Tuesday, May 26, 2009

IN MEMORIAM: Tim Holst (October 9, 1947 - April 16, 2009)

Some very nice tribute videos were posted to YouTube over the weekend. Since clownalley.net was down when Tim passed it's time that we honor him here in "The Alley"...

From the New York Times

Timothy J. Holst, Who Filled Circus Big Top With Talent, Dies at 61

Published: April 22, 2009

Timothy J. Holst, who joined the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus as a lowly Keystone Kops clown, rose to the role of singing ringmaster and ultimately became the show’s talent czar, died April 16 in São Paulo, Brazil, during a visit to sign up circus acts. He was 61.

He died in a hospital there after a short illness, said a circus spokesman, Stephen Payne.

Mr. Holst, whose official title was vice president for talent and production, circled the planet for more than two decades signing performers from star clowns to trapeze hair-hangers. He was fluent in Spanish and Swedish and spoke passable Russian, Mandarin, French and Portuguese. He recently calculated that he had visited 164 countries.

“He was the ambassador to the world for the Greatest Show on Earth,” said Kenneth Feld, Ringling’s owner and chief executive. “And for the performers, he was the one who introduced them to American society. He became involved in these families’ lives at every step of the way.”

Since 1986 Mr. Holst “was responsible for the careers and livelihoods of more than 3,000 people, and since so many of them paired off, there are countless marriages to his credit, and the children that came from that,” said Nicole Feld, Mr. Feld’s daughter, the executive vice president of Feld Entertainment.

William B. Hall III, an independent circus consultant and producer in Churchville, Pa., said: “It was under Tim’s watch that Ringling began making deals with Communist countries to sign performers and acts. A lot of those countries were still closed, so he was an integral part of breaking down Iron Curtain barriers for cultural exchanges.”

Though Mr. Holst prided himself on his ubiquity, even he was teased by his circus peers when he turned up in the Jan. 20, 1992, issue of The New Yorker, in a “Reporter at Large” article describing an exotic trek to Mongolia.

The writer, Fred C. Shapiro, quoted a Western diplomat who recalled being “welcomed in a gher near the Gobi Desert,” referring to a herdsman’s tent. The diplomat added that “we were far away from any road, and I asked the shepherd if we were the first foreigners he had ever received. ‘The second,’ he said, and he showed me a card left by the first — a scout from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, who had been there a few months before.”

Mr. Holst was born in Galesburg, Ill., on Oct. 9, 1947. His father was a letter carrier, his mother a registered nurse. “Growing up amid the cornfields of Illinois,” he once said, “I never dreamed of ever leaving the United States, let alone traveling all over the world.”

Before proselytizing for the circus, Mr. Holst spent two and a half years as a missionary in Sweden for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which he was a lifelong member. He also studied drama at Ricks College and later at Utah State University.

Mr. Holst began doing stand-up comedy in college, and while performing in Butte, Mont., the future talent finder was himself discovered by a Ringling talent scout, who offered him a 1971 berth at Clown College, the Ringling school in Venice, Fla.

In 1972 Mr. Holst performed as an Auguste clown, with red nose and exaggerated features, recalled Steve Smith, a 1971 classmate who years later became director of Clown College. Mr. Holst’s star turn was as the hapless flatfoot in the clown-car routine. He donned a long blue coat and an enormous police badge and blew a whistle helplessly though frenziedly as he chased a jalopy crammed full of 20 clowns around the ring.

After performing with the Blue Unit, one of Ringling’s two traveling shows, Mr. Holst became a ringmaster for both units and eventually performance director of the Red Unit.

Mr. Feld headed the talent-finding operation for his father, Irvin, then the circus’s owner. But he had to focus on running the company after his father died in 1984, so he groomed Mr. Holst as the new scout. After his decades on the road, Mr. Holst had in recent years been grooming Ms. Feld as a talent scout.

Mr. Holst lived in the circus community of Sarasota, Fla. His two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his daughters Megan, of Marblehead, Mass., and Adrienne, of Dallas; a son, Matthew, also of Dallas; a brother, Thomas, of Luanda, Angola; a sister, Sandra Cordon of Salt Lake City; and a grandson.

A portly man of deceptive agility, perseverance and physical strength, Mr. Holst tirelessly hefted commodious traveling bags full of gifts. “If the matriarch of a circus family needed a certain kind of fabric to make a costume,” Mr. Smith said, “Tim would carry it halfway around the world for her.” 

Video courtesy of Matthew Holst

Photo courtesy of Toby Ballantine


Anonymous said...

It's still hard to believe that Tim Holst is gone.


Anonymous said...

I was at the auditions here in chicago in november and they had invited us to watch the show after,I introduced to him to my father he was very nice to him and courteous,and to me the few hours that i was there auditoning he was very buisness and corporate man but a very nice one and someone who lived and breathed the circus life see you down the road Rob N.... and thank you for being kind to my fathere and me...

Barry said...

The video was put together by one of the video guys at Palmetto. David Killinger found the audio tape of Tim doing the opening announcement for the 105th in the music archives. Most of the video footage is from a documentary about rehearsals for the 113th in 1983. Tim was the Performance Director for that particular show so he is featured quite prominently thoughout in a lot of great candid footage with Irvin Feld, Kenneth Feld, Don Foote and some fantastic footage of clown rehearsals from that year. That video footage drew a lot of smiles and laughter at Tim's memorial service and it seemed like most of those in attendance had never seen it before. I'm glad the family was able to share it with those that weren't able to attend.