Inducted into the Ring of Fame: 2003
Circus Profession: Director, Choreographer
Richard Barstow began a theatrical career as a child and for 29 years served as director and choreographer of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He helped establish the sleek theatrical style of production that marked the John Ringling North era of shows from 1950 through 1978.
Mr. Barstow, a youthful-looking man with a full head of white hair and a wide smile, left the circus in 1978 years ago. His last major work was as director of the Jones Beach presentation of ”Annie Get Your Gun,” starring Lucie Arnaz in the summer of 1978.
But Mr. Barstow, who lived alone in a penthouse at 200 West 54th Street, never actually retired. Toward the end of his career he was working on his autobiography, ”Fools Rush In,” and was writing a one-woman show for a longtime friend, Frances Koll. He had recently written several modern ballads and country-western songs and had worked with Brenda Lee, the singer, on her Las Vegas show.
In a two-part profile of Mr. Barstow in The New Yorker magazine in 1958, Robert Lewis Taylor said he was ”widely thought to be the most versatile man in show business.” A Versatile Career
”Besides engaging in his annual exertions for the circus, in which he is aided by his sister Edith,” Mr. Taylor wrote, ”he has choreographed a lively string of Broadway and Hollywood musicals; Island; put together the giant industrial shows ‘Motorama’ and ‘Powerama’ for General Motors; danced as a vaudeville headliner, both in his childhood and later; played the drums in an Army band; and performed as a high diver at a public beach in Juan-les-Pins – a role for which he was not notably well equipped, being unable to swim and, in fact, having to be hauled out of the water on a pole after each dive.”
Mr. Barstow had also done the circus production numbers in the movie ”The Greatest Show on Earth,” and choregraphed and directed the musical scenes in ”A Star is Born,” with Judy Garland. He worked with the late Gertrude Lawrence in Noel Coward’s ”Tonight at 8:30” and did television work with Dave Garroway, Ed Wynn and Milton Berle.
Mr. Barstow was born on April 1, 1908, in Ashtabula, Ohio, the youngest of seven children of British immigrants. He began life with a misshapen foot and doctors predicted he would always limp, but he determinedly practiced physical therapy and by the age of 6 was pronounced fully healed. Eager to demonstrate that he could move as nimbly as any other youngster, he took up dancing, with the help of his sister Edith. By the time he was 7, Mr. Barstow’s mother had the two and three of their sisters on stage as ”The Five Barstows.”
Adapted from Richard Barstow obituary in the New York Times
Video History Summary
Make A Donation
Thank you for your generosity. Please click the button below to make your donation.The Circus Ring of Fame Foundation, Inc.
P.O. Box 4282 | Sarasota, FL 34220