Academy Award-winning 1952 movie launches a classic film series at Sarasota Opera House
Editor’s Note: The Sarasota Opera launches a special series screening film classics at 7;30 p.m. Friday with the 1952 Academy Award-winning Cecil B. DeMille film “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Performers from the Circus Arts Conservatory will be on hand before the film to entertain audiences and create some of the aura of the film’s 1952 Florida premiere at the Opera House.
The “Greatest Show On Earth” refers, of course, to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which wintered in Sarasota from 1927 until 1960 when it moved to Venice. But it also refers to an Academy Award-winning movie, much of it filmed in Sarasota, which was known throughout the world as The Circus City.
The film with the proverbial cast of thousands was a Paramount production, directed by the great Cecil B. DeMille, and, if you lived in Sarasota during the six weeks or so that the production company was here, you may remember it as if it were yesterday.
Sarasota immediately fell into the throes of Hollywood mania. And the buzz crossed all age groups, affecting men, women and children who were drawn to follow the local goings-on of the silver screen’s top stars.
And what a cast. Paramount Pictures, whose motto was “Famous Players in Famous Plays,” brought a half a dozen of their top stars to town in 1951, and the excitement they engendered during their stay was palpable.
Heading the troupe was lead actor Charlton Heston, whose role was based on John Ringling North, President of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Darkly handsome Cornel Wilde played the trapeze ace the Great Sebastian, while the beautiful, frenetic, multi-talented Betty Hutton, “Hollywood’s Blond Bombshell” whom Bob Hope dubbed “A Vitamin with Legs,” played Holly. Sultry film noir star Gloria Grahame, who won an Academy Award for “The Bad and The Beautiful,” played Angel; Dorothy Lamour, known as “The Beautiful One” and the “Sarong Girl” and who starred in many “Road” movies with Hope and Crosby, was cast as Phyllis. Lyle Bettger, the great character actor who usually played the “steely eyed villain” in many productions was Klaus; and Jimmy Stewart, who filmed his role in Hollywood and did not come to Sarasota, played a mysterious and sad Weary Willie type clown named Buttons, who never removes his make-up.
During their stay in Sarasota the Sarasota Herald’s long-time social writer Helen Griffin, who wrote the “Main Street Reporter” column, had a field day keeping starry-eyed locals up to date with all of the goings-on.
Articles in the paper tell the story: “BLOND BOMBSHELL LANDS IN SARASOTA,” “BOMBSHELL (AND SHORTS) CHARMS THE CIRCUS LOT,” “DOTTY GETS OFF TRAIN AND CAPTURES SARASOTA.”
Griffith described Hutton as, “Looking even more pulchritudinous in person than in pictures. And Cornel Wilde,…