© 2022 New England Public Media

FCC public inspection files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact hello@nepm.org or call 413-781-2801.
NEPM Header Banner
PBS. NPR. Local Perspective.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

The Greatest Show On Earth Not So Great For Some

TV character Circus Boy as played by Micky Dolenz.
Creative Commons
TV character Circus Boy as played by Micky Dolenz.

Ringling Brothers' Greatest Show on Earth is slated to go dark at the end of May. Commentator Robert Chipkin says that in his childhood full of highways, malls and subdivisions, the annual appearance of elephants parading down Main Street, clowns piled into Volkswagens, acrobats and sword swallowers should have stirred his suburban heart, but there was serious competition. 

I spent my early childhood under the big top of my living room watching "Circus Boy" -- the tale of a boy named Corky, played by Micky Dolenz (nee Braddock) who a decade later would find fame as drummer and principal lead singer of the pop rock band, the Monkees.

Circus Boy Corky tragically loses his parents in a trapeze accident. Rather than suing the circus for every penny, Corky chooses to join the troupe and finds work as water boy to Bimbo, the politically incorrectly named baby elephant. Remember this was the '50s.

Over the course of the next two seasons, Corky manages to be more intelligent, sensitive and downright spunky than any of the adults around him, while practically single-handedly (if you don’t count the elephant) keeping the circus alive.

Thanks to televised Circus Boy, I was desperately intent on going to an actual show. But one evening of too much cotton candy and over-salted peanuts set me straight. A future as elephant water boy -- however glamorous -- was not in the cards for me.

Still, as a parent, I was not about to deny my daughters a view of the big top when it rolled into town. But one night together under the tent and I'd learned one of them was afraid of clowns; another inordinately interested in elephant poop; and the third spent the entire evening begging for over-priced junk.

Yet, a bit of the circus boy remains buried in my heart. I'm a grandfather now, and I've looked forward to introducing my grandson to the “Greatest Show on Earth,” hoping he might realize the magnificence of a country in which the lowliest of birth can one day grow up to be an elephant water boy.

But time is running short --- unless Ringling Brothers needs to hire a three year old from now till the end of the May.

When the Ringmaster dowses the lights for the final time, Circus boy Micky Dolenz will have just turned 72. And this Circus Boy -- now all grown up -- will feel much, much older.

Commentator Robert Chipkin lives and writes in Springfield, Massachusetts.