Note: This is an encore post from 2006.
Sept. 27, 1907
Ringling Bros. manager Charles Davis said farewell to Los Angeles, leaving $50 ($1,026.18 USD 2005) and some choice words for local authorities.
Child welfare officer Robert W. Reynolds spent several days attending the circus to ensure that there were no performances by underage children (The Times is a bit vague, saying younger than 16 in one story and younger than 12 in another).
“I went out to the circus grounds Monday night and saw several children I believed less than 16 years old performing,” Reynolds said. “Of course, I had no proof that such was the case, however, and as the district attorney had warned us to be careful of our cases before making a complaint I did nothing at that time.”
Reynolds returned to the circus and asked the parents about their children’s ages. “I was ordered from the grounds, but Mr. White [it isn’t clear who this is—lrh] came along and, on being informed who I was, gave orders that I be allowed to go where I pleased.”
The children were withdrawn—all but one of them.
“In the evening I came out and saw Manager Davis before the performance began,” Reynolds said. “He told me that if he took off the little Jap the performance would be spoiled. I told him that I did not want to do that but that I was there to see that children under 16 years of age did not appear.
“I stayed that night and saw several children whose parents said that they were underage.”
Davis had his own side of the story—and he was not alone. Davis complained that Los Angeles authorities waited until the circus was about to leave town before bringing charges, forcing him to pay the fine or remain behind to contest the allegations.
“The little ones accompany their parents and are properly cared for,” Davis said. “They receive training in the business they are to take up. Circuses have had children performers for years and years. Anyone with a thimbleful of sense knows that there are always children with a circus.”
“This is the second time Reynolds has taken such action at the eleventh hour,” The Times said, “and local theatrical managers have wired East, warning companies booked for the winter season of the treatment they may expect.”
“Many of the Eastern managers are refusing to book shows for Los Angeles this winter because of the fact that they are treated in such an unfair manner,” one theater executive said. “The prettiest plays are those with children in them, but Los Angeles may be cut from the list if this sort of treatment continues.”
Jackie Coogan thanks you.
Screen Actors Guild information for young performers.