Tears were shed and other tears were barely held back by these men who risked death so many times in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus that was Irvin Feld's life: wild animal-tamers Gunther Gebel-Williams, Charly Baumann and Siegfried and Roy, who helped carry Feld's casket out of the Washington Hebrew Congregation yesterday.
President Reagan sent a telegram, as did San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, an old family friend. Condolences came from the national circuses of Switzerland and Bulgaria, and from old competitors such as the Ice Capades and the Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus.
Outside, Macomb Street was reminiscent of one of Irvin Feld's show-closing extravaganzas, with dozens of floral arrangements lining the sidewalk. Inside, a huge circus wagon-wheel floral arrangement stood in a corner, a break in its symmetry symbolizing the fact that the circus tradition continues despite the passing of one of its mainstays.
Feld was working with the circus when he died Thursday. He was on the way to Venice, Fla., to help choose 50 clowns out of 5,000 applying for the Circus College when he had a cerebral hemorrhage.
Some of the mourners were famous, such as singer Paul Anka, whom Feld had discovered. Olympic skater Linda Fratianne was there, too, flying up from the Magic Kingdom on Ice show in Knoxville. So was Madison Square Garden owner Sonny Werblin, who had bought Feld's wild dream of moving the circus from under canvas to under concrete -- and in so doing, saved the institution.
There were hundreds of others, business associates and friends from a life lived in and around Washington, and the family that will continue the dreams that fueled Irvin Feld throughout his 66 years. His son Kenneth, who was a co-owner of the circus, sat surrounded by his father's four sisters and his own children. He was enveloped by the kind of love evident in the words of Jerry King, founder of the King Charles Troupe, the first all-black act to be brought into the circus world: "I lost my best friend."
They heard Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz describe Feld as a man with an eye for detail and a heart for dreams, a memory shared by clown Ruth Chaddock.
"He took the time to look at my costume, my wig, my makeup, my gags and see that they were the highest quality. And if it wasn't the best for the show, the best for me . . . well, I thought it was amazing that he cared about the little details of a first-year clown."
Chaddock said that because Feld was so much a friend and father-figure to so many members of his performing troupes, they were devastated by his death, but that, true to tradition, the shows would go on. Although about two dozen of its performers flew to Washington for the service, the circus' Blue unit was having a memorial service concurrently at the Anaheim Convention Center in California; the Red unit's service was held Sunday in Minnesota. Tomorrow, there will be another ceremony in Venice at the circus' winter quarters.
President Reagan's telegram had noted "the laughter and delight Irvin Feld brought to children and adults alike will always be a living memorial to his immense contributions to the world of entertainment." Later in the day, circus animal-tamer Roy set a bouquet of red and white roses on Irvin Feld's casket at the Adas Israel Congregation cemetery before it was lowered into the ground.