The Fuller family, long-time West Seattle residents, had a circus act for decades and worked with a variety of performers and a menagerie of animals. Top left, parents Elgin & Ginger with son Lee in the late '60's. Bottom right , Elgin kissed Ginger's clown nose for good luck before each performance. Top right, Lee & Ginger today, having fun with a long scarf from a magic act.
Local circus family mixed it up with J.P. Patches, Jim Henson, Flying Wallendas, & 250-pound tassel-twirler
Elgin, Ginger, and son, Lee Fuller, long-time West Seattle residents, performed magic and clowning for a variety of traveling circuses, the Seattle and Spokane Worlds Fairs, and other venues. Numerous newspaper clippings, photos, and promotional flyers wedged carefully in Ginger's oversized keepsake album cover a lot of ground, featuring the striking couple and cute little tyke touring much of the West Coast, and caravanning in Canada in a converted '69 Ford van.
They performed with the Shrine Circus, the Pollack Circus, the still-active magician and author Stan Kramien, with his then One-Ring Circus Menagerie, the Duwayne Brothers Circus, Dr. Clarence W. 'Doc" Talbot and crooner and radio host, Smilin' Jack Smith. They opened for J.P. Patches and Gertrude at fairs in Green Lake and Westwood Village, also as clowns. Ginger said J.P. and Gertrude were always extremely gracious and welcomed them even though they, too, did a clown act.
A tight-knit trio, Elgin and Ginger plucked Lee out of school to perform with them in Vancouver for the DeWayne Brothers Circus. He got in trouble with both the Latona School in Wallingford where he'd been attending, and the Canadian authorities for truancy. The Fullers plea bargained with Latona School, Ginger recalled, and were told they could perform in lieu of punishment.
"Lee saw a lot of the scenery, the ocean, zoos, ghost towns, museums, so we didn't really figure he missed anything." said Ginger, a perky senior, evocative of a younger Betty White. Elgin, her husband of 57 years, passed away three years ago.
Lee, 46, an emcee and musician, formerly with the industrial Seattle band "Sex With Sarah", said he was always comfortable performing on stage. He did his first schtick by age one.
Ginger explained, "I made a bunny suit he wore with a top hat. He'd walk out on stage and his dad would make a rabbit come out of the top hat."
"When I was five, watching Dad perform from back page, I could recite everything, his mannerisms, acts," Lee recalled. He was "Bunko" the clown. His dad was "Bunk" and his mom, "Tola". "I was raiding Dad's props and would go on stage and warm up the audience before the other performers got on."
Lee was the only child, unless you count Rudy, the ventriloquist dummy his dad made.
Elgin was born in North Dakota, Ginger in Spokane. They met at Lewis and Clark High School in her home town, fell in love, and never looked back.
"I was 14 and had just started high school and Elgin was an upper classman, 16. He would stop me in the hall every day and finally asked me if I wanted to be a magician's assistant. I said, 'You betcha.' Oh my God. He was good looking, and an upper classman paying attention to a freshman. Are you kidding?"
They married four years later, and continued clowning around while he attended UW and she, a business college. Ginger said that Elgin kissed her red clown nose for good luck before every performance, a prop she still possesses.
There is a large B&W photo in the album of Elgin swallowing razor blades tied together on a string. Ginger had to do some risky tricks, too.
"I climbed into a small box as a clown. Elgin slid spears through it. I would do a costume change and come out in glamorous clothes. This was not a break away costume. I wore a Hart Schaffner Marx set of tails."
A mishap occurred during a performance at the Seattle World's Fair.
Lee recalled, "Dad got a little exuberant once putting spears in and actually speared Mom's thigh. She came out and had her hand on her thigh where she got gouged with blood coming down her."
"The show must go on," she said. "That's how it was. When I'd come out of that spear box I'd have to feel like I was the prettiest little thing in the world, even while my leg was bleeding."
The show also continued with Ginger's dove handling, which she said she hated.
"I assisted Doc Talbot with his dove magic act in Spokane," she said. "I wore a Chinese robe. I'd stand there holding the doves, and they'd poo down my hands. The next act I did was a silk production and it got dirty. I had to wipe my hands on it."
While the Seattle World's Fair offered wholesome acts like Jim Henson and his Muppets, and the Flying Wallendas, it also offered spicier entertainment including three burlesque venues.
"Elgin emceed for the Backstage, U.S.A. burlesque show," said Ginger. "It was called the 'backstage' because as customers came through they'd see into the dressing room with the strippers preparing. I think what you'd see were naked silhouettes of them behind a curtain taking a shower."
A headliner was their good friend, Baby Dumpling, the 250-pound tassel-twirler. Ginger still keeps one of the small, olive green tassels in her collection.
'Elgin was emceeing during her performance and he'd go out on stage and announce. 'You guys are lucky. Last night her strap broke and wiped out the first two rows.' That got a big laugh.
"I had no time in my life to be jealous," she said. "Elgin was the love of my life and I was his. You cannot be jealous and be in show business. You're constantly flirting. You want every guy out in the audience to look at you and say, 'I could have that girl. That's for me.' You wanted that to go across the stage line. But that was just the business."