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Ted Sato, staff photographer for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, pictured here relaxing in the show's cookhouse. Photo by Dick Miller.
Inset: Sato's business card from 1953.
The Ted Sato Project
Ted Sato became the official staff photographer for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1952 and held this position through 1956. When he took over this position, nobody, including Ted himself, would have ever guessed that he would be capturing the last four seasons of the Greatest Show On Earth under canvas. When the show suddenly and unexpectedly folded its enormous big top in mid-season, in Pittsburg, PA (July, 1956), it signaled the end of an era.
Once back at winter quarters, in Sarasota, FL, Ted began dismantling his darkroom aboard the circus train, gathering up over 3,000 negatives that he had created over the course of the past four years while trouping with the show, placing them in a large box. When he took the negatives to the main office, John Ringling North told him to simply deposit them in a dumpster on his way off the grounds: they wouldn’t be needing them beyond that point.
Ted scooped the up box in his arms, left the office, and headed towards the nearest dumpster . . . and kept walking past it, en route to his automobile. That same archive of one-of-a-kind images found a safe resting place on a shelf in Sato’s home in Sarasota for almost forty years thereafter, until, in the fall of 1994, he met Timothy Tegge. A friendship soon developed and a few months later Ted handed that same box of negatives over to him.
The TEGGE CIRCUS ARCHIVES is pleased to announce its next exciting project--a new touring exhibit focusing on the photography of Ted Sato and the last days of the Greatest Show On Earth under the big top. Among the inclusions will be a handful of photographs that may be somewhat familiar to circus enthusiasts, but this exhibition will also feature scores of images never before seen anywhere. Sato photographed Marilyn Monroe atop her pink elephant in the backyard of New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1955. He also snapped off images of Marlene Dietrich, dressed in top hat and tails, awaiting her cue as Ringmistress, as well as candid shots of Vice-President Nixon and his family sitting awestruck in their seats, watching the spectacle unfurl before their eyes.
Negotiations are presently in the works for the publication of a photographic book of Sato’s work as a companion to the planned exhibit. YOU can help make this dream a reality. Your donations will greatly help the TEGGE CIRCUS ARCHIVES realize this project, as well as pursue others in the ongoing mission to bring the fascinating legacy of the circus to communities of all sizes.