Reynolds & Waller International Circus Side Show

Reynolds & Waller International Circus Side Show

Posted by Laura Abernathy Huffman on Apr 24th 2024

“Fleas that juggle, jump through hoops, play football, operate a miniature merry-go-round, tiny little fleas hitched to a chariot and they actually run a race….It is without a doubt the most fascinating sight the human eye has ever witnessed!” - Bobby Reynolds

Bobby Reynolds' childhood pitch for Professor Heckler’s Trained Flea Circus at Times Square in New York City launched him into a show business career that would span over seven decades.

While Bobby was separating tourists from their money in New York, 1,500 miles away in Temple, Oklahoma, young Jack Waller was hounding magician, D. Whitney, to teach him the fundamentals of magic.

Years later, Bobby Reynolds and Jack Waller combined their talents to form Reynolds & Waller International Circus Side Show.

Fire-Eater Jack Waller

Jack’s path led him to a scholarship at Oklahoma Baptist University at Shawnee. He majored in commercial art and speech. Jack made hundreds of appearances as a magician across the state under the sponsorship of the University.

While at OBU he developed a two-hour show and invested $300 into equipment to use for his performance. His routine included feats of magic, ventriloquism, and hypnotism. Jack often incorporated the audience into his performance. While looking for “a flashy ending for his magic show,” he decided on fire-eating.

Image via The Madill Record, March 1, 1951

By 1952 Jack had perfected the lost art of fire-eating and wrote the book on it too. After college he took his “Spooks on Parade” on the road. It was a 10 act show and he demonstrated weird feats of occult and mysterious nature. During his act he “reincarnated the Frankenstein monster” and permitted him to roam free throughout the crowd.

Jack signed on for a hitch in the United States Army in 1954. Before his tour was over he had performed his magic show in five countries and appeared on the Arlene Francis television show in New York City twice. He claimed to be the first fire-eater on national network tv.

Showman Bobby Reynolds

While Jack Waller was honing his showmanship skills in the 1950s, Bobby Reynolds was touring with circuses and carnivals as a Fun House operator. In 1955, “Doc” Aaron Weiss, an escape artist, proclaimed to Billboard magazine that Bobby “is bound to be one of the ‘greats’ of the future.” “The youngster has a pleasing manner and good looks,” he continued. He also commented that Bobby “does outstanding manipulations and some excellent magical effects.”

Image by Michael Laughlin/Associated Press via The Orlando Sentinel, November 25, 2001

Doc Weiss was right. Bobby’s career has always drawn high praise:

“He never runs out of ideas and he is a peerless pitchman.”
“He is the greatest showman we’ve ever known, and the most popular of all the colorful figures that have passed through the annals of outdoor show business in the past 30 years.”
“Bobby Reynolds has the soul of a pitchman and the ambition of a Napoleon.”

Bobby was also a circus historian. Although he could not read the words inside, he collected letters and books by P.T. Barnum. It wasn’t lost on Bobby that times were changing and that the sideshow business was disappearing. Jack agreed with him. “The sideshow is rapidly becoming a dying art form,” he said.

Reynolds & Waller International Circus Side Show

Together the pair of free-spirited entrepreneurs created Reynolds & Waller International Circus Side Show in 1973. Their sideshow was a feature in Gooding’s Million Dollar midway. Bobby, Jack and their cohorts held court under a red, white, and blue circus tent decked out with hand-painted, dubious promises designed to lure spectators. See Volta, the Electric Girl, the ugliest man in the world, the India Rubber Girl, the Human Volcano, the tattooed dog, the man with the Iron Tongue.

“I want this thing to be unique,” declared Waller, “we have no freaks or put-ons. This is an old-fashioned authentic circus sideshow.” “I try to present some good, honest, family entertainment, flavored with a dash of showmanship,” he said.

Waller and Reynolds kept their word. The tattooed dog, Henry, was Jack’s pet. He had purchased Henry from a tattooed sailor on the streets in Los Angeles. The man with the Iron Tongue was Bobby Reynolds. The Human Volcano was Jack Waller.

Image via Napa Valley Register, June 29, 1978

The sideshow was an important part of a unique chapter of American history. Bobby Reynolds and Jack Waller were two of the last touring showmen dedicated to the art of sideshows.

Uranus Sideshow Museum

Before Jack’s death in 1985, he confided to Bobby that he wished to have a portion of his ashes painted into his trusty blade box. The blade box had been a part of his magic show for many years. It wasn’t just Jack’s affection and respect for magic that led to this odd request. Jack had a reputation as a bit of a ladies man. Bobby carried out his business partners’ last wish and dutifully complied- making sure that his ashes were placed directly on the seat where so many beautiful assistants had sat to perform the trick.

This blade box, and other sideshow memorabilia can be seen at the Uranus Sideshow Museum on Route 66 in the Missouri Ozarks.

Bobby Reynolds is now retired, but he also has a plan for his earthly remains after death:
“What I want to do is have my body freeze-dried with a two-headed baby in my arms and a microphone,” he said.

“And there’s some sort of vacuum contraption to suck in people’s money. After I die, I’ll still be in show business, taking people’s money.”