Recollections of a life lived in the circus

Lloyd Sowers reports

- Norma Fox is 90-years-old and creates sculptures of circus performers. Her friend, 93-year-old Willie Edelston helps out. They're living history of  the golden age of the circus, traveling city to city starting in the late 1940s. 

"It was miserable on the train," Willie recalled, but smiled. "But it was great on the train. It was a great experience. If I had it to do over again, I would do it again,"

Norma was born in Denmark. Rumor has it, her family sold her to the circus. She says, 'not quite.'

"I was just donated. Let's put it that way. They got rid of me," she laughed.

But Norma got the last laugh. She became a solo trapeze performer, known as La Norma.

In 1951, the legendary director Cecil  B. Demille chose her for his Academy Award-winning  movie "The Greatest Show on Earth." She did all the tricks and stunts for the film's glamorous leading lady, Betty Hutton.

In the movie, it appeared that Hutton was performing on the trapeze, but it was movie magic. 

"She was a lot bigger than me,"  laughed Norma.

Both of their spouses passed away years ago, so Norma and Willie, and their dachshunds, Bear and Heidi, spend lots of time together. Their circus backgrounds brought them together.

For years, they taught young performers and were active in  Sarasota's circus community.

"It's a beautiful life," smiled Norma. "You try to stay together as much as you can." 

Many of their friends have passed away, too, but Norma and Willie have precious memories of people they performed with and of a special sound they'll never forget.

"When the people applauded... You don't do it for the money, you do it for the applause," Willie said.

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