Friday, December 16, 2011

St. Louis Zoo Chimpanzee Show

1960 Like it or not, a chimpanzee rollerskating is a funny piece of business!!!!

1954 Great skill as a trainer is/was needed in a permanent park/zoo setting as the acts have to change often giving returning customers a different show. Park trainers couldn't do the same act for their whole career. They had to keep training new.

Wow!!!!! The pony segment of this act is unbelievable. The little clown riding the unicycle and spinning on the stilts is worth the price of admission alone. :)


Jim A. said...

Great stuff from Mike Kostial's early days in the 1950s and some into the 60s. Ben Fridrich was a co-trainer with Mike until about 1954 when Vierheller gave the show to Mike. A lot of the pony work, like the tables, was started when Leon Smith had the show in the late 30s and early 40s. Mike was a total showman. He was trained in commercial art and created the backgrounds for all the shows. He was a great presenter, smiling, active and good-looking. He was also a creative trainer who created new tricks and variations on old classics. (He also knew how to get along with Vierheller, publicly letting Vierheller take all the credit for creating each new show.) He was great for the Zoo, and the Zoo was good to him.

(The flying act segment wasn't at the Zoo.)

Interest comment about coming up with new tricks every year. By the 1960s Mike had found what worked as a formula for the show. There would be some variations from year to year depending on the theme or the chimps but the basic order would go; opening float, hand walking, stilts,jump rope, bicycles, new big trick, piano solo, band, and pony work ending with tables. in 1976 then Director Dick Schultz had noticed Mike's show didn't change a lot (even much of the music). He told Mike to do something new. Mike's answer was to open with the pony work, including the tables, and close with the band. We found the audience had been well trained over the years. After the tables most got up and left assuming that was the end. After a few weeks a change was made to open with the ponies except the tables, the rest of the show, and then the table finale. (Jacot would often make the comment that he didn't know how to paint so he had to train new tricks. The elephant never changed very much - Floyd even had the same routine and music for at least four years.)

Mike died of a heart attack while fishing with his son the last Saturday evening of August 1976. His show was probably the biggest attraction the Zoo ever had but it taught me a lesson. The Zoo opened on Sunday and made money so don't think you're indispensible.

Wade G. Burck said...

The comment about new tricks was because I know Mike was a great trainer, but it seems to me, from what I have seen that the show was almost unchanged. Odd, but it illustrates what you have verified the incredible popularity of the chimpanzee show. Odd, also is how people's "tastes" and idea's about animals change. At Marineland they did a survey for a couple of year's, asking folks to list their favorite part of the show and their least favorite part. The killer whales, tigers and dolphins consistently ranked one, two or three as the favorite part of the show with the elephants ranking occasionally one but no lower then 5. Consistently, least favorite part of the show was the "bears wearing clothes and hat's." The survey's were done in the late 70's early 80's. As you know Marineland had one of the finest sea lion acts around at the time with 7 animals. That fabulous act consistently ranked 6th or last in the survey. I am sure the same thing occurred at St. Louis. Yet the sea lions are the only thing to have survived the changing times at St. Louis. Gone are the elephants, chimps, and lions. At Marineland gone are the tigers, bears, and elephants. Go figure....