Monday, July 24, 2006

Pyro Sam, The Human Ostrich

Today, I spent about five hours with Marshall Brodien. He lives 5 minutes from my mom’s house and I am lucky enough to see him every few months. I need to work on making it more often, but life keeps getting in the way. Damn that rent and car payment.

For those uninformed...a brief bio of Marshall:
Marshall Brodien is a Chicago magician, hypnotist, fire-eater, sword swallower, pitchman, clown, and all-a-round great guy. He worked various magic shops in Chicago including owning one at Old Chicago mall and amusement park. Marshall worked as a magician and outside talker (Please do not call them barkers) at the Riverview Amusement Park. He made millions pitching magic tricks on television and in the process started many of today’s magicians in the trick business. Myself included. Marshall Brodien, most famously, created the Wizzo character for WGN’s Bozo show. John Moering has written a biography of Marshall and is pitching it to publishers as you read this.

While I am interested in all the stories, Marshall tells and he tells some great stories, I am most interested in his years at the sideshow. There is a nostalgic and warm place in my heart for sideshows. I love the lore, the characters, and the stories. This is one small story that Marshall told me today. And it won’t be in the book.

Pyro Sam, the Human Ostrich performed a fire eating, glass eating and regurgitating act. At Riverview, he performed 20 shows a day, 7 days a week. One of his most memorable stunts was the eating of a beer glass. These were not the large pint glasses, but the small thin glasses. Think about it 20 glasses a day, 7 days a week, He “consumed” 140 glasses a week. At least, he consumed parts of those glasses. He supplied his act with glasses for the Riverview Beer Garden. During breaks from the show, he would slip out to the beer garden and pick up a handful of glasses off the table before the waitress could clean up.

You just don’t lose that many glasses and the loss of 140 glasses a week drove the owner of the garden crazy. Until one day, his family was at the park and he took them to the sideshow. When he saw Pryo Sam’s act, he stopped the show with a rant that would be legendary in the world of Riverview.


Marshall didn’t know where Sam got his glasses after that.

Pryo Sam also had a great ding (A ding is an attempt to get money at the end of the act) and blow-off. Sam would hold a large piece of paper between his hands and ask for change, Quarters, Dimes, Nickels, and Pennies. He then folded the paper almost into a funnel and poured the coins into his mouth. With a glug, glug, glug and a chaser of water, he swallowed the currency down and had his mouth examined. With a slight choking sound one associates with vomiting, he regurgitated the coins with a long tail of slime. He held up a coin and said, “Who gave me the quarter?” No one came forward.

In back, Sam had a bucket of clean water-full of coins.

Man, I missed out. If I had only been born 30, 40, or even 100 years ago.

1 comment:

mai-ling said...

i wish i was able to live during the time of riverside...i love side shows. i've been active looking for sideshow banner images.

marshall loves to tell stories and many jokes.

he's a great friend.