John Ringling North

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John Ringling North
Frank Buck and John Ringling North.jpg
North (right) and Frank Buck
Born(1903-08-14)August 14, 1903
DiedJune 4, 1985(1985-06-04) (aged 81)
Cause of deathStroke
RelativesHenry Ringling North, brother
John Nicholas Ringling, uncle
Charles Edward Ringling, uncle
Otto 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.

Life and career[edit]

North was born on August 14, 1903 in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the son of Ida Loraina Wihelmina (Ringling) and Harry Whitestone 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 the latter 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]

He married French actress Germaine Aussey on May 11, 1940. They were divorced three years later.[4]

Under North's management, the circus switched from tents to air conditioned venues in 1956, in part to offset rising labor costs.[2][3] North also replaced the circus's unrelated acts with thematic programs, and once hired George Balanchine to choreograph a ballet using the circus's elephants.[5] Balanchine, in turn, brought Igor Stravinsky on board to compose the Circus Polka for the elephant dance.[5] 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 at the age of 81.[1][3]



  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 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. 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. ^ Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Davida Krista. George Balanchine: American Ballet Master. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1996, p. 72.

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