Captain Spalding’s American Circus

A tribute to one of the greatest family of slapstick the Marx Brothers. Here is a montage of some film sketches. How many films can you notice? ‘And the boy wins a cigar’!

Captain Spalding’s Star Spangled Circus – opening tonite! (By Tom Sandow)

Captain Spalding was in the one central ring of his single pole tent circus singing; ‘I’m Alabamy Bound’. He was interrupted by a tent-hand shouting; ‘Message for Captain Spalding, Message for Captain Spalding…!’ ‘Hey, stop shouting my name all over the place, I have certain creditors looking for me, now what is this about?’ (Tent-hand:) ‘There is a frowning city gent who wants to speak to you urgently.’ (Capt; Spalding:) ‘So this is the gentleman, now what can I do for you my good man?  ‘My name is Pickalot and I am the personal secretary to the town Mayor and if you are Capt; Spalding I must inform you Sir, that you are definitely not allowed to open this circus show tonight without a very special license of approval from the city’.

(Capt; S:) ‘Since when may I ask? (Mr. P:) ‘Since yesterday’s Act of Congress.’ (Capt; S:) ‘I have enough of my own acts here already. I might tell you that I have toured this circus to every corner of this great land without hindrance until I reach Birmingham Alabama. I do not think that you realise or appreciate the wonders presented before our eyes Sir, a fabulous show of glamour and festival to brighten the dullest of towns. I will give Birmingham a real gala -day and a gale-a-day is what we got when playing Chicago!’ (Mr. P:) ‘This will not impress the Mayor Sir, he is not happy in the least, hopping mad even, only this morning he found an elephant in his flower bed and a bill stuck on his front door!’ (Capt; S:) ‘Well he should be so lucky that the elephant was not in his four poster bed! I once found an elephant in my pyjamas – and that’s a strange place to find an elephant (!) and six bills pinned to my trailer door but I am not paying any of them.’

‘Well if I must pay for this license what will be the cost you little robber?’ (Mr. P:) ‘One Dollar.’ (Capt; S:) ‘One Dollar! Why didn’t you say! Then I will go straight to town this very moment and find a pawn shop and pawn this most treasured little ring given to me by my mother. I will have a drink in your Perry Bar and return in a jiffy and if not in a jiffy then in a taxi or I may even walk. You know you have not stopped talking since you arrived here, you must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.’

‘Get your Tootsie Fruitsie Ice Cream! ‘Morning Boss, Morning Boss’. (Mr. P:) ‘Who are they?’ (Capt; S:) ‘They are Chico and Zeppo, the funniest clowns in the business, so they tell me but I am seeking legal advice.’ (Mr. P:) ‘No Mr. Spalding, one dollar for every item on the circus lot. A dollar for each animal, a dollar for each artiste, a dollar for each wagon, a dollar for each pole…..’ (Capt S:) ‘Hold it! That sounds like a lot of dollops and now we are back with the elephant. Please, I beg of you on bended knees Mr. Picky, you must understand and have pity, would you throw all of my fine artistes on the streets to shine shoes? Even Chico and Zeppo do not have a Dime left for the Dime in the Funnel gag.’

(Mr. P:) ‘Your circus must be up to a certain standard Mr. Spalding, it does say on your posters Sir, that you have 100 artistes!’ (Capt; S:) ‘Sure but a few double up, during our last show one went into the ring four times!’ (Mr. P:) ‘He must be a good talent then?’ (Capt; S:) ‘Not really, he had his braces caught on the main pole!’

(Mr. P:) ‘You advertise many animals too, I have only seen the elephant.’ (Capt; S:) ‘We do have a chimpanzee that rides a unicycle.’ (Mr. P:) ‘Then where can I find that animal?’ (Capt; S:) ‘He is about the town giving out flyers advertising the show on the cycle!’ (Mr. P:) ‘It also says here that you have a five piece band.’ (Capt; S:) ‘Not any more, that means the number of tunes Harpo plays on the mouth organ.’ (Mr. P:) ‘So, that is another misdemeanour!!’ (Capt; S:) ‘When did she arrive?’ (Mr. P:) ‘It also says that you have a lady bareback rider who wears tights and we do not allow ladies wearing tights in Birmingham Alabama!’ (Capt; S:) ‘Well Mr. Picky she will not enter the ring otherwise I can assure you!’

(Mr. P:) ‘It also says that you will be singing ‘Lydia the Tattooed Lady’ and we….’ (Capt; S:) ‘I know, you will not allow singing in Birmingham Alabama. Then I will let Harpo do the singing. I will tell you Mr. Picky, we have never had trouble in the towns of the Wild West – like Truro. Well, if I must have it where do I find this license to operate?’ (Mr. P:) ‘You are very fortunate Mr Spalding – I do happen to have a copy right here and all I need will be your cash and your signature.’ (Capt; S:) ‘Now let me see that…. you know I can’t read a thing?’ (Mr. P:) ‘Then try holding it further away.’ (Capt; S:) ‘Do you have a baboon in your pocket? 80 clauses – and what does this last one mean?’ (Mr. P:) ‘Well, that is the sanity clause, all contracts must have that clause it means that if either of the parties participating in the agreement are not of their right minds then the whole agreement is nulified.’ (Capt; S:) ‘What nonsense, there ain’t no Santa-T-Clause!’

‘So, how much will be this agreement apart from being about four feet long?’ (Mr. P:) ‘Just $500, that will also include our stringent Health and Safety certificate following our test of tent for fireproofing via using a blow lamp.’ (Capt; S:) ‘Outrageous! But I will not sign anything unless I can fully understand it and I can not make head nor tail of this lot.’ (Mr. P:) ‘Then you will need the special guide book to explain the clauses.’ (Capt; S:) ‘And how much will that cost?’ (Mr. P:) ‘Just $500, I do have the copy in my automobile if you care to follow me outside.’ (Capt; S:) ‘O.K. I will take the guide but I still can’t understand anything.’ (Mr. P:) ‘Well of course you will need the special code book of cross references to link the two.’ (Capt; S:) ‘How much will that be?’ (Mr. P:) ‘Another $500, I have the copy here.’ (Capt. S:) ‘It says in the code book that pitching can only be allowed when the moon is in conjunction at 47 degrees after Sunset but it must only be upon calendar days in cities with the letter ‘B’

(Mr. P:) ‘Well, to find the precise day or days that you may open but not to offend any religious or feast days or interrupt the cotton picking you will need the calendar book.’ (Capt; S:) ‘And how much will that cost? I know, $500!’ (Mr. P:) ‘Sure, and I have the large copy here.’ (Capt; S:) ‘Do you happen to have a wheel barrow? That totals $2000 and my whole outfit is only worth $1000 over my debts to creditors. OK, if I must I must. I have finally worked out that  the show will be licensed to open tonight with no problems so I will sign your deed and give to you my trusted IOU, and if it is not paid within 30 days you can keep the IOU!’ (Mr. P:) ‘Sorry you cannot do that Mr. Spalding, for sub-clause 42a in microscopic olde English print clearly says that only shows are allowed to perform within the confines of Birmingham in alphabetical order and I am afraid that S follows R and we do have Ringling Brothers Barnum and Baileys Greatest Show on Earth next month.’ (Capt. S:) ‘That is it then! I will sell the whole circus via posters placed all over the town with For Sale on them, reap the proceeds and invest in the stock and property markets.’

(Mr. P:) I am afraid you will not be allowed to post posters Mr. Spalding without a special license and it so happens that I do have a copy with me here. All that I will need is your cash and signature…….’ plus one dollar for each of the posters you already have around the town. (Capt; S) ‘Thats it, I will sell the circus and invest all the proceeds into turning water into petrol.

From their film At the Circus. Please note, the Ape is really a film extra in a costume!

With fond memories of the great Marx Brothers and their script writers. Photocard from there film At The Circus.

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Author: Tom Sandow

born into showbusiness - full life entertaining, management, agency, engager of acts and artistes - show producer presenter.

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