Casting Campbells, The Peerless Cronans or The Peerless
Who and What Were They?
Roger P. Plaskett
In Burlington sits
a rusting old metal structured small building that has
a strange graphic still visible on its side. It reads
“CASTING CAMPBELLS – AERIALISTS
– HARWINTON, CONN"
So how did this structure
get here, how long has it been here and who were these
“Casting Campbells”. These are some of the
questions I had after I spotted the structure a number
of months ago.
After some research
I discovered some very interesting information about
the troupe of aerialists and tumblers who dazzled the
vaudeville world with their acts so many years ago.
In 1931 the Casting
Campbells were in their 25th year of performing and
were the best known and oldest acrobatic vaudeville
acts in the country. Louis (Lew) Cronan was the founder
and eventually the manager of this famous traveling
troupe who thrilled audiences all over the country and
around the world.
Lew was born and
grew up in Waterbury. As a boy in the Brooklyn section
of that town, Lew and his friends would play “circus”
and they started hanging make-shift trapezes from the
trees in their yards. After jumping from one trapeze
to another they started to get a little more daring
and were actually swinging into each others waiting
arms much like they had seen in the occasional circus
that would travel through the area. That is when the
seed was really planted.
In 1906, he went to a matinee
at the Poli’s theater and the act there was the
Four Lukens, a casting act. (They were called casting
acts because they would cast each other out into the
air like a fishing line). Once he saw this act he recalled
his childhood frolics in the trees and enticed three
friends to join him in an adventure. The original members
were all working in the brass city. There was George
Gooding, Joe Quinn and Jimmy Hamilton. After they all
put in hard days work at their jobs, they would go up
to the Brooklyn Athletic club and, under the watchful
eye of Abe Woods, a retired all around acrobat with
25 years with the Ringling Brothers Circus, they started
to perfect their act based on what Lew had seen with
the Lukens act. After a few months they felt they were
ready to perform. Lew was the manager and it was up
to him to book shows. They were originally called the
“Flying Rubes” but it was soon changed to
“The Casting Campbells”. (Louis’s
professional name was “Lew Campbell”)Their
first show was for the T.A.B. Society in Waterbury and
it paid a total of $60 for two nights work. In the audience
was Jim Clancey, the “booking agent” for
the Poli and other area theaters. He asked Lew what
it would take to get them to a theater for a week of
shows. Lew responded with “about $500”.
After some heavy negotiations they agreed on $80 for
a week of shows at the Bijou Theater in New Haven.