Sep 19, 2023

Circus World: Beefcake and Bonding on the Flying Trapeze

My grandmother took me to a circus once.  Creepy clowns, leering acrobats, a lady in a stripper costume riding an elephant.  Bleachers full of scared little kids and bored older kids whose grandparents were demanding, "Isn't this better than television?"

No, it wasn't.

Maybe a hundred years ago, before tv, radio, movies, and comic books, kids looked forward to the traveling circus, but by the 1960s, it was a relic of the long-forgotten past.

Yet oblivious adults kept insisting that going to the circus was a glorious adventure, the past far superior to the present.

Between 1956 and 1966, a dozen movies starred circus performers, more than any previous decade in history:  Trapeze (with Tony Curtis, top photo), Merry Andrew, The Big Show (with David Nelson, teen idol Ricky Nelson's older brother, left), The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, The Flying Fontaines (with teen idol Michael Callan), Circus World, even the Disney movie Toby Tyler.

And tv: Circus Boy (starring future Monkee Micky Dolenz), Frontier Circus, The Greatest Show on Earth, Bozo the Clown.

 Episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (with Brandon DeWilde and the extremely muscular Larry Kurt, left), The Wonderful World of Color, Leave It to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and The Wild Wild West.

We generally stayed away, though sometimes gay kids found them worth a look, if only for the bulges in tight leotards

And for some beefcake not elsewhere available, as with Rian Garrick in The Flying Fontaines.   He appeared on-screen only nine times, between 1959 and 1966, and displayed his muscular physique only once.

And the plotlines usually articulated establishment anxiety over the younger generation by having a brash young novice perform trapeze acts much better than a seasoned professional.  The competition often led to romantic triangles or a homoerotic subtext, as between Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster in Trapeze.

Of course, 1950s it-boy Tony Curtis managed to infuse every movie and tv appearance with a homoerotic subtext.

By 1966, the circus craze was over, though the media still paid attention to teen idol trapeze artists like Jimmy Cavaretta.

See also: Drake's Hookup with Tony Curtis

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