Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gaylord Maynard: The Guy with the Drunk Horse

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It's not just you humans who perform physical comedy; your fellow mammals can do it too. One of the best examples is Gaylord Maynard's drunken horse act, which I still remember laughing hard at when I was lucky enough to see this cross-breed duo perform in the Hanneford Circus in White Plains, NY in 1980.

Maynard passed away in 2007, but his memory has been kept alive by his daughter Rhonda Visingard
.on this web site devoted to his life and work (yeah, internet!).  Before we get to the comedy, here's a brief bio from the site:

Gaylord Maynard-Visingard was famed throughout America for his work with horses in circuses, theatrical variety and horse shows. Born in New York in 1938, he was a fourth-generation performer in show business. His great-grandfather was a circus musician in the 1800's, and his grandfather was a member of the band for the famous John Philip Souza. His father was also a musician and performed in the famous “Ziegfeld Follies”, his mother being a singer and actress.

Gaylord Maynard's parents found themselves in the circus world during the Great Depression, with his parents seeking work in this field new to them, Gaylord became a clown and acrobat in his adolescent  years.
In 1970 he was part of the new arena spectacle created by the Lashinsky family in America, “The Royal Lipizzana Stallion Show”, America's response to the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. For their “Wonderful World of Horses” touring show he became stage manager and lighting director and also performed, riding the majestic Lipizzana stallions in the “airs above the ground” maneuvers, in a comedy knockabout act with two partners, and in a parody of the stately Lipizzanas' performance, with a trio of donkeys. While the horses danced, the donkeys aped their graceful performance.

While with “The Wonderful World of Horses”, he acquired a talented spotted horse, an Appaloosa stallion with the curious name of “Chief Bear Paw”. He developed with his steed a classically-presented comedy act in which everything went wrong with the number, and the horse — as well as the trainer — appeared to become increasingly intoxicated. The act wow'd audiences for 35 years, and with five different horses always bearing the same name — a classic comedy turn in rodeos, circuses, theatrical shows, television productions, theatre stage shows and horse shows. In a performance of “The Circus of the Stars” Maynard trained the actor Martin Sheen to present the number.

[ASIDE:  In 1976 I was on a publicity tour for my book Clowns, and while in L.A. got invited to a filming of one installment of The Circus of the Stars.  The underlying message was that celebrities have super powers that enable them to perform circus acts as well as circus people who have devoted their entire lives to honing their skills.  Typically, the audience would see some tv or movie "star" leading an animal through an act, but just out of camera range was the actual trainer, controlling everything.  While some of these stars did have actual skill — David Nelson of the Ozzie & Harriet Show comes to mind — the vast majority did not.  I found it to be a dispiriting affair.  jt]

In 1988 he appeared with his comedy act and as Show Director in the fabulous dinner show Arabian Nights in Kissimmee, Florida, which incorporates spectacular horse entertainment. From 2000 onwards, Maynard was there as a regular star and was able to perform there until shortly before his death. The owner of the Arabian Nights show, Mark Miller, said that Maynard was “the funniest guy with a horse in the world”.

I am happy to report that we do have some good video of his act.  Here's a short documentary, posted on YouTube in three segments.  

Part One
This is pre-performance as he readies a new horse to become the fourth incarnation of "Chief Bear Paw."

Part Two
They enter the ring to perform. The first couple of minutes are straight tricks, after which the fun begins.  The comic timing is impressive.  Keep in mind that this is a horse!

Part Three
The comedy continues.  Some funny bits even after his exit; worth watching straight through to the closing credits.

And here's a sweet and loving 4–minute video tribute to the man put together by his daughter.

Gaylord Maynard Memorial Tribute from CyberEyezz on Vimeo.

And click here for one more article on the man.

Thanks for the laughs!

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