Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist

Ain’t too much sadder than.

I read a sad and fascinating story this afternoon about one Frank “Slivers” Oakley, a pantomime clown of the early 1900s. Oakley was one of the most fanous of circus performers, a man who commanded $750 per show (a king’s ransom for a circus clown, especially at that time).

Oakley used to do a bit where he pantomimed a baseball game entirely by himself–it was, or so I read, so funny that several members of his audience ended up requiring medical attention.

franksilvers14largeAt some point, however, Oakley began to grow erratic and indecipherable, and as his eccentricity grew, his audiences shrank, until they had finally dwindled to the point that he was forced into semi-retirement. He took some time off, got his head straight, and then went back to the circus–where he found only walk-on clown parts, at the mere pittance of $50 per show.

Shortly after signing his new contract, Oakley committed suicide. He was 48 years old.

I want to take the above story as some sort of cautionary tale, with the moral being “Don’t get weird,” or “Don’t fly so close to the sun, Icarus,” or somesuch. A reminder that if one is not careful with their talents and watchful of their mental faculties, they end up as a footnote of history, the world graying out as they inhale toxic gas.

I want to apply it to my own life in some way, but there’s very little to relate to. I’m not even referring to our different disciplines, milieus, and eras.

I can’t see myself committing suicide over a fall from some sort of artistic grace. I can believe, every now and again, that I may hit that point, where I can no longer write anything–not your garden variety Block, but the Real Thing, the iron curtain of exasperation. That can surely happen, and for no reason at all.

But I wouldn’t kill myself over it.

This is, strangely enough, a very mature realization for me. I was sure, back in high school, that I could easily kill myself if I found myself in that sort of despair. But now it just seems quaint. “Oh,” I think. “Die for lack of artistry? No, thank you.”

But really, I just found Oakley’s story compelling. Maybe he’d make a good play someday. But maybe not.

This isn’t really about me. This is just about a biography I read. That biography is not mine. And I don’t find mine that interesting anyway, but then again, it’s old hat to me.

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This entry was posted on January 22, 2006 by in Eulogy, History, Mental Health, Performance, Writing.
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