In The Spotlight
William Woodcock, Jr. (1935-2023), better known as Bill or "Buckles" Woodcock, was one of the great elephant trainers of the second half of the twentieth century American circus. A true circus legend in his own times, he was extremely respected in the profession and loved by circus fans, who enjoyed testing his historical knowledge of the American circus, and his encyclopedic command of the history of elephants in the United States—an interest passed on to him by his father.
William "Buckles" Woodcock was born on February 26, 1935 in Lancaster, Missouri, to an old American circus family. Although his father, William H. Woodcock (1904-1963), was a first-generation circus man (and became a legendary elephant trainer with a passion for circus history), his mother was Sarah "Babe" Orton (1902-1988), whose grandfather, Hiram, a former sailor and tavern-keeper of British origin, had started a circus in Wisconsin in 1854. As the feisty Babe would often say, "My family was in the circus when the Ringling brothers were still wearing wooden shoes."
Bill (to differentiate him from his father, William) Woodcock grew up around animals, elephants in particular. When he was a toddler, he was often buckled to his mother on a harness to keep him in check and safe around his father's elephants, thus his nickname. At age 11, he began working in the circus as a candy butcher(American) Concession vendor; so named because one of the first successful concessionaires of the American circus was a former butcher.. But Buckles had other plans: in 1951, over his father's objections, he found a job as an animal handler with another elephant trainer, Eugene "Arky" Scott, who worked with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.
Obviously, there was not much William Senior could do. He and Buckles reunited two years later and began working together. Since his father's vision was failing, Buckles's role in the partnership became increasingly more prominent. In 1951, William Woodcock had acquired a four-year old Burmese woodland elephant, Anna May, from the Al G. Kelly-Miller Bros. Circus, and Buckles began working with her. Anna May, who was a remarkably smart and talented performer, would become America's most famous elephant and stay in the Woodcock family until May 2004, when she went into retirement at Riddle's Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary in Greenbrier, Arkansas.... (more...)
New Essays and Biographies
- Rex Williams, Elephant Trainer
- Little Billy Merchant, Clown
- Jacko Fossett, Clown
- Circus Ring of Fame, History
- Natalya Jigalova, Aerialist
- Duo Bikmaevi, strap actAerial act performed hanging from a pair of fabric or leather straps. (See Aerial Straps.) (2022)
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- Anatoliy Ruban Troupe, teeterboardA seesaw made of wood, or fiberglass poles tied together, which is used to propel acrobats in the air. (2022)
New Oral Histories
- For A Moment You Fly, The First Season of The Big Apple Circus (1977)
- Vladimir Durov Documentary on Russian Television (c.2000)
- Dolly Jacobs Interview at The Ringling (2018)
- Pinito del Oro's Interview on Spanish Television (1970)
- Gia Eradze's Interview on SSU TV (2015)
- Philip Astley & The Horsemen who invented the Circus, by Dominique Jando (2018)
A Message from the Founder
CIRCOPEDIA is a constantly evolving and expanding archive of the international circus. New videos, biographies, essays, and documents are added to the site on a weekly—and sometimes daily—basis. Keep visiting us: even if today you don't find what you're looking for, it may well be here tomorrow! And if you are a serious circus scholar and spot a factual or historical inaccuracy, do not hesitate to contact us: we will definitely consider your remarks and suggestions.
- Dominique Jando
- Founder and Curator