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Richard Barstow (April 1, 1908 - May 2, 1981) began a theatrical career as a child and for 29 years served as director and choreographer of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He is known for his work on A Star Is Born (1954), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and New Faces (1954). Most of the new names in the choreography field in the late 1940s had had formal training, including ballet, and most were, in fact, gay: Charles Walters, Jack Cole, Robert Alton, Richard Barstow, Lester Horton, Don Loper, Jerome Robbins.
Richard Barstow was born on April 1, 1908 in Ashtabula, Ohio, the youngest of seven children of British immigrants. He began life with a misshapen foot and doctors predicted he would always limp, but he determinedly practiced physical therapy and by the age of 6 was pronounced fully healed. Eager to demonstrate that he could move as nimbly as any other youngster, he took up dancing, with the help of his sister Edith (1907-1960).
He attended school only through the second grade. By the time Richard Barstow was seven, he was appearing in a vaudeville dance act with his sisters, called "The Five Barstows." The group played the Pantages vaudeville circuit on the west coast. After several years, only Barstow and his sister Edith remained in the act. Until Edith's marriage, the two continued to dance together in such places as Al Capone's saloons in Chicago, in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in Europe. Edith and Richard Barstow would continue to work together on numerous projects, such as the circus and industrial shows, throughout their careers.
Barstow settled in Chicago and found work at the Palmer House with Eddie Duchin's revue, learning choreography and directing. He also served in the U.S. Army during World War II, where he played the drums and wrote songs.
Although Richard Barstow had never even seen a circus, he was hired in1949 by John Ringling North of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, to direct and choreograph. He continued in this capacity for twenty-nine years and even wrote a number of songs for the circus. Barstow also staged the circus production numbers for Cecil B. DeMille's Oscar winning film The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).
Barstow's Broadway credits include the choreography and musical staging for Barefoot Boy with Cheek (1947), a musical comedy by Sidney Lippman and Sylvia Dee, Leonard Sillman's revue, New Faces of 1952, featuring Robert Clary, Alice Ghostley, Eartha Kitt, Carol Lawrence, and Paul Lynde. (He also worked on the 1954 film version.) Richard Barstow also choreographed Broadway revivals of Noël Coward's Tonight at 8:30 (1948) with Gertrude Lawrence, and Jerome Kern's Sally (1948).
In a two-part profile of Barstow in The New Yorker magazine in 1958, Robert Lewis Taylor said he was ''widely thought to be the most versatile man in show business. Besides engaging in his annual exertions for the circus, in which he is aided by his sister Edith,'' Taylor wrote, ''he has choreographed a lively string of Broadway and Hollywood musicals; Island; put together the giant industrial shows 'Motorama' and 'Powerama' for General Motors; danced as a vaudeville headliner, both in his childhood and later; played the drums in an Army band; and performed as a high diver at a public beach in Juan-les-Pins - a role for which he was not notably well equipped, being unable to swim and, in fact, having to be hauled out of the water on a pole after each dive.''
His other stage work encompasses directing several musicals at the Jones Beach Marine Theatre, including Song of Norway in 1959 and Annie Get Your Gunstarring Lucie Arnaz in 1978, staging a Latin Quarter nightclub show (1965), as well as a number of ice shows.
For Judy Garland, Barstow staged and choreographed two of her New York appearances: the first at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1959, the second Judy Garland At Home at the Palace (1967). He also choreographed and staged musical numbers for the 1954 version of A Star Is Born, considered one of Garland's most important films.
Richard Barstow's extensive work for industrial shows includes producing and directing several editions of Motorama in the early 1950s, and Powerama in Chicago, 1955, for General Motors. Barstow, a non-driver, also wrote a song "I Am Not Dreaming," adopted by Cadillac as its theme. Television personalities for whom Barstow worked include Fred Allen, Milton Berle, Eddie Cantor, Dave Garroway, Brenda Lee, Jane Morgan, Ed Wynn, and others.
He also produced and directed M.O. D.(a.k.a. The Rainbow Years), a star-studded event in 1958, marking the twentieth anniversary of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, i.e., the March of Dimes. Performers such as Don Ameche, Eddie Cantor, Lillian Gish, and Rudy Vallee were featured. Barstow also directed and choreographed the Symphony of Fashion in 1950 in St. Louis, Missouri.
A number of unusual accomplishments--including walking four and a half miles on his toes in 1928 (winning $500), and balancing himself with one toe stuck in a bottle--earned Richard Barstow a record number of mentions in Robert Ripley's Believe It or Not newspaper column.
His last major work was as director of the Jones Beach presentation of ''Annie Get Your Gun,'' starring Lucie Arnaz in the summer of 1978.
But Barstow, who lived alone in a penthouse at 200 West 54th Street, never actually retired. At his death he was working on his autobiography, ''Fools Rush In,'' and was writing a one-woman show for a longtime friend, Frances Koll. He had recently written several modern ballads and country-western songs and had worked with Brenda Lee, the singer, on her Las Vegas show.
He died on May 2, 1981, at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, after a series of heart attacks. He was 73 years old.
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