by Dan Mannix
1951 Book Club Edition. Besides the ratty DJ, this is a little dusty overall (like the bookstore where we found it), but the boards and binding are tight and clean.
"In Step Right Up!, Dan Mannix has written a fascinating memoir chronicling his season as a carny in the late 1940s. This was when carnivals were traveling shows, described by Mannix as "a collection of small concessions each operating independently but moving around the country together for the sake of convenience." The carnival consisted of a midway, rides, and various shows and concessions such as a Minstrel Show, Girl Show, Waxwork Exhibit, Wild Animal Exhibit, and Crazy House. Of course there were food concessions and the games of chance. Most shows were under tents (tops), as were many living quarters. Although circus-like, the carnival was different in that a circus was a single organization and a bit more reserved in the choices of entertainment. Carnivals, for example, would often offer nudity in the various Girl, Model or Posing shows, and the carnival exhibited more extreme freaks and side show acts.
Mannix joined the Ten-in-One top where there were a number of sideshow acts and freaks. There was a fat lady, a tattooed man, a mentalist, magician, palm reader, sword swallower, fire eater, and the Human Pincussion. The Pincussion performed a variety of torture acts, including sewing buttons to his eyelids, sticking hatpins through his cheeks, driving nails into his eyes, lying on a bed of nails, walking up a ladder of sharp swords, dancing on broken glass, and pouring molten lead into his eyes and ears. All but the last feat was real, but the molten lead act was grifted (faked). There was also a Human Ostrich who would eat and regurgitate various items - razor blades, light bulbs, keys, and even live rats and frogs.
Mannix, who had already graduated college and aspired to be a writer, joined the carnival after he saw Flamo, the sword swallower blow up. Mannix volunteered to learn the trade and after mastering the fire eating act, went on to learn sword swallowing, and later escapism and some mentalism. He travelled with the carnival for one season and introduces the reader to various characters, many of whom we come to know quite intimately.
Toward the end is an interesting conversation with the fat lady explaining that everyone involved with the carnival is a freak - some by choice, some not. This philosophical view says much as Mannix certainly portrays the carnival world as a microcosm. Mannix, although he actually seems to enjoy the carny life, decides not to pursue a second season. Instead, he agreed to write a series of articles about carnival life for Collier's magazine, which apparently led to this book. I am so glad he made that choice."