RINGMASTER: Cope native who ran away to join circus in 1953 says thrill hasn’t worn off
Bill Brickle is pictured as the ringmaster for "Wonderland" circus.
By: Dale Linder-Altman. T & D staff Writer
April 6, 2014
The glitter of bright lights. The sounds of music, laughter and excited voices. The smell of grease paint and popcorn. The thrill of performing in front of large crowds — These experiences led a local boy to run away from more mundane career opportunities to join the circus back in 1953.
Sixty-one years later, Bill Brickle is still a circus man, and he says the thrill hasn’t worn off.
Brickle retired as ringmaster for Lewis and Clark Circus in 2012. Now at age 87, he produces his own circus, “Wonderland,” touring the state for several months each year. He recently took the Wonderland circus to Edisto High, Lockett Elementary and Hunter-Kinard-Tyler Elementary schools.
Brickle, who is already planning next year’s tour, says staying busy doing something you love keeps you alive.
“I’m the oldest, living and performing ringmaster in the country,” he said. “I won’t stop till I drop.”
Wonderland goes on tour between October and March, when the larger circuses have finished their annual tours, making it possible for Brickle to hire their performers. Each year, he uses different people, but the acts always include aerial acrobatics, jugglers, clowns and animals, he said.
Putting on the circus isn’t really like working, according to Brickle. It’s having fun, and he likes having fun.
“I like being with young people and doing things,” he said. “I just won’t give up. As long as the good Lord gives me, I’m going to enjoy it to the max. I won’t sit back in a rocking chair and dwindle away.”
Brickle never married or had a family, but he has no regrets, he said.
“I toured about 11 months of the year so my circus life didn’t permit a family,” he said.
However, his career with the circus opened up the whole country to him and gave him opportunities to work with some amazing people. He got to visit every state except Hawaii at someone else’s expense, Brickle said.
He also worked with actors like Ken Curtis, who played Festus on “Gunsmoke;” Jim Nabors, who played TV’s Gomer Pyle, and Frank Sutton, who played Pyle’s irascible Sergeant Carter.
Brickle grew up in Cope and graduated from Cope High School in 1945. He served in the military for several years before entering Alviene School of Drama and Ballet in New York City.
His greatest love is the theater and acting, and getting into the circus was an accident, said Brickle.