Friday, May 11, 2012

The Pickle Family Circus at San Lorenzo Park

Cirque du Soleil Hippy-Style

It was always an adventure in a hippy fairy tale land when The Pickle Family Circus set-up camp in the San Lorenzo Park near downtown Santa Cruz.  I was too young to really know that they did anything other than visit Santa Cruz from time to time, as they seemed like a gang of merry pranksters to me.  I have since learned that they were a local San Francisco bay area circus that was founded in 1974, who later influenced the creation of none other than Montreal's Cirque du Soleil -- now quite famous for the many venues in Las Vegas!

To us children, it really wasn't a circus. It was an exciting adventure that revolved around jugglers, clowns, music, and many many people. The park was full of people, dancing around, shopping at the various stalls of beaded necklaces, and that familiar smokey smell of 1970s Santa Cruz herb. 

The circus didn't have lions, tigers, and other animals parading around. It was very people-centric, with the jugglers working out in the crowd, passing things like flaming torches to each other as we all sat around their feet. The close confines and personal danger all were part of the intimate closeness we felt to the performers, and how we felt part of all the fun and gayety.  It makes sense that Juggling is what I remember best, as in the late 1970s, that was their roots.  The Pickle Family Jugglers were originally part of the San Francisco Mime Troupe before splitting off to start a circus. 

The circus also had some clowns that worked the crowd, making special interuptions during the shows, and otherwise bothering everyone to the great delight of all the children!  Originally there were three clowns: Larry Pisoni, Bill Irwin, and Geoff Hoyle. Bill Irwin left in 1979, and after that Pisoni and Hoyle worked as a duo.
In the 1980 movie, Popeye, starring Robin Williams, members of the Pickle Family Circus appeared. Bill Irwin played "Ham Gravy", Larry Pisoni was "Chico", Geoff Hoyle portrayed "Scoop", and Peggy Snider ended up playing "Pickelina". Members of the troupe also were in the James Bond move, Octopussy, which had a sub-plot that involved a circus and juggling.

The Pickle Family Circus is now a part of San Francisco's Circus Center, and you can see The New Pickle Circus every December in San Francisco, and also in other special events at other  times.

Accompanying Commotion

As the official Pickle Family Circus itself only occupied one book-end of the park with its stage and set-up, the rest of the park was filled with vendors, crafts, food, paint, and musicians.  The one my sister and I remember best was a rag-time banjo player who played about three different songs. We sat there and watched him, filling in a wide circle of children sitting on the grass at his feet. He kept strumming, and we kept listening. The songs filled out memories, and I can still sing them to this day:

Hello My Baby, Hello My Honey 

"Hello! Ma Baby" is from 1899, written by Joseph E. Howard and Ida Emerson
Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal.
Send me a kiss by wire. Baby my heart's on fire.
If you refuse me, honey you'll loose me, then you'll be left alone.
Oh baby, telephone and tell me I'm your own!

You Can Roll a Silver Dollar

"Silver Dollar" was originally written by Alfred Williams around 1907 as "A Man Without A Woman"
Well you can roll a silver dollar, down upon the ground,
and it will roll, because it's round..
a woman never knows what a good man she's got,
until she turns him down...
listen my honey, now listen to me,
I hope you understand, that while a silver dollar travels, from hand to hand,
a pretty woman goes from man to man
(I tell you baby)
a woman goes from man to man...

Put Another Nickel In The Nickelodeon

"Music! Music! Music!" was written in 1949 by Stephen Weiss and Bernie Baum. It was a #1 hit song in 1950 as sung by Teresa Brewer.
Put another nickle in, 
In the Nickelodeon.   
All I want is love and you and music... music..

I'll do anything for you,
anything you want me to,
all I want is love and you and music...

my dear, come closer,
my dear, it's like that old time memory,
when you're dancing close to me,

Put another nickel in, in the Nickelodeon,
All I was is loving you and music, music, money, music...