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Fred Bradna, Butch Reynolds P2

Fred Bradna was born Frederick Freber in Strasbourg, Alsace, in 1871. In 1903, he and his wife Ella came to the US after Ella was offered a contract as an equestrienne at Barnum and Bailey Circus. Eventually he became equestrian director for Barnum and Bailey, and later for Ringling Brothers after they merged with Barnum and Bailey in 1919. He wrote a fascinating autobiography called Big Top, published by Hamish Hamilton, London, 1953.

Among the many interesting profiles of people in Big Top is the life story of the German clown Otto Griebling.

This clown was known for his preshow routines. He would elbow through the audience before a show started, calling out for a Mrs Schultz. Sometimes he would be dressed as a florist’s delivery boy carrying a potted plant for the fictional Mrs Schultz. As the night wore on he would get older and the plant would get taller. Finally he’d be an old man with a ten foot plant in a wheel barrow. 

Fred Bradna writes: The funniest of these turns was the iceman. On his first appearance he carries a thirty-pound cake of ice over his shoulder with a tongs. As he searches the audience for Mrs. Schultz, the ice begins to melt. Finally, his tongs hold only an ice cube.

In his 1954 autobiography Broken Hearted Clown, Butch Reynolds writes about life in the sawdust ring over his forty year career. He knew all the major circus stars in the UK, and he worked as a clown in both large combines and small two-pole tents, which he preferred. He included a chapter on circus lingo, eg. flatties were members of the audience.

He writes: Another very useful circus character is “Mr. Chatsby”, often the man who gives away the free tickets. A flattie asking for one at the boss’s wagon will be told: “Mr. Chatsby gives away the free tickets, he’s in the horse tent, I believe”. The groom in the horse tent will say that Mr. Chatsby has just gone over to the top, and if the ringmaster is there, maybe practising a pony, he will probably say that Mr. Chatsby is over by the wagons somewhere. And so the bewildered flattie goes round and round, never finding the mysterious Mr. Chatsby who gives away the free tickets. In fact, if you ever encounter the name of Mr Chatsby on a tober [circus ground] you may as well give up your quest there and then, unless, perhaps, you try countering with: “Nante on the stuff, cul” (cut that out, in circus tongue).

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