Return with us to the days when the circus was still a major entertainment attraction, when clowns were funny, not scary and small boys were allowed to roam TV’s vast wasteland years before finding lasting fame as rock stars!
Of course, we’re talking about that TV treasure, Circus Boy, which ran for many a Saturday morning during our youth, but actually began life as a for-real prime-time series. Circus Boy was set in the 1890s which allowed it to cast itself as a sort-of Western (back when that genre ruled the airwaves). Because the circus changes very little from generation to generation, the only way you’d know we were back in the 19th century is the folksy outfits worn by the audiences who gather under the big top as well as the old-fashioned circus wagons and horses we glimpse in those scenes when the show is moving from town to town.
Circus Boy is primarily remembered today as the launching pad for Mickey Dolenz’s show biz career. Using the stage name Mickey Braddock, the future Monkee starred as Corky, the son of circus trapeze artists who died while performing. In the true spirit of 1950s television, Corky is adopted by the entire circus family and in particular, by Joey the Clown, played by a pre-Rockford Files Noah Beery, Jr. Rounding out the rest of the regular cast were Robert Lowery as “Big Tim” Champion, owner and manager of the circus and Guinn Williams as Pete, billed as the circus’ advance man, but always exactly where the circus is playing, never in the next town, where a real advance man would be.
While most shows featured a boy and his dog, Circus Boy featured a boy and his elephant as Corky was paired with the unfortunately named Bimbo the Elephant.
Typically, the plots involved trouble with one of the circus’ acts (a lion tamer who lost his nerve, a high-wire artist whose vanity is ruining the harmony of the troupe, etc.) or trouble in one of the towns they’re playing. Corky is always at the center of the action, frequently receiving the patented fatherly advice most shows of the era were overrun with from Beery’s character, Joey.
The show ran on NBC during the 1956-57 season, then transferred to ABC for a second season. After that, reruns began on Saturday mornings back on NBC in 1958 and eventually on local stations through syndication.
The show was popular with the Boomers, spawning the usual raft of comics books, toys and other merchandise. Today, outside of the connection to the Monkees, the show has been mostly forgotten. It’s a shame because, thanks to its initial run in prime-time, the scripts and production values are higher than the typical Saturday morning fare of that era.