A rewarding life — John W. Pugh, left, and his wife, Brigitte, show off a marker inducting John Pugh into the Circus Ring of Fame in Sarasota. Pugh, who owns the DeLand-based Cole Bros. Circus, said he has loved his life in show business, and is not finished yet. The circus opens its 2010 season in DeLand March 20.
John W. Pugh of DeLand, CEO and owner of the DeLand-based Cole Bros. Circus, was honored by his peers Jan. 17 with induction into the Circus Ring of Fame at the 23rd annual installation ceremony in Sarasota.
Sarasota is home to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and also is home to a wealth of circus history and culture.
Circus great John Ringling of the Ringling Brothers purchased St. Armands Key at Sarasota in 1917. Its central shopping area is laid out in a circle, like a circus ring, and is used like a Hollywood Walk of Fame. Bronze circus wagon-wheel markers permanently display the names of Ring of Fame honorees.
Pugh, one of six inductees this year, joins the ranks of circus greats such as P.T. Barnum, Emmett Kelly, Clyde Beatty and John Ringling North.
Pugh said the induction into such a group of famous people was emotional for him and his wife, Brigitte, who introduced him at the ceremony.
John Pugh has been with Cole Bros. Circus since 1961.
“It’s a seven-day-a-week job. I enjoy it. It’s a great life,” he said.
John started as an acrobat. He also presented animals.
“You had to be able to do a little of everything,” he said.
After an injury knocked him out of acrobatics, the circus offered him a job as assistant manager, then jobs as a supervising manager, vice president and president.
“For job preservation, I went on to be the owner,” he said with a laugh.
Now in his late 70s, John Pugh has been in show business all his life. He started in his native England, where he was a movie stuntman and performer. He was also involved in theater and BBC-TV, where he was an assistant producer.
He was actor Richard Burton’s stunt double for the movie Cleopatra, completed in 1963. Pugh described the filming as a spectacle in itself, with the romance between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor unfolding before the cast and crew.
The Pughs have owned a home in DeLand since 1962. It was demolished in the 2007 tornado that tore apart the west side of DeLand. A new home has now been built on the site.
Pugh isn’t resting on his wagon wheel or his laurels. He’s getting ready to fly to Haiti with a big-top tent, at the request of the Haitian government.
The need there for shelter and service areas is desperate. Pugh will take one tent, 350 feet by 250 feet, weighing 30 tons, and supervise local workers to get it set up. He estimates it will take a good day’s work, or two. If he were using his regular circus crew, it would take only hours, but the Haitian people need work, Pugh said.
If that goes well, he will take a second tent to Haiti.
Pugh is also getting his Cole Bros. Circus ready for the 2010 season, which runs March-November. The season will kick off in DeLand with shows at the DeLand Municipal Airport showgrounds at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 20, and at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday, March 21, hosted by the DeLand Jaycees. Call 1-888-332-5200 or go online at http://www.tickets.com/
for more information.
After its DeLand debut, the 2010 Cole Bros. Circus will travel up the Eastern Seaboard to New England, and as far west as New Orleans, setting up two or three times a weekfrom the DeLAND-DELTONA BEACONFEBRUARY 13, 2010