Charlton Heston as his character walks from animal pens to clown alleys, and moves past circus train cars ready to depart from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus winter quarters, in Sarasota, Florida.
It’s a world where circus royalty like John Ringling North (John Ringling’s nephew), famous clowns Emmett Kelly and Lou Jacobs, and entertainers Cucciola and bandmaster Merle Evans are paired alongside Tinseltown’s own version of royalty. A vibrant cast with Heston includes: Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Gloria Grahame, and Dorothy Lamour. Jimmy Stewart, in a superb performance, plays the entire film in clown makeup. Together with real circus acts and Hollywood cameos, all share the spotlight in a vibrant center ring. Because, it truly was the greatest show on earth.
This was the world I dreamt of capturing in the Ringling’s real-life story. I wanted to explore the Ringling Bros. birth of an empire, to John and Mable’s Jazz Age world in New York’s famed Madison Square Garden, and their timeless Cà d'Zan
mansion, still a piece of living history in Sarasota.
It’s the space where entertainment, history, art, and athleticism collide. Where the world’s most eclectic group of entertainers traveled on cross-country trains, while defying death on a daily basis.
It’s the inspiration that touches a childhood nerve in all of us when the ringmaster calls, “Children of all ages…”
It’s the nostalgia of a world within a world, but now that exists only through books and film. The final Ringling Brothers Circus performance was May 21, 2017.
Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus
and Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants
remain modern circus classics. They were steady bestsellers in the years following their release, with a film adaptation for the latter. In addition to Water for Elephants
, decades of Hollywood films include Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 classic The Circus,
DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth
, and with a visual cavalcade of artistry is this month’s much anticipated release, The Greatest Showman.
Perhaps the parting words in DeMille’s film sum it up best: “You can shake the sawdust off your feet, but you can’t shake it out of your heart…Come again, to the Greatest Show on Earth!”
We are inspired by the books, films, and the museum of living-history. Because in them, our modern world intertwines with vintage storytelling, and invites new generations to experience the vast sights and sounds of a bygone, Big Top world.
Learn more about "the greatest show on earth" - The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, or plan your museum visit: TheRingling.org
Learn more about John and Mable Ringling’s circus legacy in The Ringmaster’s Wife
, visit: KristyCambron.com
Explore the Ringlings’ Cà d'Zan mansion with Kristy, visit: Research Files on YouTube
Kristy Cambron is the author of five historical novels, including the Publishers Weekly TOP 10 The Ringmaster’s Wife
—a Jazz Age Entertainers’ novel of real-life circus king and queen, John and Mable Ringling. She has a background in corporate art and design, but now fancies life as a vintage-inspired storyteller. She writes fiction and Bible study curriculum for HarperCollins Christian Publishing, and has written articles on the crossroads of faith and fiction for sites such as: NovelRocket.com
, Milk & Honey Magazine
, Southern Writers Magazine,
Kristy lives in Indiana with her family. She writes, drinks too much coffee, and imagines what life would have been like as a high-wire walker in the Ringling Bros. center ring.
You can connect with Kristy on all things VINTAGE, FICTION, & FAITH through her WRITING DESK Newsletter, at KristyCambron.com
HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., operates Page Chaser, the publisher of The Ringmaster's Wife.