In Sondheim’s signature song from “A Little Night Music,” the singer reflectively adds to the lyrics “Send in the clowns … don’t bother they’re here.” I can identify with that each time I glance at the vintage Russell Brothers Circus poster on my wall.
It’s a reminder of one of the missed opportunities of earlier years in Fort Lauderdale where, for a time, my father operated the only shoe store. In the pre–World War II days, before air conditioning, Fort Lauderdale’s tourism business was moribund from Easter to Thanksgiving, so Dad wisely hired extra salesmen for the November-April period. One was Francis Kitzman, who would depart at the end of tourist season for his other job as an “advance man” with Russell Brothers, based in Baraboo, Wis.
The year of my 15th summer he invited me to join him touring the Midwest, offering “all expenses and perhaps three or four dollars a week,” explaining that his job as an advance man consisted of moving two weeks ahead of the circus, installing posters and passing out free tickets to local newspapers and radio stations, and otherwise promoting the circus.
Probably, some alluring local maiden trumped the lure of the circus life for this 15-year-old, and I declined — a decision I’ve regretted for my 67 years in the PR arena.
The profession loftily called “public relations” had its roots with circus advance men and press agents, the first of whom historically was hired by P.T. Barnum in the mid-1800s.
But occasionally life offers a second chance. When we were engaged in 1989 by Carnival Cruise Lines — whom NewmanPR has represented for almost 24 years — to orchestrate the inauguration of its first mega-ship, m/s Fantasy, we suggested holding a shoreside carnival on the MacArthur Causeway opposite Port Of Miami, to hype the ship’s arrival. It became what Carnival CEO Micky Arison labeled “Stuart’s Carnival,” and I savored the pent-up joy of recruiting Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, an organ grinder, cotton candy and popcorn vendors, clowns and even a vintage calliope, among other circus trappings.
Happily the free event drew an overflow crowd as well as drawing significant added attention for the new cruise liner. Equally rewarding was my role as a successful circus promoter, if only for a day.