The Greatest Show on Earth

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The Greatest Show on Earth is a 1952 drama film set in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The film was produced, directed, and narrated by Cecil B. DeMille, and won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Its storyline is supported by lavish production values, actual circus acts, and documentary, behind-the-rings looks at the massive logistics effort which made big top circuses possible.

The film stars Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde as trapeze artists competing for the center ring, and Charlton Heston as the circus manager running the show. James Stewart also stars as a mysterious clown who never removes his make-up, even between shows.

In addition to the film actors, the real Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Circus' 1951 troupe appears in the film, with its complement of 1400 people, hundreds of animals, and 60 carloads of equipment and tents. The actors learned their respective circus roles and participated in the acts.

Adjusted for inflation, the film's box office is among the highest-grossing films in the United States and Canada.

A television series, also called The Greatest Show on Earth, was inspired by the film, but with Jack Palance in the role of Charlton Heston's character. The program ran on Tuesday evenings for thirty episodes on ABC during the 1963—1964 season.


DeMille's opening remarks

"We bring you the circus — that Pied Piper whose magic tunes lead children of all ages, from 6 to 60, into a tinseled and spun-candied world of reckless beauty and mounting laughter; whirling thrills; of rhythm, excitement and grace; of daring, enflaring and dance; of high-stepping horses and high-flying stars.

"But behind all this, the circus is a massive machine whose very life depends on discipline, motion and speed . . . a mechanized army on wheels that rolls over any obstacle in its path . . . that meets calamity again and again, but always comes up smiling . . . a place where disaster and tragedy stalk the Big Top, haunt the backyards, and ride the circus rails . . . where Death is constantly watching for one frayed rope, one weak link, or one trace of fear.

"A fierce, primitive fighting force that smashes relentlessly forward against impossible odds: That is the circus. And this is the story of the biggest of the Big Tops . . . and of the men and women who fight to make it — The Greatest Show on Earth! "

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