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(1 customer review)


The book begins, “I probably never would have become America’s leading fire-eater if Flamo the Great hadn’t happened to explode that night…” So begins this true story of life with a traveling carnival, peopled by amazing characters (the Human Ostrich, the Human Salamander, Jolly Daisy) who commit outrageous feats of wizardry. This is one of the only authentic narratives revealing the “tricks” (or more often the lack thereof) and skills involved in a sideshow, and is invaluable to those aspiring to this profession. Having cultivated the desire to create real magic since early childhood, Mannix rose to become a top act within a season; here is his inspiring tale. NEW: RARE PHOTOS! This is the first edition to include photos of the actual characters in the book, most of them taken by Mannix himself in the ’30s.

As a favor to RE/Search’s V. Vale, Daniel P. Mannix autographed 20 copies of this paperback just before his death in 1997, and they may be had for just sixty dollars.

Product Description

Many fire eaters, sword-swallowers & Americana lovers have been inspired by this classic, MEMOIRS OF A SWORD SWALLOWER…

Additional Information

Weight 1.14 lbs
Paperback or signed paperback

Paperback, Signed paperback

1 review for Daniel P. Mannix: MEMOIRS OF A SWORD SWALLOWER

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    A grotesque gallery of portraits of amazing human beings and a fascinating behind-the-scenes revelation of carnival life.”

    —New York Times

    A sympathetic and funny account of life with a carnival by a young man who impulsively joined up with one, mastered the elements of fire-eating and sword-swallowing in record time, and then rose, Horatio Alger-like, into the rarefied company of neon-bulb swallowers . . . it’s engrossing.”

    —The New Yorker

    The beautiful world of outcasts and freaks banding together to form an alternate society is accurately and compassionately portrayed by an insider.”

    —Circus Arts

    Having trouped with a carnival for a year, I can vouch for the authentic background and color. I thought it was absolutely fascinating; I couldn’t put it down until I finished it.”

    —Gypsy Rose Lee

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Excerpt: “Joining the Sideshow”

“M’boy, in carny life you’ve got to have a real sympathetic understanding of the public,” said the Impossible with what seemed to be genuine sincerity. “When I got this wheel from the manufacturer, it was just an ordinary wheel. Of course, they included printed instructions showing how to install the control button with a warning that dishonest operators occasionally resorted to such devices and offering to sell the necessary parts for a small additional sum. Being a reputable company, they naturally couldn’t install the device themselves. Well, I picked up the parts myself from a hardware store during the rush hour when the clerks were busy elsewhere. But the thing didn’t bring in the marks. So I sat down and studied the situation out.”

“How?” I asked, fascinated.

“M’boy, there’s nothing the public likes better than to feel they’ve swindled somebody,” said the Impossible, spitting on his soldering iron to see how it was coming along. “When I was busy trying to collect a tip – that means a crowd – some mark would always start fooling with the wheel when he thought I wasn’t looking. I hitched another stop-wire to this bar so I could work the map while I was at the other end of the joint. With a little quiet help from me, the mark would learn how to spin the wheel just hard enough to stop the light on a certain state. Then he’d call me over and we’d start betting. Remember that to be a successful businessman you must have a tender spot in your heart for the foibles of humanity.”

Excerpt:”Flamo Up in Flames”

I probably never would have become America’s leading fire-eater if Flamo the Great hadn’t happened to explode that night in front of Krinko’s Great Combined Carnival Side Shows. The tragedy–if such it may be called–took place at eleven o’clock when there’s only time for one more show before the carnival closes for the night, so all the concessions compete for the late crowd at the same time. The side show had a bad location, being next to the Oriental Dancing Girls (“Fugitives from a Life of Shame in the Sultan’s Harem”) and it’s pretty hard to compete with ten naked girls for the public’s interest.

But a good side show can compete with anything. When Flamo stood up on the platform outside the side show tent, naked to the waist with the two great torches in his hands throwing up plumes of golden fire topped by black smoke that reached above the ferris wheels–well, it was something that nothing in the Arabian Nights, Grimm’s Fairy Tales or an opium smoker’s dreams could top. People left all the other concessions to rush to the side show, and I led the rush.

Some of the other acts had come out on the platform to join Flamo: a cowboy playing his guitar, a Hindu fakir sticking hat pins into himself, a gypsy palmist, and an almost nude girl hopefully holding up a fifteen-foot rock python. As I say, in a side show there’s something to appeal to every taste. But none of them could touch Flamo as a public attraction.
Slowly the fire-eater put back his head and thrust one of the burning torches between his lips. Flames rushed out of his mouth like the backlash of a blast furnace, making his cheeks and throat glow like a jack-o’-lantern and throwing a witch glow over the other acts. Women screamed in the rapidly forming crowd and a man beside me suddenly turned sick and tried to force his way out through the mob. Flamo gradually closed his lips over the flame until the fire went out, leaving only the dancing light of the torch in his other hand to illuminate the platform. Taking care to hold the lighted torch well away from his body, he filled a drinking glass half full of gasoline from a scarlet tin marked DANGEROUS. Instantly the Hindu fakir grabbed up a potbellied flute and began to play a wild chant into the microphone while the side show talker beat on a metal triangle and shouted, “This is it, folks! Something you’ll never see again.”

I’d seen fire-eaters work before, so I guessed that Flamo was going to do the Fountain of Fire. Not many fire-eaters care to try this stunt because even if they don’t blow themselves up they’re liable to set the audience on fire. To perform the Fountain, the fire-eater takes a mouthful of gas, blows it out in a fine stream, and then lights it. Some fire-eaters will even puff out circles of flame that go undulating up into the air like burning smoke rings. I’d never seen a fire-eater do the stunt except in a dead calm and this evening little gusts of wind were flapping the side show banners-the big canvas pictures of the performers that hang outside a side show. Flamo hesitated. He probably wouldn’t have attempted the Fountain if the Oriental Dancing Girls hadn’t suddenly turned loose a series of bumps and grinds that began to draw away some of the side show crowd. Then the fire-eater made his decision. He took a mouthful of gasoline and stood waiting for the wind to die down.

I was in the front row of the crowd and by the leaping light of the torch in his hand I could see the fire-eater’s face, thin and sunken in spite of his puffed-out cheeks, as he watched the breeze bellying the banner line. He was a swarthy man, apparently of South European blood, his thick black hair carefully combed, and his bare hairless chest as scrawny as an emaciated child’s.

Suddenly a little trickle of gas leaked from the corner of his mouth and ran down his chin. Instantly a tiny flash of fire from the torch leaped toward it, running through the air as though along an invisible fuse as it ignited the gasoline vapor. The little trickle blazed up and his whole mouthful of gas exploded.

Excerpt: “Krinko the Fakir; the Human Ostrich”

After working in carnivals for several months, I finally decided that there is almost no limit to the remarkable things that can be done with the human body. But before I realized this profound truth, I got the mistaken idea that because I knew a few carny routines, I was an authority on carny acts. When I was able to run half a dozen skewers through my arms and do the nail-in-the-eye act, I decided that there was nothing left for old man Krinko to teach me. Then one evening the old fakir resolved to show me up.

I was finishing my sword swallowing routine when Krinko called casually, “Hi, son, I want you to help me.” I knew that after forty years in the show business, the old man needed my help like he needed a third leg, but I came over to his platform. Krinko was holding up a yard of red silk ribbon. After the tip had left my catwalk and collected around him, Krinko gravely rolled up the ribbon into a small ball and swallowed it.

Then Krinko pulled up his shirt, disclosing his great hairy belly. He picked up a razor blade and made a slight ct in his skin just above the navel. Reaching into the cut, he began to pull out the ribbon, inch by inch.

When he’d produced about a foot of it, I said, “Let me pull it out.” I was certain that he must be palming the ribbon. Krinko instantly put his hands on his sides so I’d have a clear field. I took the ribbon and began to work it out. There wasn’t the slightest doubt that the ribbon was coming from inside of him. I thought he might have made a small cut in his body, rolled up a duplicate into a ball, and stuck it into the wound. But this ribbon was paying out from somewhere inside the old man’s body. I pulled out the whole yard of silk and was more astonished than anyone in the crowd.

Krinko knew he had me completely fooled and got a big kick out of it. For the next few days, he kept making cracks about Johnny-come-latelies who know all about torture acts and asking me if I’d mind giving him lessons in fakirism. The other members of the troupe took up the gag. Lu gave me a hot dog with a ribbon tied around it and asked me to produce the ribbon after I’d eaten the dog. I spent hours trying to figure out the stunt, but as far as I was concerned, it was still a miracle.

Krinko had never done the ribbon trick before in America, but after he saw the effect it produced on me, he started introducing it as a regular part of his act. As we were all working crowded together in the pit, he couldn’t keep the effect a secret for long. So I soon discovered how the ribbon trick was done.