Saturday, March 07, 2009

PAUL WENZEL: Grennsboro, NC (1968)

Scan courtesy of Greg DeSanto


Anonymous said...

And yet, he was back on the show by New York that year, if memory serves--at the latest, the Louisville stand for sure. Jack Ryan might know better than I...

"Professor" Wenzel was an incredible, powerfully enegmatic figure to me my first year on the show. To me he was living history: He embodied the world of "trouping,"--where performers were self-reliant and self-contained, meticulous with their props and completely subserviant to the demands of the performance.

(That "The Professor" was, indeed, a "trouper" was confirmed for me late one night when he, the most taciturn of old men, sat for about two hours at a table in the pie car and told me of his early life in "the show biz.")

Naturally, the younger guys on the show (none of them clowns) made fun of him because of his age and the slow, stately way he moved along the track; his aloof demeanor only intensified their condescention.

His veteran colleagues--troupers themselves--respected his distance. Most of them knew that, if Professor was a remote, solitary figure, he came by it honestly through hard experience.

Bobby Kaye told me the story, known to everyone by now, I suppose, of how "The Professor" had beem ostrasized from the comaraderie of the Alley by Paul Jung years before.

According to Bobby, he kept his job thanks to his skills as master prop maker working in foam rubber and wire sculpture. But his solitude outlasted Jung and his did The Professor himself.

Consistently precise and punctual, he adhered to circus tradition that was even then fraying: He was always ready and waiting in the back door one full number before his entrance.

This fidelity to tradition was even more impressive given that he dozed through most of the show on a lawn chair he carried in his prop trunk!

How deep the sleep was I could never tell, for, exactally three numbers before his entrance, his eyes would suddenly pop open and he would get up, slowly and deliberately put on his wig and jacket, go to his trunk, get his prop, and take up his post at the curtain.

Did he hear the music through the fog of aleep? Was he so attuned to the rhythm of the show that he automatically adapted the circus's timing as his own?

I could never figure it out...

He just impressed the hell out of me is all, and it was an honor to have worked with him.

--Michael Karp

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for sharing your time with the "Professor". It is exactly that kind of oral history that is lacking from our profession. And to come from someone who worked alongside him makes it so valuable. I remember asking Lou and Mark Anthony and Duane Thorpe about some of these older clowns and while I got a few stories, it always seem to just scratch the surface of what was an incredible, rich history of amercian circus clowning.


Anonymous said...

Please, record this. Write your memories down. Speak them into a recording device. Tell them to someone who will do that for you.


We need to remember. We need to learn and never forget the faces, the places, the past.