The Many Faces of Jim Rose
By: Grainne Rhuad
As mentioned here before, I am a Ballyhoo Baby from birth. My parents met on the carnival circuit, I was conceived there and spent my first year touring with the midway. At least that’s one version of my beginnings, it’s the one I’m going to go with for this story, who knows how much or little is true; as mentioned my parent were carnies and could tell lies with the best.
When I was a kid one of my favorite movies was the highly politically incorrect (and un-sufferable) really movie: The Many Faces of Dr. Lao staring Tony Curtis. It is pretty awful in terms of being racist, bigoted and all around offensive. It doesn’t stop me watching it every chance I get though. Despite the fact that Curtis was cast as an Asian and had a horrid accent to boot, it is delightful to see him in his many disguises teaching carnival goers a lesson or two.
Jim Rose reminds me a bit of Dr. Lao. Not that he’s racist or bigoted; although I do suppose an argument could be made for him being offensive to some. The reason is, He has done just about everything in a circus and a carnival, reinvented it, sold sideshows to the masses when it was a dwindling industry and continues to change according to what the world is lacking in terms of freaks, geeks and busty ladies. (More on busty ladies later)
I love him.
So I was very excited when I received word in my inbox via press release that he would be hosting The London Burlesque Festival along with his lovely wife, Bébé, The Circus Queen. The festival runs for ten days in May, from the 10th to the 19the and is the largest festivals of its kind in the world. Over 100 performers will participate in the event this year.
Chaz Royal, producer of the event states:
“The London Burlesque Festival 2013 is without a doubt the world’s greatest festival of International Burlesque talent. It’s the biggest and most spectacular event of its kind. We are proud to have the best in Burlesque and Variety acts from around the globe for 2013 including special guest host Jim Rose of the famed Jim Rose Circus. LBF is set to raise the bar yet again with 10 evenings of signature showcases and old favourites, including a new daytime conference, informative workshops and boutique vendors fair. If Variety is the spice of life then LBF has all flavours, we guarantee it!”
And it sure looks like every flavor has shown up, here’s where the busty beauties come in. From tattooed ladies to classic fan dancers that would make Gypsy Rose Lee proud; everyone is represented here. There will be Hollywood Reviews, Gin and Jazz Burlesque, Sexy Sideshows, Circus Cabaret and even a “Boylesque” Review which sounds wicket awesome. You don’t see men doing burlesque often…or ever, anywhere else. The London Burlesque Festival audience is a mix of regular cabaret enthusiasts and curious newcomers, who appreciate the finest in burlesque performers as well as sheer glamour and tastefully risqué entertainment. The Festival helps develop the most talented new and established performers, right through from the avant-garde to erotic, sexy circus artists, novelty acts with classic and new strip tease, exposing them to an international stage and the acclaim of diverse audiences. The Festival is full of colour, panache, excitement and is simply the greatest showcase of International Burlesque talent on earth. For information on tickets and performers, visit their site @ http://londonburlesquefest.com/
In response to being asked to host the Festival Jim states, “I’m honored. That festival has grown in to the largest and most prestigious of its kind and being asked to host it is a real thrill. I can’t wait.”
Jim, the consummate busker-hukster and grand marquis, in all ways embodies the verve of the circus. It is his finely honed craft that brought freak shows and midways back into fashion for an entire generation and beyond and it is a testament to his own understanding of the fantastic that he is ever able to shift gears both to attract new audiences and keep old ones delighted and feeling as if the sideshow is brand new to them. If you were a complete virgin to the Jim Rose circus Jim would tell you to” expect to see the unexpected. Thrills, chills and doctor bills. A ticket’s good for a seat but you’ll only use the edge. It’s over-the top high-flying bone-jarring excitement. Not since Christians were fed to the lions has there been a show this hysterical.” He has a way with words, Jim does.
Like many of us, Jim Rose grew up in that particular form of American Christianity; fluid and ever changing to meet the arising needs and rebellion of family and young ones. It was this experience that helped lead him to understand that fluidity is really in play in most everyone’s life, that rules are made to be broken, so new ones can replace them.
So of course he ran away and joined the circus, which is a veryvery good thing. For those of us coming of age in the 90’s you most likely remember Jim Rose gracing the opening act of almost every Heavy Metal and Punk Rock review seen in the nation. He collected to him and highlighted acts like lifting heavy objects with penis piercings, Belly dancers who also ate glass and Naked transvestites Mexican wrestling beauties. Of whom he has this to say: “I’ve got one young lady whose measurements are 36-24-36 and that’s just one leg. You’ll feel the Earth shake when over 800 pounds of female flesh collide. We’ve got Tundra, Large Marge, Judy “The Bull Moose” Jenkins and Katie “The Pile Driver” Wilson tipping the scale at a dainty six hundred pounds… We’re also looking for full-figured ladies to challenge our world champions. I pay them by the pound. Their diet is pretty impressive, with lots and lots of hamburgers and rice. Mmmm…
But it all started at the local fairgrounds in Phoenix, AZ. “I lived across the street from the fairgrounds and went to all the traditional circuses, monster truck shows, motorcycle daredevils, freak shows and legitimate theater that came to town. My first job was at the fairgrounds, doing odd jobs like going around selling soft drinks. I fetched soft drinks and cigarettes for the Lobster Boy, the Penguin Boy, and the Frog Boy. I was doing that for awhile and then learned to do the human blockhead and learned how to be a motorcycle daredevil. That was my first real job, but I had a little motorcycle accident. I attempted to jump 27 cows and must have landed on some spent cud. I went a bit wobbly; I cleared the cows but still managed to crash. I hurt my back so that’s why when I speak to you today I have the posture of a jumbo shrimp.
“I kind of gave up on entertaining for a while: I attended the University of Arizona and studied political science, moved to Washington DC and dabbled in spoken word performances, played in punk bands and the like while working on fundraising events for social causes (as well as a stint in car sales). I used to perform at a place called D.C. Space that was back in the day of Henry Rollins and Fugazi, this was right about 1984-85. I was there when that happened; I didn’t break because I was not very good at that time, I only got started.
“At one of my shows I ran into a little French girl named Bebe who comes from a circus family in France. She has been my beloved wife for over 25 spectacular years. I was a heroin addict when we met, and she took me to France to kick, I did, and I began working with her family circus. She introduced me to the European tradition of circus spectacle, which inspired me to research it thoroughly. Her brother is the director of the Royal De Lure, the largest circus in Europe; one sister and her German husband have the Randalini circus, and I used to travel with them, going around the Lake of Constance. So I learned a great deal about circus stuff and freak shows at that time, I didn’t know too much about how to run a freak show. Because they had disappeared for about fifteen years. So I brought some of the American stunts over there and I picked up some Euro stunts, brought them back to the US. I then went to Venice beach where I worked as Jimmy the Geek Rubber Man; I got my presentation skills up doing seven shows a day, seven days a week as a street performer. That is how I made my money – fucking with tourists…
“Then I started the Jim Rose Circus and reintroduced American audiences to freak-show attractions in Seattle and it seemed like likeminded monsters sat up in their crypts and started auditioning. Things went so well in Seattle that we went down to Portland, OR and that sold out, and soon we were asked to tour Canada. We became so well known in Canada that we started getting calls to do TV shows and then things exploded. It all happened in about a 6 month period.”
What Jim wants everyone to know nowadays is there is no typical audience for his shows. Nor should there be. “You will see a biker next to a cowboy, next to a punk rocker, next to a University artist, next to a lesbian. And they are all pointing at the stage, laughing, and slapping each other on the back. I pretty much bring communities together. God’s work.”
God’s work indeed. Especially with this new adventure in Burlesque. How can it be other than God’s work when bringing people together to enjoy the lovely physique of womankind while erasing walls of class and social station?
As always, Jim Rose’s lovely wife will be joining him to host the Burlesque festival. Since the early ’90’s Bébé the Circus Queen (aka Béatrice Aschard-Rose) grew up in a circus family. All of her extended family members either own or perform in their own circus reviews. Of herself, she says, “I’m just a goofy French girl from the Loire Valley who decided to travel the world at a young age. I come from a large eclectic family (6 brothers and 3 sisters) that includes circus performers – my brother is a director and engineer for the amazing Royal de Luxe in France and my sister with her husband own the Randalini circus in Germany; fashion designers, etc…
I’m a circus performer and mixed media artist. I’m the happiest when I’m on stage or I’m making something. I can always make do with what I already have and see the possibilities.
Also over the years I have enjoyed doing home renovations from building wood stairs to mixed media mosaic backsplash and counter tops to painting and stenciling cement floors.
My favorite color is green. I’m a wife to a wonderful husband and “mother” of an adorable 3 year old papillon Pomeranian dog. I do what I love and love what I do…it’s cliché but true!”
She has performed a variety of stunts in the Jim Rose Circus such as having a watermelon placed on her back and split with a sword, lying on a bed of nails while heavy weights are dropped on her stomach (horizontal cannonball), the “Plastic Bag Of Death” where she gets into a large plastic bag and one of the other performers sucks all of the air out with a vacuum cleaner. In her act she also does the “kiss of death” with scorpions, and employs an electric grinder to create a shower of sparks from a metal chastity belt covering her groin area.
Bébé also sells sculptures on ETSY. These free standing whimsical sculptures are one-of-a-kind. They are handcrafted without the use of molds. Imperfections or irregularities are intentional. They’re made of fabric-paper maché with wire armature, upcycled fabric and paper. I sew and glue (with my own homemade paste) layers of different types of fabric and papers to create various textures. The fabric face is hand stitched and glass beads/sequin are added to the eyes. I embellish them with collage of vintage paper, transfers, jewelry pieces and whatever I have around. Most of them wear some sort of a crown and a clay heart. They are coated with a protective acrylic varnish. They are light but strong. Each piece is signed, dated and coded on the bottom. And of course they are collectible! Here is a link: http://www.etsy.com/shop/BebeTheCircusQueen
Currently working with paper, cloth, wire and acrylic paint, she sites as her artistic inspiration, “The best art teacher anyone could be proud of, and her name was Madame Canivez. She really influenced a lot of artists in my region in the 70’s. She’s long gone now and forgotten by most. But she lives on in my heart…I grew up in a large family and my parents didn’t have much money, so if we wanted something we had to make it. We recycled everything, and my older brothers and sisters were very crafty so they taught me a lot about how to re-use materials. My mom knitted and has sewn most of our clothes so I learned that too. My other influence was my older sister Marie, who also was one of Madame Canivez student. She was always doing something artsy: drawing, painting and sewing. She’s now a fashion designer in France. She still encourages me to express myself artistically.”
To aspiring circus freaks, geeks and performers Jim Rose has the following advice: “Try to stay away from bear repellent.”*
*For the reasons why bear repellant is to be avoided, see Jim’s book Snake Oil.
To find out more about the Burlesque festival and purchase tickets go to:http://londonburlesquefest.com/
To contact Jim please send email to: email@example.com
For background about Jim Rose, his tours, books he has written, appearances on television shows, theX-Files and the Simpsons, along with his weekly TV show on the Travel Channel “The Jim Rose Twisted Tour”, click this link for Wikipedia, bio and Facebook page:
To contact Bébé please send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/BebeTheCircusQueen
It’s Festival season again, time to plot out which tickets you’re going to spring for and which you will watch on YouTube. Grainne suggests The London Burlesque Festival. Because…Burlesque is good for the soul!