From performers to owners, this year's inductees shaped the circus world in their own ways.
When you say circus in Sarasota, you’re saying Ringling. And when you say Ringling, you really have said it all.
It is fitting, then, that the majority of this year’s class of inductees into the Circus Ring of Fame have a direct link to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which is synonymous with Sarasota.
This year’s induction ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 14. at St. Armands Circle Park. A circus concert band will perform at 1:15 p.m.
The six inductees are Reggie Armor, Allan Bloom, Henry Ringling North, Dora Foster, the Pedrolas and Starless Night, an equine star.
Even though Reggie Armor didn’t start flying until he was 28, it was his true love in the circus universe.
Armor was born in Santa Monica, Calif., in 1929 and grew up on Muscle Beach. At 22, he joined the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus as a trampoline and teeterboard performer. When he was 28, he found the trapeze, and became one of the few trapeze artists who would master triple full-twisting somersault. Throughout his career, he traveled with a number of circuses, including the Shriner Circus, and appeared on several television shows.
“It’s an incredible honor for my family as well as my children,” Armor’s daughter, SaSa, said. “For me, it just kind of marks his immortality in a way that we weren’t expecting.”
Armor said her father felt fortunate to have found his niche early in life. She said it was obvious how much he adored performing. All you had to do was watch him.
“I think that’s what marks all really great performances — that transformation extends to the audience,” she said. “They feel like they’re being performed to.”
He retired from the circus in 1978 and died in 2010.
Henry Ringling North
Henry Ringling North was the nephew of circus founder John Ringling, so it was only natural his life would revolve around the circus.
North was vice president of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey from 1938 to 1967. During his time in that role, the circus moved from using buses and trucks to railroads, expanded its performed sites and acquired more animals. North also is credited with naming Gargantua, a captive gorilla.
“It was just the greatest show on Earth,” said Lamar Matthews, an old friend of North.
The circus for Ringling North was more than the performances. It was family. He was instrumental in bringing John and Mable Ringling’s remains back to Sarasota from New Jersey in 1989. They, and North’s mother, Ida Ringling North, are buried in front of Ca d’Zan on the grounds of the Ringling Museum.
Even after he retired, North returned annually to Sarasota to celebrate his birthday and visit with his circus family.
“So he was always around, he loved the circus,” Matthews said. “It’s like in your blood.”
It didn’t matter if it was a Thursday morning performance or a sold out Saturday night show, Allen Bloom had a mission.
“That mission was to fill seats,” said Bill Powell, a mentee and employee of Bloom. “He wanted to make sure that those performers had an audience.”
Bloom had a passion for creating an audience. From 1967 to about 1995, Bloom served as a top executive of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey and Feld Entertainment. Throughout those years, the circus doubled in size, and Disney on Ice, then known at Walt Disney’s World on Ice, was absorbed into Feld Entertainment. As a boss, Bloom could be demanding, but only because he saw potential in his employees. He wanted them to be their best, Powell said.
“It was really about the passion he brought, the ability to never give up, to turn over every stone,” he said. “When you thought you did your best, you really needed to go back and do more.”
Before joining Ringling and Feld, Bloom worked for music promoter Irvin Feld.
“He had the greatest respect for the smallest person and organization, and I think that was the greatest thing about Allen, was the humanity,” Powell said.
Dora ‘Rogana’ Foster
With a dagger between her lips, a sword balancing on the tip and a tray of cranberry juice-filled glasses atop the sword, Dora Foster, known as Rogana, ascended a swaying ladder for most of her circus days.
Foster began performing in the circus when she was 6 with her sisters, who made the rolling globes act a phenomenon. They appeared in Germany and Tom Arnold’s circus at the Harringay Arena in England. In 1961, Rogana made her debut at the Bertram Mills’ tent show and toured with the group until 1963. Later, she and her husband left the Mills group to travel the world with her sword-and-dagger balancing act. While Foster doesn’t like to toot her own horn, the circus life was in her blood. She has no single favorite part. She said you have to like it all in that environment.
“... You can only be good if you like what you’re doing,” Foster said. “It doesn’t matter if you come into the ring or onto the stage, you are there and you have to enjoy everything.”
At the age of 6, Dagmar Mootz Beavers debuted as the youngest wire walker alongside her parents, Rudolf Mootz and Gerda Meyer. Together, the three formed the Pedrolas Troupe.
The family performed a complete show with a contortionist, musical clowns, high and low wires, an aerial cradle and slide for life. The standouts of the show were the cradle act, the loop-de-loop and the wire comedy act, all done by Rudolf and Gerda.
For the family, the circus was a lifestyle. The family performed in shows in Norway, Denmark and Austria before coming to the U.S. in 1958 for the Mills Brother Circus. Beavers remembers the trailer her father built the family and practicing her wire act outside while listening to Carlos Santana.
As for where the Pedrola name came from, Beavers said her father invented the name that evolved from his self-proclaimed nickname.
“Well, my father loved everything Mexican. He kind of fancied himself a Mexican cowboy,” Beavers said. “Early in life, he gave himself the nickname Pedro.”
Like many circus animals, Starless Night was a staple for many seasons in various circuses and fairs.
The Saddlebred mare was trained and presented by Capt. William Heyer. He bought the mare when she was 2 years old, and three months later, the duo performed at Radio City Music Hall.
Throughout her life, Starless Night was shown in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the parade movie “The Greatest Show on Earth” and other shows and movies. She performed side passes, cantering, lead changes, high trots and piaffes.
Cindy Herriott Wells, whose father, John Herriott, was also a horse trainer and poet who wrote about Starless Night and Heyer and other circus acts, said it’s important rider and horse click. And with Starless Night and Heyer, they did.
“It was just such a beautiful act, the two of them,” she said.
The circus ring made it possible for riders to balance better on galloping horses, so Herriot Wells said it’s an honor that a horse is being recognized for its achievements in the Circus Ring of Fame. Herriott Wells said most people who worked with high school dressage horses preferred stallions because mares have a different temperament.
“That’s not true to all,” she said, “because Starless Night was amazing, just a fantastic horse.”