Circus Promoter Frank Curry Has Died

Curry spent 40 years in the circus and rodeo worlds and was known as a promoter’s promoter

  • by Linda Deckard
  • Published: August 10, 2012

7752578730.jpegFrank Curry (right) with Feld Entertainment's Bill Powell (photo courtesy of bucklesw.blogspot.com)

Frank Curry, producer of the Ronald McDonald Circus for more than two decades, and former rodeo clown and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey promoter, died Saturday, Aug. 4, in Bowling Green, Ky.

Curry was perhaps best known in the industry as creator and producer of Ronald McDonald Circus, which in 2003 attracted 86,105 attendees during seven performances in four days at Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn., a feat that was recognized with a commemorative medallion imbedded into the floor slab in the arena's main concourse. He premiered the show in Quebec in 1982. Through the years, Curry always played the part of ringmaster, but he had other parts in his long career.

He first joined the circus business in 1956 when, as a teenager, he went to work for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He worked his way up to assistant engagement coordinator of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey and finally VP of marketing.

According to a popular circus blog, which has been reporting on the untimely death of Curry, his accomplishments also included 11 years as a prominent rodeo clown. And, as was his nature, he also promoted every rodeo he appeared in.

In 2003, Curry accepted the Barnum Award for Pioneering Prognosticator of Promotion Excellence presented to him at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus marketing reunion in Sarasota, Fla. At the reunion, RBBB CEO Kenneth Feld congratulated Curry and mentioned that Feld Entertainment had approximately three dozen productions working around the world in those days. Feld announced to the attendees that Frank was there from the very beginning.

Curry’s response, posted by Buckles, was to “congratulate and say many thanks to John Zamoiski, Sydney Greenblatt, Bob Collins and Billy Powell for all their hard work in creating the inaugural Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Marketing Reunion, attended by over 75 people.

“And to Kenneth Feld for his sincere and touching speech at the opening night awards banquet.”

Circus performer and director John Herriott recalled when he was on the blue unit of RBBB in the early 70s, the ring stock boss advised him that when he got to Memphis, the promoter of the show there always liked to ride a horse on the Animal Walk from the train to the arena. “We had a Western saddle and bridle in a Possum Belly and sure enough Frank showed up in hat, boots and levis. We rode together and got acquainted as he and I both were aware of the rodeo people he had been with earlier. It was a nice meeting. Then he was regarded as the ‘Golden Boy’ at being one of the top promoters. He had a tiny little notebook in which he took tiny little notes for reference. I remember it well.”

Curry responded that riding the horse into town was “an indescribable pleasure” after spending countless hours promoting the arrival of the Greatest Show on Earth. “It was like, ‘Here we come,’” he recalled.

As word spread in the industry that Curry had died, fond remembrances poured into Venues Today. Among them, Mike McGee, consultant, whose former company once managed Bridgestone Arena: “Very sad news. Frank was ‘a one of a kind.’ As a young boy, he was a ball boy for the NBA's New York Knicks, later he worked for the New York Post as a writer, then as a rodeo bullfighting clown, then VP with Ringling to his own Ronald McDonald Circus. He was a promoter's promoter and knew his craft well. He never touted his accomplishments, which were many, but was more of a very private man, humble, tenacious, and one who kept notes on everything. I marveled at his successes with the Ronald McDonald Circus in Nashville. He will be missed by many.”

Leslee Stewart, Paramount Theatre, Oakland, Calif., who helped tour his circus through Canadian venues: “I loved Frank Curry. He was a true gentleman and a kind soul. May he find happiness and peace in heaven.”

Bob Skoney, Nashville Municipal Auditorium, who booked the circus for many years, had the sad task of spreading the word among colleagues, a very difficult task he said of letting the industry know of Curry’s passing. Curry called Nashville home. In fact, he was one of the original subscribers of Venues Today and encouraged us all in what we do.

Curry's death appears to be a suicide, although the investigation hasn't been officially closed. Last Saturday, Bowling Green police arrived at a park in that Kentucky city in response to calls about an unresponsive subject. They reported that the deceased man, later identified as Curry, died from a gunshot wound. A weapon was found near his body. Police do not suspect foul play.

  • by Linda Deckard
  • Published: August 10, 2012
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