The Circus Ring of Fame inducted its newest members at its 28th annual induction ceremony Sunday, on St. Armands Circle. Inductees are individuals who have played an important role in circus history.
New inductees are H.S.H. the Prince Rainier III of Monaco, the Del Moral Troupe, Fred Pfening Jr., Miguel Vazquez and Jacqueline Zerbini.
The Del Moral Troupe
The only group honored in this year’s Ring of Fame induction is the Del Moral Troupe, which starred in circuses from the late 1940s to the 1970s.
Original members Jorge Del Moral, Manuel Del Moral and Mavicha Pacheco-Atayde became well-known performers in their home country of Mexico and came to the U.S. in 1948 to join the Daily Bros. Circus. They then began performing with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the 1950s and 1960s.
Pacheco-Atayde was eventually succeeded by Martha “Monty” Kirklan from 1953 to 1965, followed by Manuel Del Moral’s youngest daughter, Carmen Del Moral, from 1965 to 1973.
The troupe was known for performing tricks with a high level of difficulty. The group’s most notable tricks were a one-arm handstand and head balance atop a perch pole, which were performed without a safety harness. Jorge Del Moral became notable for his trademark one-finger handstand.
The group performed for “The Ed Sullivan Show” and the Queen of England and was the halftime act for the Harlem Globetrotters in the 1970s.
“They received this award because of the longevity of the quality of the act they presented,” Henry Barragan, nephew of Jorge Del Moral, said. “They had such a high degree of difficulty yet made it look effortless.”
Prince Rainier III of Monaco
Prince Rainier III’s lifelong passion for the circus led him to create the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo in 1974. The festival is still held annually and is one of the most celebrated annual circus events worldwide.
Prince Rainier’s daughter, Princess Stephanie, carried on her father’s circus legacy and is the festival’s current president.
“My grandfather was passionate about the circus since he was young,” said Louis Ducruet, grandson of Prince Rainier and son of Princess Stephanie.
His family loved the circus so much that Ducruet, now 22, lived with a circus for two years when he was 8 and 9 years old.
The 39th International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo runs from Jan. 15 through Jan. 25. Twenty-five of the world’s top circus acts perform at the festival every year, and the Golden Clowns — the circus equivalent of the Academy Awards — are awarded there.
“We are a really, really close family, and I was very young when my grandfather left us,” said Ducruet, who accepted the award on his late grandfather’s behalf. “This is something really pleasant for me to present for my family.”
Miguel Vazquez proved the impossible to the circus world in 1981.
At the time, it was considered a feat to perfect a triple somersault in midair. Four somersaults — known as a quad — were considered impossible until Vazquez and his brother, Juan, successfully executed the trick Aug. 19, 1981. Vazquez was only 16 years old. He was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1982.
On July 10, 1982, the brothers performed the trick for the first time in front of a paying audience, and Vazquez later performed the quad for every major circus in the world.
Vazquez successfully executed the quad on 85% of his attempts, for a total of 2,987 times. He also received the prestigious Golden Clown award in 1990 at the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo.
“The Ring of Fame is a very big honor,” Vazquez said. “The people elected to be there are circus legends and the biggest artists to ever be in the circus industry. It’s something I will treasure for the rest of my life.”
A fear of heights has never been a problem for Jacqueline Zerbini.
“I have always loved heights,” Zerbini said. “For me, that was easy. I was always daring. When I was a kid I would always climb high up in the tree. My mom would always have a heart attack finding me. I was that kind of kid.”
As a trapeze artist, Zerbini was known for her exhilarating heel catches and a one-toe hang.
Born and raised in Paris, Zerbini came to the U.S. when she was 16 and appeared in the Mills Bros. Circus in the ’60s.
Her former husband, Tarzan Zerbini, was an animal trainer, and her love for the circus expanded to training eight species of animals, including 14 tigers and one lion.
“I was always helping my husband raise the babies, and I fell in love,” Zerbini said. “Lion babies are adorable, but I loved tigers best. They are very smart.”
Zerbini went on to perform in circuses around the world and had three daughters, who now all work in the circus industry.
“My biggest accomplishment is that I am lucky I did something I love to do,” Zerbini said. “When you enjoy doing something, it’s a thrill.”
Fred Pfening Jr.
Fred Pfening Jr. was not a circus performer, but what he did for the industry is just as important as any act: He preserved its history.
Pfening discovered his love for the circus in Sarasota during annual family vacations. When he was 11, he started a circus of his own in his backyard. He spent two summers during his high school years in the early 1940s working on circus shows and building his own model circus.
He started the Fred J. Mack Circus in 1955, which lasted only 13 weeks. It was then he decided to study and record the circus rather than work on one.
In 1958, Pfening became president of the Circus Historical Society and wrote more than 100 articles for the society’s journal, Bandwagon. He became editor and publisher of Bandwagon in 1961 and was in charge of 294 issues during his six-decade tenure. He retired in 2010, a few months before his death. He recorded more about the American circus industry than anyone else in history.
“He edited nearly 12,000 pages of circulation,” Pfening’s son, Fred Pfening III, said. “What we know about these famous circus performers is because it was published in Bandwagon. It’s what gave his life purpose and meaning.”