The Circus

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In 1938, Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey made Buck such a lucrative offer that he ended up touring with them as their featured attraction, astride an elephant. But there were labor problems. As the New York Post reported (May 5, 1938), "Frank Buck today insisted that when he rides an elephant around the arenas of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, he is a scientist, not an actor. This was his reply to threats of new labor troubles for the big show unless Buck, chaperon for its star attraction, Gargantua the gorilla, joins the American Federation of Actors. The union insisted that all performers in the show, by terms of a contract with the management, must join the union. There was talk of a strike when the circus opened in Brooklyn, unless Buck joined. Buck said he might compromise on his principles and join the union if the circus actually faced a strike, but such an act would be against his wishes. Buck also said he had every sympathy for the common worker, yet he described many of them as sweepers, shovelers, and performers of other mundane functions for the comfort of elephants.

Frank Buck and John Ringling North"'I've worked many years to get to my present position of a scientist, and that's all the work I perform in the circus,' Buck said. What has riding an elephant around the ring to do with science? he was asked. 'Well, that's how I got to be a scientist--riding an elephant. Don't get me wrong. I'm with the working man. I worked like a dog once myself. And my heart is with the fellow who works. But I don't want some --- union delegate telling me when to get on and off an elephant. John Ringling North [head of the circus] has told me that his contract with the union does not compel me to join this union.'"

Threat of a strike was finally averted when the American Federation of Actors gave Buck a special dispensation to introduce Gargantua the gorilla without joining the union.

(from the introduction to Bring Em Back Alive: The Best of Frank Buck)