Correction to This Article
This story said Feld Entertainment Chairman Kenneth Feld wrote a check to cover the Big Apple Circus's deficit caused by a drop in donations in the wake of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal. Feld wrote a check to cover a portion of the deficit, not the entire circus shortfall.
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The man behind the 'Greatest Show on Earth'

"He is a very shrewd businessman, but he does not care about people," said Karen Feld. "He is smart, and he has his pulse on what the public wants. His biggest weakness is the way he treats people. You have to be concerned about people, and he is not, except where it makes him look good."

Kenneth Feld declined to respond.

Ringling has been bitter rivals with animal rights groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for years. PETA wants Ringling's animal acts shut down. Ringling has accused PETA of distorting its record of animal husbandry. Animal rights groups and a former employee sued Feld Entertainment under the Endangered Species Act. Last year, a U.S. District Court judge found that the lead plaintiff, a former Ringling employee, had no credibility and therefore no standing to sue. He ruled in favor of Feld Entertainment and dismissed the case.

Feld will never give up the elephants, despite the negative publicity. The pachyderms define Ringling, with elephant images gracing ads, programs, toys, TV commercials and anything else related to the circus. Feld even has a saying, "bring on the elephants," which is a euphemism for any sure-thing, crowd-pleaser act -- whether it's motorcycles or Mickey Mouse -- that sends the customer home satisfied.

Feld said his company works off a simple script: "We make heroes out of parents. It's the small and memorable thing that the child goes home with. All we want to do is create a memory."

***

More than 12,000 Monster Jam fans are squeezed into Baltimore's aging 1st Mariner Arena on a chilly February evening. One of them is a well-dressed, serious-looking gentleman who stands out amidst the blue-collar crowd, soaking in the action.

Sitting in row H, seat 11, Feld takes mental notes as the Monster trucks race across the 80 truckloads of dirt that his company has spread across the arena floor. He watches closely as Prowler, Spiderman and other five-ton trucks flatten junk cars and leap over dirt inclines. "As this goes on, you will see some of these guys get absolutely upright," says Feld, watching closely. As Predator finishes its routine, he shakes his head. "He didn't get it right."

Feld stares as another Monster truck streaks from a tunnel and into the main arena, going vertical as it crashes over a yellow-painted Chevrolet Monte Carlo that serves as a junk car. As the audience erupts, Feld gives a thumbs up, pronouncing "the best so far." He looks around at audience members, shakes his shoulders and screams above the din of the motors, "They love it. They fall for a truck. The audience for Monster Jam is . . . the real America."

Toward the end of the show's first hour, around two dozen motorcycles, all-terrain-vehicles and conventional dirt bikes launch into a carefully choreographed ballet, zooming up ramps to do 40-foot-high spins and somersaults and crashing down onto a dirt hill.

It's vintage Feld. Fast-paced. Dangerous. Earsplitting. Full of pyrotechnics. The razzle-dazzle builds to a crescendo designed to give the audience an adrenaline rush as they break for intermission.

Then Feld follows the customers into the concourse to see what they buy.

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.


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