Celebrities and animal rights activists are celebrating the closure of the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus after the owner announced the show will close forever in May.
Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, who is an outspoken animal rights activist, tweeted a message of celebration following the news that the circus would permanently close after 146 years in the business.
‘IT’S OVER,’ Anderson wrote on Twitter.
Anderson, who is a longtime vegan, shared the statement from PETA on her site regarding the circus.
‘As of May, the saddest show on earth for wild animals will end,’ PETA bragged. ‘Ringing is closing! 36 years of PETA protests of documenting animals left to die, beaten animals, and much more, has reduced attendance to the point of no return.’
The statement continued, ‘Society has changed, eyes have been opened, people know now who these animals are, and we know it is wrong to capture and exploit them.’
Model Joanna Krupa also celebrated the curtain coming down on ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’.
She took to Twitter and wrote: ‘The best news ever ! Thank god and all the animal lovers and groups who fought day and night for these angels !’
Actor Seth MacFarlane also shared a message of support on Twitter and wrote: ‘The closure of Ringling Bros. circus ends 146 years of animal humiliation for human amusement. Good riddance.’
Not all celebrities were happy with the announcement of the circus shutting down.
Former NBA player and basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal tweeted: ‘Famed Ringling Bros. circus closing – CNN noooooo (sic) pls (sic) don’t close whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy (sic) nooooooooo (sic) noooooooooo (sic)’
Comedian Jay Mohr also wasn’t pleased with the circus closing.
On the move, he did offer a humorous take and tweeted: ‘Ringling Brothers shutting down isn’t a ‘Massive victory for the animals’. It’s a shame. Now where’s an elephant go to get a nice hat?’
He followed that tweet up with another and wrote: ‘2017 just took a dark turn. Ringling Brothers Circus closes leaving 2,500 unemployed clowns just roaming the streets.’
President-elect Donald Trump has yet to comment about the circus closing, but he did tweet on January 11 about the elephants no longer being used for shows.
‘@RinglingBros is retiring their elephants– the circus will never be the same,’ Trump tweeted on January 11.
When the news was announced the circus would stop using elephants as part of their shows, Trump tweeted on March 5, 2015 that he would never attend one of their shows again.
He wrote: ‘Ringling Brothers is phasing out their elephants. I,for one, will never go again. They probably used the animal rights stuff to reduce costs’
The owner of the iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, including declining attendance, high operating costs, changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups.
The show has been a staple of American family entertainment since the 1800s but attendance had a ‘dramatic drop’ when elephants were removed from performances last May.
‘There isn’t any one thing,’ said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. ‘This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.’
The company broke the news to circus employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.
Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn.
The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.
The circus, with its exotic animals, flashy costumes and death-defying acrobats, has been a staple of entertainment in the United States since the mid-1800s.
Phineas Taylor Barnum made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin.
Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born. The sprawling troupes traveled around America by train, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals.
By mid-century, the circus was routine, wholesome family entertainment. But as the 20th century went on, kids became less and less enthralled. Movies, television, video games and the internet captured young minds.
The circus didn’t have savvy product merchandising tie-ins or Saturday morning cartoons to shore up its image.
‘The competitor in many ways is time,’ said Feld, adding that transporting the show by rail and other circus quirks — such as providing a traveling school for performers’ children— are throwbacks to another era. ‘It’s a different model that we can’t see how it works in today’s world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price. So you’ve got all these things working against it.’
The Feld family bought the Ringling circus in 1967. The show was just under 3 hours then. Today, the show is 2 hours and 7 minutes, with the longest segment — a tiger act — clocking in at 12 minutes.
‘Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes,’ he said.
Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, who is the company’s chief operating officer, acknowledged another reality that led to the closing, and it was the one thing that initially drew millions to the show: the animals. Ringling has been targeted by activists who say forcing animals to perform is cruel and unnecessary.
In May of 2016, after a long and costly legal battle, the company removed the elephants from the shows and sent the animals to live on a conservation farm in Central Florida.
The animals had been the symbol of the circus since Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882.
In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from groups including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year fight over allegations that circus employees mistreated elephants.
By the time the elephants were removed, public opinion had shifted somewhat. Los Angeles prohibited the use of bull-hooks by elephant trainers and handlers, as did Oakland, California.
The city of Asheville, North Carolina nixed wild or exotic animals from performing in the municipally owned, 7,600-seat U.S. Cellular Center.
Attendance has been dropping for 10 years, said Juliette Feld, but when the elephants left, there was a ‘dramatic drop’ in ticket sales. Paradoxically, while many said they didn’t want big animals to perform in circuses, many others refused to attend a circus without them.
‘We know now that one of the major reasons people came to Ringling Bros. was getting to see elephants,’ she said. ‘We stand by that decision. We know it was the right decision. This was what audiences wanted to see and it definitely played a major role.’
The Felds say their existing animals — lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas — will go to suitable homes. Juliette Feld says the company will continue operating the Center for Elephant Conservation.
Some 500 people perform and work on both touring shows. A handful will be placed in positions with the company’s other, profitable shows — it owns Monster Jam, Disney on Ice and Marvel Live, among other things — but most will be out of a job. Juliette Feld said the company will help employees with job placement and resumes. In some cases where a circus employee lives on the tour rail car (the circus travels by train), the company will also help with housing relocation.
Kenneth Feld became visibly emotional while discussing the decision with a reporter. He said over the next four months, fans will be able to say goodbye at the remaining shows.
In recent years, Ringling Bros. tried to remain relevant, hiring its first African American ringmaster, then its first female ringmaster, and also launching an interactive app. It added elements from its other, popular shows, such as motorbike daredevils and ice skaters. But it seemingly was no match for Pokemon Go and a generation of kids who desire familiar brands and YouTube celebrities.
‘We tried all these different things to see what would work, and supported it with a lot of funding as well, and we weren’t successful in finding the solution,’ said Kenneth Feld.
HISTORY OF THE RINGLING BROS.
1841 – Phineas Taylor Barnum buys Scudder’s American Museum in New York City and renames it Barnum’s American Museum, which was something of a zoo, museum, lecture hall and freak show. It was filled with artifacts and items from around the world. The museum later burned down. Barnum also took his show on the road as ‘P.T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling American Museum.’
1881 – Barnum partners with James A. Bailey and James L. Hutchinson for ‘P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show On Earth, And The Great London Circus, Sanger’s Royal British Menagerie and The Grand International Allied Shows United,’ later shortened to the ‘Barnum & London Circus.’
1882 – The Ringling Brothers – Alf, Al, Charles, John and Otto – performed their first vaudeville-style show in Mazomanie, Wisconsin.
1884 – The Ringling Brothers Circus begins as a traveling performance.
1887 – The official Ringling touring show became the ‘Ringling Bros. United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals.’
1895 – The Ringlings decided to branch out to New England, which was already the territory of P.T. Barnum. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the two circuses ‘agreed to divide the U.S. rather than compete head-to-head. The Ringlings established their headquarters in Chicago while Barnum and Bailey stayed in New York.’
1907 – After the death of James Bailey, the Ringlings buy Barnum and Bailey. They keep the circuses separate, and the Wisconsin Historical Society wrote that by the 1910s the Ringling Bros. Circus had more than 1,000 employees, 335 horses, 26 elephants, 16 camels and other assorted animals that traveled on 92 railcars. The Barnum and Bailey Circus was roughly the same size.
1919 – The two circuses merged and became known as ‘Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows.’
1927 – John Ringling moves circus headquarters to Sarasota, Florida.
1967 – Irvin Feld, a music and entertainment promoter, buys The Ringling circus and formally acquires it in a ceremony held at the Colosseum in Rome.
1985 – Kenneth Feld, Irvin’s son, becomes the owner of Feld Entertainment and the circus after his father dies.
2016 – Feld Entertainment announces it will retire elephants from its circus shows. The animals are moved to its Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County, Florida.
2017 – Feld Entertainment announces that it will close the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus.