Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sealtest Big Top.1 - Cast (From Henry Penndorf)

Sealtest Big Top.1 - Cast, originally uploaded by bucklesw1.

Recently I was thinking about Saturday afternoons while I was growing up. There was a television show that was a regular part of our family's Saturday. That show was "Big Top". On Saturdays, lunch was my Dad's responsibility. Dad would make us all coppacola (a spicy Italian ham) and eggs on a wedge, then we would sit down and we would watch the show together.

My recollections of "Big Top" are vague at best. I do remember the opening though. The camera would focus on the shows logo and then the logo would move slowly upward until you would see the face of a clown. The "Big Top" logo was printed on the top of the clown's head. I also seem to remember that the ringmaster would call to the circus band leader, ! "Mr. Brasile, if you will". or something to that effect, to star t the show or introduce an act.

I did a "Google" search for "Big Top". I didn't find a whole lot of information about the show, but I did find some. The majority of the information and pictures that I found came from two sources, the web sites for the Broadcast Pioneers Of Philadelphia (www.broadcastpioneers.com/bigtop.html), and for Dan Lurie (www.danlurie.com/). Mr. Lurie was the circus strongman. Another source that offered some information was IMDB, the Internet Movie Data Base (www.imdb.com/title/tt0042082/).

Here is some of what I learned...

"Big Top" first aired on July 1, 1950. It was broadcast by WCAU-TV, Channel 10 in Philadelphia. The show was sixty mi! nutes long and aired live. After its first few months on television, "Big Top" settled into its familiar Saturday afternoon slot from 12:00-1:00 P. M. In 1953, CBS began to air "Big Top" nationwide. It was sponsored by Sealtest , a dairy company. "Big Top's" audience was usually made up of Boy and Girl Scouts from the Philadelphia area. The show featured a live fifteen piece circus band under the direction of Joe Brasile, "The Brass King". I am not completely clear on this, but Hunt Brothers Circus may have been responsible with supplying the "Big Top" with some or all of its circus acts.

"Big Top" had a core cast consisting of seven regulars...

Bob Russell (Circus Barker)
Jack Sterling (Ringmaster) - a well known radio personality and actor
Dan Lurie (Circus Strongman) - he finished second overall in the Mr. America competition in 1942, 1943, & 1944
Ed McMahon (Clown) - he later became famous as Johnny Carson's straight man
Chris Keegan (Clown)
Barbera Cubberly (Majorette)

For Christmas Day in 1953, "Big Top presented a special one hour performance. The show aired live from 3:00-4:00 P. M. On that show among other acts were Professor George Keller with his cage act, The Coronas (a high wire act), the Quaker City String Band, and a special appearance by Santa Claus.

"Big Top" was nominated for two Emmy awards in 1953, and 1954 for "Best Children's Program". "Big Top's" last show was in September 1957. During its run, "Big Top" presented over 2100 circus acts.
Here is the Sealtest "Big Top" Song/Jingle...

Now's the time to have some fun
Lots of thrills for everyone
Beneath the Sealtest Big Top

Clowns and acrob! ats are here
Daring feats that you will cheer
And Sealtest Ice Cream too!

While doing my "Google" search, I found on "You Tube" a full length video of a "Big Top" show that aired in 1950. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6o_h1b4g0U)

Also on "You Tube" I found a video for "Kelloggs Super Circus" from 1956. "Super Circus" was hosted by Claude Kerschner, and assisted by Mary Hartline. I don't remember that show at all.

Both the "Big Top" and Super Circus" videos can be downloaded fro! m the "You Tube" web site.

It has been quite a while since any circus, other then Cirque du Soleil, has appeared on television. I miss them. I would look forward to the highlights of the Ringling Brother Circus being televised each spring. There was also the occasional circus special, like the Moscow State Circus, to look forward to. I guess we have become too politically correct.

A recent posting on the Internet said that NBC is readying a circus themed show for this summer based on a highly rated European circus reality show featuring competition among celebrities. There are also rumors that ABC wants to bring back "Circus of the Stars".

Maybe hearing the names, "Big Top", and "Super Circus" after so many years will pique the interest of some of Blog's readers. Perhaps they have a memory of one of the shows or pictures they would care to share. I welcome any corrections or additions to the information that I have found. I am always anxious to learn more.

Take Care,



Bob Karczewski said...

I remember watching the Sealtest Big Top when I was a kid. I recently watched part of the You Tube one hour show, but didn't know you could down load it. I have always watched anything that is about the circus or the different circus shows that have been shown on television over the years. Don Ameche used to host a circus show on television that was pretty good.
I will have to check out some of the other websites you mentioned.
Buckles you really need to do a book about the Woodcock family history working with elephants. With all of the wonderful pictures you have, your Dad's comments on the pictures from his days with elephants and your memories, it would be a best seller and it does need to be put down on paper. I would buy the book in a heart beat and I am sure others will concur.

Bill Hall said...

Henry's comments recalled our many watchings of the Sealtest Big Top, staged for many years at a Pennsylvania Army National Guard Armory, 32d St. & Lancaster Av., Phila., PA. We vaguely recall a fire affecting the venue site, which may, at one time, having been a Camden, NJ, Armory. Bandmaster was "Mr. 5 by 5 Joe Basile," also band leader for national Hamid-Morton Shrine Circus tour, & brother of Charley Basile, who later became Hamid-Morton announcer/ringmaster. Producer Chales Vanda sometimes booked acts, that included Hunt Bros. Circus (based at Florence, NJ) Elephants directed by Roy Bush. Frequently seen was youngster Marsha Hunt(Harry Hunt's daughter) with her young Asian elephant, "Chandra" (we think that was the name -- perhaps Buckles can help on this tidbit). Lineup generally included quality acts, such as high wireist Josephine Berosini, the 4 Arrigone Sisters (aerial gymnasts), Arab acrobatic troupes, big cage acts... Amomg regular clowns was "Big Bill" Hart, seen in Henry's pictures 2 & 3. Hope this info is enlightening, Henry. -- Bill Hall

Jimmy Cole said...

Henry, Thank you for putting these photos on of Sealtest Big Top. I never missed it when I was a kid. So far I have only been able to unearth one episode on Video, it has the Flying Zacchinis on it.

Other '50s TV shows that featured Circus were "Super Circus", "Mickey Mouse Club (Thursdays)" and "Circus Boy". Those I have several episodes on both VHS and DVD.

I think that those TV shows were somewhat responsible for my being the circus fan I am today.

Jimmy Cole

David said...

The TV series I remember growing up in the late 1950's was "Circus Boy." It centered around a mudshow that traveled from town to town at night, the boy riding his elephant.

Bud said...

Yes Henry ,
I to remember the " Big Top " Show - this photo brings back familar recolections of these Charactors but in COLOR makes it a bit odd to see .

Another Show I have always been courious about is " Tim Tyler & his Jungle Cruser " a brief Exciting Adventure TV Series also in the 1950s .

Bob Cline said...

I just barely remember watching Circus Boy each morning before the school bus came along. I can't even tell you what it was about. I do remember the 1960's TV series the "Greatest Show on Earth" a lot more.

Anonymous said...

Bob, You must have been watching the re-runs of Circus Boy. It was on Saturdays CBS TV from 1956 - 1958

johnny said...

During that time it was Sealtest BIG TOP or CANDY CARNIVAL in the east coast and from Chicago Mary Hartline and Claude with SUPER CIRCUS. I played it with the Cole Bros. elephants.

Hal Guyon said...

I remember watching all of the shows. Circus Boy, I remember had some of the old parade wagons that are now at CWM. I`m 59 years old and these show were a big part of my childhood. With my Dad being a big circus fan I remember him watching them with me also. Bob, I also remember The GSOE TV show in the 60`s with Jack Palance. These were some great times.

Hal Guyon

Wade G. Burck said...

Henry Penndorf,
Cappocola and egg's sound delicious. Never thought of that combination before. What is a "wedge?" Let me know so I can eat. I'm hungry.
Wade Burck

Wade G. Burck said...

As it appears a bunch of old bastards,(as I was tagged before the British exodus back to Europe) are enjoying a stroll down "memory lane", let this old bastard say thank you for making me aware. As told before, I didn't have much interest in the circus, and wasn't really aware of it, until I was 18 and Gunther and the GSOE smacked me right between the eyes. My "Ace" back in my childhood was Roy Rogers, as we didn't get many highline New York show's in North Dakota. How many "children" of tomorrow, will recall Transformers with the same fondness you gentlemen have, or suggest that Darth Vader had an impact on their life and how they think. That's enough for me. I have to sit down and rest, so I can make it back home later.
Wade Burck

Mike Naughton said...


My family emigrated from Ireland and my father owned a deli/grocery store in The Bronx, where myself and my siblings worked our way through school.

In the general NYC area a HERO is a sandwich made on a long Italian Bread.

In certain parts of Westchester County (where I went to high school) the HERO becomes a WEDGE.

In Connecticut, near Groton, the submarine building capital, the long Italian sandwich became known as a "submarine sandwich" then shortened to a "sub".

In the Philadelphia area this same sandwich picked up the moniker of "hoagie", I don't know the reason.

When Nora and I were married I didn't know how to make tuna salad in quantites less than 7 pounds. Our deli recipe was completely by sight and feel, a little art and a little science.

Since I couldn't make tuna salad in small quantities I would make several pounds at a time and give the leftovers to all the neighbors. Similar to your neighbor who has a bumper crop of zucchini in the summertime.

My most favorite hero is: Roast Pork (fresh ham) with mayo and extra pepper.

By the way...it is called MAYO-naise and not MAN-aise.

GaryHill said...

Wade, I remember Sat. morning TV watching my Heros "Tarzan Rogers"! Between Johnny Weissmuller and Roy Rogers, they combined to make my greatest Hero back then! Now days Buckles has that spot!

Anonymous said...

Mike, if you go up to the Hartford/Springfield area, its a grinder. Anyone for a frappe? Or an Awful-Awful (awful big, awful good)?
Dick Flint
transplanted New Englander

Anonymous said...

wasnt there friday nights a circus show name internationl show time or something on that line where European shows always appear ? Don ameche was the host . CleanRaul

Wade G. Burck said...

I feel the same way about your hero today. It's because we don't hold them up to the same high standard's and we expect that they are not perfect. JAJ
In hind sight, now that you are older, you have to admit Roy looked more courageous, while remaining dapper, in his Nudie fringed shirt's, with his Al Sheldon white eagle boot's, with the Garcia spur's with the 3 1/2 in., 24 point rowels complete with jingle bobs, ensembled with the Bolin saddle, and matching Voit sterling silver pistol bit with matching concho headstall that the greatest horse that ever lived wore, then Weissmuller ever looked in that candy leopard skin dress. And shooting a gun out of somebody hand off a galloping horse, at 200 yard's will trump banging your chest and screaming any day.
Your friend,
Wade Burck

P.S. I hope this will get Henry Edgar off GGW's and my back. He may not know it, but I have had more then one love in my life. Who do you think inspired the Blue golden eagle costume for the 1984-85 tour, Henry.

Hyde Mann said...

Here's a video of The Sealtest Circus on YouTube. It seems a tad corny in retrospect, but compared to today when the circus is all but invisable on TV, it's good to remember when the circus had such a big presense in everyday life.


24-HOUR-MAN said...

Bill Hall:
Actually Charley Basile was Joe's nephew, and in addition to Big Top, & Hamid-Morton, Joe was the bandleader, & Charley played in the band in the Free Circus at Olympic Park, in Irvington, N.J.

Candy Carnival, was a talent show out of Philadelphia, the name was later changed to Contest Carnival.
In the early '50's I did a Tumbling Act with two other guys & we went to Columbus & auditioned for the show, were accepted, & went to Philly, and won. The guy who conducted the audition was Ray Beaudet.

24-HOUR-MAN said...

Right by the old building in Providence I remember a little sandwich shop where we got the same type sandwich, I seem to remember it being called a "Grinder". What do you say Mr. Cole?

Mike Naughton said...

Dick and Bill,

OH YES Grinders! I forgot all about them.

Our deli was opposite MANHATTAN COLLEGE and in late August when the new/returning college students started their semester we would get a flood of "newly arrived" from all over the country who would use their hometown name for ordering their "hero".

It was a different time, a more innocent world, (1960-79) so instead of correcting the fresh-faced freshman's about the NYC lingo we would confirm their order in the manner in which they ordered, "hoagie" "wedge" "sub" "grinder" or whatever.

My father's theory was don't stress them out about a sandwich' name, these kids are in THE big city and they're nervous enough.


My uncle had his veterinarian practice about 20 minutes from the Big E. As kids we would spend time away from NYC in Mass where, in the 60's, we experienced McDonalds for the first time. I thought a joint that didn't let you order EXACTLY what you wanted on your hamburger (mandatory ketchup AND mustard) wasn't much of a business, I was 9.

I still smile when I visit Friendly's and I see "frappe" on the menu.

Our deli was just down Broadway from where Big Apple played in the Bronx. By that time I had already blown the lot (family home). Since my family would shudder and physically go pale upon hearing the word "CIRCUS" they were horrified to learn that a "CIRCUS" was playing the neighborhood.

One relative said to me, in a half voice, "There's...a....circus...in...Van Cortlandt Park..."

My response, "You should go to the circus EVERYDAY and you won't be so nervous. When you do please say hello to Mr. Woodcock and his elephant, Anna May."

Dim-witted relative, "They have names?" (refering to Anna Mae)

Me, "Of course they have names, how do you think Mrs. Woodcock tells Mr. Woodcock that dinner is ready?"

rim-shot...I'm here thru Sunday, two shows a night, don't forget to tip your waitress.


Mike Naughton said...

Friday nights it was INTERNATIONAL SHOWTIME with Don Ameche.

Bill Hall would be able to shed more light on this one.

I believe Joe or Gilbert Cates was involved, who later brought us Great Circuses of the World.

Bill...please fill us in.

A thrill for me was to have watched INTERNATIONAL SHOWTIME as a child and then work with some of the acts when I came into the

If you are ever going over the road and come by a CRACKER BARREL restaurant, look for those old radio show tapes. THE BICKERSONS with Don Ameche and Frances Langford are worth purchasing.

Jimmy Cole said...

Yes, starting in 1960 or '61 "International Showtime" was on TV each Friday evening. It featured Don Amechee as it's host and featured circuses through out Europe. From what I understand, the entire film collection of that TV show was donated to the Circus Hall of Fame when it was in Sarasota. When that CHoF got sold to Mr. John Zweffle, then re-sold to Peru, I'm not sure if those films were included in the high dollar transaction.

Jimmy Cole

Anonymous said...

Mike, I seem to remember Bert Parks being the host of that show too? I can still hear him announce Tarus Buuuuuulba! he always exagerated the vowls in some of the names. ???? Mr. Lee

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lee:
The Bert Parks' hosted Circus TV show was much later in the 1970's, same format, but with contemporary European Acts. I think it lasted only two seasons, but I certainly remember watching it when I was still in high school. I remember one episode where a female trainer in a cage act lost control and had to leave the cage, while fire hoses were turned on the cats from outside the cage. I can't remember if she was working with lions or tigers, but Mr. Parks' commentary was pretty wild! I also remember seeing Lily Yokoi's (Spelling?) Bicycle Act on the show and what an amazing act it was! She was a bit older than most performers featured, but what a superb performance! She was working on her gold (plated) bicycle with such ease, it made you want to go out and try it on your own bike!
Neil Cockerline

Anonymous said...


Giovani said...



A wonderful friend who works at Semmes library, here in San Antonio, Texas. We're both from the New York area, not far from Manhattan College mentioned in another comment, here.

I'm not of the generation that spawned BIG TOP, but she (Julie) and I were swapping remeniscences, which is when she introduced me to SEALTEST BIG TOP

Being a fan of related things (the original MICKEY MOUSE CLUB, for example), I found what little was on YouTube fascinating! She'll be so happy to see the color photograph! :O)

&, yes, I always had fun comparing the different names for wedges, as we mostly called them in Yonkers. We would also sometimes say hero.

Thanks for sharing all this info! :D

Sunshine & Blessings,