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The Wild Dancing Bushman


The Wild Dancing Bushman

During the 1920s and ’30s, Franz Taibosh—whose stage name was Clicko—performed in front of millions as one of the stars of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Prior to his fame in the United States, Taibosh toured the world as the “Wild Dancing Bushman,” showing off his frenzied dance moves in freak shows, sideshows, and music halls from Australia to Cuba. When he died in 1940, the New York Times called him “the only African bushman ever exhibited in this country.” In Clicko, Neil Parsons unearths the untold story of Taibosh’s journey from boyhood on a small farm in South Africa to top billing as one of the travelling World’s Fair Freaks.

Through Taibosh’s tale, Parsons brings to life the bizarre golden age of entertainment as well as the role that the dubious new science of race played in it. Beginning with Taibosh’s early life, Clicko untangles the real story of his ancestry from the web of myths spun around him on his rise to international stardom. Parsons then chronicles the unhappy middle period of Taibosh’s career, when he suffered under the heel of a vicious manager. Left to freeze and nearly starve in an unheated apartment, Taibosh was rescued by Frank Cook, Barnum & Bailey’s lawyer. The Cooks adopted Taibosh as a member of their family of circus managers and performers, and his happy—if far from average—years with them make up the final chapter of this remarkable story.

Equal parts entertaining and disturbing, Clicko vividly evokes a forgotten era when vaudeville drew massive crowds and circus freaks were featured in Billboard and Variety. Parsons introduces us to colorful characters such as George Auger the giant and the original Zip the Pinhead, but above all, he gives us an unforgettable portrait of Franz Taibosh, rescued at last from the racists and the romantics and revealed here as an ordinary man with an extraordinary life.

Read an excerpt.

272 pages | 24 halftones, 1line drawing | 6 x 9 | © 2010

African Studies

Culture Studies

History: African History


“An astonishing story that illuminates the history of a talented person who represented a fragile culture to the world. It entertains and astonishes us—but it also enriches our knowledge of a hardy and resourceful person and a fascinating slice of southern African history.”

Alexander McCall Smith, from his Foreword

“Reading like an account straight out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, but with sound historical detail underpinning his portrait of a frequently bizarre world, Parsons’ impeccably researched and accessible book brings together a wide range of primary and archival sources relating to an astonishing performer. . . . Parsons brings serious academic scholarship to bear on a thoughtful, sometimes distressing and always compelling tale of an extraordinary man.”

Times Higher Education

"Parsons provides detailed accounts of Taibosh’s Ringling tours and of his relationship with the Cook family, with whom he resided during off seasons. Because Clicko represented an image of African wildness that fit white Western stereotypes of the day, his story provides unique insight into the changing nature of American popular culture."


Table of Contents

Foreword by Alexander McCall Smith

1 Growing Up in the Snow Mountains
2 Recruited at Kimberley
3 Enter Paddy Hepston
4 Disappearance to Australasia or the Far East?
5 The Dancing Bushma n in London
6 Dancing in Cam bridge and Paris
7 Hiding from Humanitarians
8 Margate Rendezvous
9 From Dublin to Havana
10 Coney Island and Havana Again
11 Joining Barnum and Bailey’s Circus
12 Kidnap in Connecticut
13 ‘I am an American Gentleman’
14 Sam Gumpertz Tak es Over
15 High Life with Frank and Evelyn
16 ‘I Inherited a Bushman’
17 California Interlude
18 The Great Terminal Dance

Conclusion A Mantis Carol


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