Elvin Bale (born 1945 in London, England) is a former artist and daredevil with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, among many other international circuses. He is known especially for his single trapeze act, which finished with a heel catch, as well as his “wheel of death,” “human space shuttle,” “mechanical monster,” “motorcycle on the high wire”, and “human cannonball” acts. His career as a performer ended with a technical mishap on 08 Jan 1987, when, performing the human cannonball, he over-shot his landing cushion.
Elvin Trevor Bale was born to Irene and Edwin Trevor (Tommy) Bale. Elvin was among the fourth generation of Bales in the circus industry. [The Bale family of performers in fact constitutes a dynasty in the entertainment world. In addition to the circus, they performed in music hall (vaudeville) using various stage names (see www.TheRoyalZanettos.com).] After an early childhood touring with European circuses, Elvin and his family moved to the United States in the 1950s when his father took a job as a tiger trainer with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. As a youngster, Elvin worked as a clown, a dancing boy, a cage boy for his father's tiger act, and an acrobat in the family’s bicycle act. His twin sister, Dawnita; older sister, Gloria; and younger sister, Bonnie, also worked in a variety of family acts in various shows. In the 1960s Elvin began working on what would become his signature act, the single trapeze with a “heel catch” finish. Mr.Bale's Father appeared as a guest along with Ray Bolger on American Game Show "What's My Line".
Life as a daredevil
In The American Circus, John Culhane calls Elvin Bale “the greatest circus daredevil of the second half of the twentieth century.” After working with Art Concello’s American Circus in Russia in 1968, Elvin joined the Blue Unit of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1969. He would headline the Blue Unit in the 70s and early 80s, and his single trapeze act won him the Circus Oscar at the 1973 Circus World Festival in Madrid, Spain, as well as the 1976 Gold Clown, given out by the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo for the best circus performance of the year. He ended his trapeze act by sitting on the trapeze, swinging it up to its highest point, then diving forward into space with a yell—with no net underneath—throwing his legs back just in time to catch the middle of the bar on the descent with his Achilles’ heels and swing back, hanging by his Achilles’ heels. Elvin performed in the Vatican for Pope John Paul II, under helicopters in the French Alps, and at African soccer stadiums.
Elvin was also known as "The Phantom of Balance" for his work on the "wheel of death". He mounted an 8-foot steel-mesh wheel on the end of a 38-foot steel arm suspended from the ceiling. As the arm spun around its axis, Elvin would run around the outside of the wheel, sometimes blindfolded, sometimes with a man standing on his shoulders. He won the Silver Clown in 1979 for that act.
In addition, he performed a high-wire motorcycle act, standing on his hands as much as 150 feet above the floor of the arena while riding the motorcycle backwards down the wire. Besides circus arenas, he also performed the motorcycle act on a high wire strung over a 300-foot canyon at Black’s Beach near San Diego, California.
Elvin is perhaps best known now for his human cannonball act, which he began with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. in 1978 as the “Human Space Shuttle.” He left RBBB in 1983 and toured as the featured performer with several European circuses. On January 8, 1987, he permanently injured his thoracic vertebrae in a human cannonball accident in Hong Kong, resulting in paralysis in both legs.
Life in circus administration
After recovering from his accident, Elvin became a theatrical booking agent, and since the mid-1990s, he has traveled and worked in management roles with Cole Bros. Circus. Currently he serves as their vice president of operations as well as booking and directing the show. In 2001, Elvin was inducted into the International Circus Hall of Fame.