John A. Douglas

Living Passionately In the World of the Moving Image

John A. Douglas John's life in pictures

“The Greatest Show On Earth…If I Could Just Stay Conscious”

April 28th, 2009 · No Comments · Personal Stories

There are some opportunities that are too good to miss no matter what situation you might be in. Having an opportunity to see the film “The Greatest Show on Earth” in a movie theater is one of those opportunities.

Somehow I had missed seeing this film when it came out in 1952 so in 1960 when it was re-released and came to the Colony Theater in Marietta, Ohio, I was ready to go – almost. There was a problem. I was attending Marietta College at the time and somehow I had developed a pilonidal cyst. I don’t know what caused it but I am sure that it wasn’t because of an overabundance of study.

I don’t want to be too graphic about this sore on my tailbone but let me say that when it comes to hurt, a pilonidal cyst is right up there. The only comfortable position when you have one of these is to be flat on your stomach on the floor or on your back in a tub of hot water. Then when the doctor gets around to it, he takes a knife to your cyst and thus begins the healing process.

The problem was that if I were going to see “The Greatest Show on Earth,” I would have to do it the same day as the lancing. “Well, so be it,” I thought. I talked my friend Larry Sutton, who was also a movie nut, into going to see the movie with me. I didn’t have to do much talking because what movie aficionado would give up an opportunity to see Charlton Heston, Cornel Wilde, Betty Hutton, Gloria Graham, James Stewart, Lyle Bettger, Lawrence Tierney and lots of little cameos by the likes of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and William Boyd all working together to give us a good show?

So it was off to a matinee we went, forsaking all scholarly activity.

I can’t say that it was pleasant sitting in a theater seat with a gaping hole at the end of my spine. I had to keep shifting from one hip to another in an effort to keep the pain down to a manageable level. I made it through scores of circus acts preserved by the film and I was thrilled by the wreck of the circus train. The love triangle of Heston, Hutton and Wilde was an acceptable cinematic structure to hold the whole thing together and I was with it all the way in spite of the pain.

Then towards the end of the over two and a half hour program I began to feel woozy. The soundtrack of the film began to fade out and a cough by someone in the row ahead of me sounded like a bomb. I told Larry what was happening and he told me to bend over and put my head between my legs which I did but I had to keep coming back up lest I miss something. It was a good thing I did or I would have missed Edmond O’Brien in his cameo.

So my head bobbed up and down to allow me to see the final circus parade as I fought, if not the Big Sleep, then certainly something akin to it.

At the end of the film Larry helped me to my apartment which luckily was right next to the theater. Because I am a lover of movies of all kinds, it was well worth the pain in my butt to see “The Greatest Show on Earth.”


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