Every day a circus day for Jack Ryan
Instead of running away to join the circus, he got into the act by becoming a publicist and writer. He took over publicity chores for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and inherited the enviable task of promoting Gunther Gebel-Williams, the legendary wild animal trainer on his 1969 American debut.
But Ryan's biggest claim to fame came not from an act, but from his words.
In search of a line to conclude a souvenir program, Ryan penned a catchy phrase that still resonates today at the climax of circus acts around the world: "May all your days be circus days."
Those seven simple words catapulted Ryan into circus folklore forever.
"I wanted to say something new and never found anything better," said Ryan, 72, who moved to Pensacola seven years ago from California.
Ryan's words and his name now will forever be a part of circus history. Last month he was inducted into the International Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, Ind., the headquarters for several famous circuses, dubbed the "circus capital of the world."
The enshrinement puts him in rare company. Only 169 people have been inducted in the prestigious Circus HOF, including Emmett Kelly, the world's greatest clown, renowned animal trainer Gebel-Williams, and of course, P.T. Barnum and Clyde Beatty.
"I'm right up there with the real greats of the circus," Ryan said.
The pull of the circus was too hard to ignore for the young writer, who had fond memories of piling into his father's green Studebaker for a three-hour drive from McComb, Miss., to the circus in New Orleans.
Living a dream
After graduating from Millsaps College with a degree in English, Ryan spent some time working in public relations in New York on Broadway until he eventually got some circus accounts on his resume.
When he got the call from the Greatest Show on Earth, he didn't miss the chance to join the traveling circus.
From coast to coast, in the City of Angels to the Big Apple, he lived out his childhood dream of traveling with the circus and bringing smiles to the faces of children and adults.
"When I heard the sound of the calliope, I couldn't refuse," Ryan said. "The circus was the important thing I did. I loved the circus all my life."