John Ringling North

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John Ringling North
Buck ringlingsm.jpg
John Ringling North (right) and Frank Buck
Born (1903-08-14)August 14, 1903
Baraboo, Wisconsin
Died June 4, 1985(1985-06-04) (aged 81)
Brussels, Belgium
Cause of death
Other names Buddy North
Parents Ida Loraina Wihelmina Ringling
Harry Whitestone North
Relatives Henry Ringling North, brother
John Nicholas Ringling, uncle

John Ringling North (August 14, 1903 – June 4, 1985) was the president and director of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1937 to 1943 and from 1947 to 1967.


North was born on August 14, 1903 in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the son of Henry and Ida Ringling North. His mother was the sister of the Ringling brothers.[1] As a boy, he hawked balloons and novelties at his uncles' circus.[2] He learned to dance and play the saxophone from circus performers and formed his own dance band while at college.[2]

He attended the University of Wisconsin and Yale University, but left in his junior year. After working for two years in a New York stock brokerage, North worked for the Ringling brothers' real estate companies and for the circus during the summers.[1] He returned to the brokerage business from 1929 to 1936, while continuing to assist the Ringling brothers with their business interests.[1] After the death of his uncle and namesake, John Ringling, the last of the original Ringling brothers in 1936, North became president and director of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows Inc.[1][3]

During World War II he served in the Office of Strategic Services. He parachuted into France as part of Operation Jedburgh.[4]

He married French actress Germaine Aussey on May 11, 1940. They were divorced three years later.[5]

Under North's management, the circus switched from tents to air conditioned venues in 1956, in part to offset rising labor costs.[3][2] North also replaced the circus's unrelated acts with thematic programs, and once hired Igor Stravinsky to compose a ballet for the circus' elephants with choreography by George Balanchine.[2] The Ringling heirs sold the circus in 1967, ending 80 years of Ringling family control of the enterprise.[1]

After the sale of the circus, he moved to Europe, where he lived in Switzerland and Belgium.[2] In the early 1960s, North and his brother, Henry Ringling North, who had bought their father's ancestral home in County Galway, became Irish citizens.[1]

North died of a stroke on June 4, 1985 in Brussels, Belgium.[3][1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Circus' John Ringling North", Chicago Tribune, June 7, 1985. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e Burt A. Folkart. "'Greatest Show on Earth': John Ringling North, Circus Developer, Dies", Los Angeles Times, June 7, 1985. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c "Died.". Time (magazine). June 17, 1985. Retrieved 2008-07-20. John Ringling North, 81, flamboyant, fast-talking showman who from 1937 to '43 and from 1947 to '67 ran "The Greatest Show on Earth," the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, started by his five uncles in 1884; of a stroke; in Brussels. North took over the debt-spangled show after the death of his last uncle, John Ringling, and modernized it with such attractions as Gargantua the Great, the "vehemently vicious" 550-lb. gorilla that drew more than 40 million circusgoers. In 1956, North folded the big top and reincarnated the show for new arenas of the air-conditioned era. 
  4. ^ Lovell, Stanley P. Of Spies and Stratagems (New York: Prentice Hall), 1963.
  5. ^ Retrieved May 15, 2014.

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