Timothy J. Holst
Inducted into the Ring of Fame: 2013
Circus Profession: Clown, Ringmaster, Talent Scout, Associate Producer
Timothy J. Holst Filled Circus Big Top With Talent
Excerpts taken from an obituary in the New York Times by Glenn Collins
Timothy J. Holst, who joined the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus as a lowly Keystone Kops clown, rose to the role of singing ringmaster and ultimately became the show’s talent czar.
Mr. Holst, whose official title was vice president for talent and production, circled the planet for more than two decades signing performers from star clowns to trapeze hair-hangers. He was fluent in Spanish and Swedish and spoke passable Russian, Mandarin, French and Portuguese. He recently calculated that he had visited 164 countries.
“He was the ambassador to the world for the Greatest Show on Earth,” said Kenneth Feld, Ringling’s owner and chief executive. “And for the performers, he was the one who introduced them to American society. He became involved in these families’ lives at every step of the way.”
Since 1986 Mr. Holst “was responsible for the careers and livelihoods of more than 3,000 people, and since so many of them paired off, there are countless marriages to his credit, and the children that came from that,” said Nicole Feld, Mr. Feld’s daughter, the executive vice president of Feld Entertainment.
William B. Hall III, an independent circus consultant and producer in Churchville, Pa., said: “It was under Tim’s watch that Ringling began making deals with Communist countries to sign performers and acts. A lot of those countries were still closed, so he was an integral part of breaking down Iron Curtain barriers for cultural exchanges.”
Though Mr. Holst prided himself on his ubiquity, even he was teased by his circus peers when he turned up in the Jan. 20, 1992, issue of The New Yorker, in a “Reporter at Large” article describing an exotic trek to Mongolia.
The writer, Fred C. Shapiro, quoted a Western diplomat who recalled being “welcomed in a gher near the Gobi Desert,” referring to a herdsman’s tent. The diplomat added that “we were far away from any road, and I asked the shepherd if we were the first foreigners he had ever received. ‘The second,’ he said, and he showed me a card left by the first a scout from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, who had been there a few months before.”
Before proselytizing for the circus, Mr. Holst spent two and a half years as a missionary in Sweden for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which he was a lifelong member. He also studied drama at Ricks College and later at Utah State University.
Mr. Holst began doing stand-up comedy in college, and while performing in Butte, Mont., the future talent finder was himself discovered by a Ringling talent scout, who offered him a 1971 berth at Clown College, the Ringling school in Venice, Fla.
In 1972 Mr. Holst performed as an Auguste clown, with red nose and exaggerated features, recalled Steve Smith, a 1971 classmate who years later became director of Clown College. Mr. Holst’s star turn was as the hapless flatfoot in the clown-car routine. He donned a long blue coat and an enormous police badge and blew a whistle helplessly though frenziedly as he chased a jalopy crammed full of 20 clowns around the ring.
After performing with the Blue Unit, one of Ringling’s two traveling shows, Mr. Holst became a ringmaster for both units and eventually performance director of the Red Unit.
Mr. Feld headed the talent-finding operation for his father, Irvin, then the circus’s owner. But he had to focus on running the company after his father died in 1984, so he groomed Mr. Holst as the new scout. After his decades on the road, Mr. Holst had in recent years been grooming Ms. Feld as a talent scout.
A portly man of deceptive agility, perseverance and physical strength, Mr. Holst tirelessly hefted commodious traveling bags full of gifts. “If the matriarch of a circus family needed a certain kind of fabric to make a costume,” Mr. Smith said, “Tim would carry it halfway around the world for her.”