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Book Review

Staff Writer
His full-body cast was exhibited at the Museum of Natural History

Clicko: The Wild Dancing Bushman is the story of Franz Taibosh, born around 1870 on a farm somewhere north of Graff Reinet.  His father's possible lineage has been traced as the Taaibosch family, of Korana, Khoekhoe ancestry, who even gave evidence to colonial commissions in 1837 and 1869. Franz may have grown up on a farm south of Middelburg and first danced for the British soldiers based near there. He was small in stature, but he danced with great exuberance and people found him entertaining. A local newspaper report said: "The boy could dance; and during his executions he executed some weird steps, accompanied with uncanny noises ... his features were repulsive and during the dancing he made startling grimaces". Later he incorporated elements of "acrobatic-step dancing" into his show.

Franz claimed he was a post-rider during the Boer War. Eventually he ended up in Kimberley, where he became linked to Randolph, and his brother Paddy Hepston, who became his manager and controller beginning sometime in 1912. Franz was a professional performer nearly 25 years, from then through until 1936. For those who watched him dance, showing their prejudices and self-deceptions, he was the ignorant, wild Bushman who could not speak any language but his own clicks. After leaving South Africa, Franz performed in Australia, and then arrived in England in 1912, possibly danced in France, Germany and Spain, and moved into real show business in London in June 1913. Franz's passport allowing him to leave South Africa has him as a batman for Paddy and his name as W. D. Bushman.

The show in London was successful. It began with Paddy giving a long spiel introducing the act to the audience. There were many variants to this story, but most involved the Wild Dancing Bushman's capture, taming on a farm, a degree of domesticity, but the wildness was always there. In one tale Paddy confessed to keeping him chained for six months and beating him daily. Paddy and Franz would move about London in taxis between skits in two or three theatres nightly.

Franz's performances attracted the attention of a string of academics and well-meaning humanitarians. The first was Dr Duckworth of the Anthropological Laboratory in Cambridge who became a Reader (Professor) at the University and Master of Jesus College.

Duckworth's writing was picked up by the South African press, who interviewed Dorothea Bleek on the dancing Bushman who said with great prescience, "There are a great many Bushmen in the Kalahari". Later Duckworth was mocked for having his leg pulled. Franz was fluent in Afrikaans, a language that nearly everyone he met in Europe and North America could not speak (none knew his Khoekhoe mother tongue), but it was easier for the show to pass him off as an "ignorant savage". Later Franz learnt to speak in English, German and Spanish. He was a consummate actor playing a role, not the "savage" creature he was presented to the public as in the pit or on the stage.

In October 1913, Franz performed at the Nouveau Cirque in Paris. His stage names Clicquot, Cliquot, Klikko, Clico and Clicko began there. In November 1913, Franz went to Cambridge to be studied further by the so-called scientists and he performed for them in the New Examinations Hall. He was billed as the "first specimen of the most primitive race ever brought before the public", that he could dance for eight hours continuously and that he was more than 100 years old. To attract paying audiences the unusual, the exotic, "a unique specimen of human nature", had to be emphasised. When the skit was short, Franz had to be "bodily carried off the stage, for he will not stop [dancing] of his own accord".

By June 1914 the ill treatment of a Wild Dancing Bushman had come to the attention of the Aborigines' Protection Society (APS) who were out to expose "the wicked exploitation of defenceless natives". Their enquires led to Franz vanishing to Ireland where Paddy Hepston was born into a Jewish community in Dublin and where he was also known as Morris Epstein. Slipping back into England they began a series of appearances, but under other labels, Wild Man of Borneo, and later as an Australian Bushman. When the activities of the APS became heated the High Commission

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of the Union of South Africa in London "refused to have anything to do with the case on the grounds that a Kalahari Bushman must come from Bechuanaland Protectorate" making him the responsibility of Great Britain.

With new British passports in April 1916, W. D. Bushman and M. P. Hepston moved on from Dublin to Havana, Cuba, where they joined the Cuban circus, Santos by Artigas Gran Circo. They also became involved in Samuel W. Gumpertz famous Dreamland Circus Sideshow, the key attraction at Brooklyn's Coney Island amusement park. They went to New York City where Franz was the star in the "Congress of Curious People" and then back to Cuba.

In December 1917 he was photographed in detail at the Museum of Natural History in New York City and a full-body cast was made of him that was on display until 1990. On December 11, 1918, Franz was kidnapped from a furnished room in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he was held in custody by Paddy. Franz was then to become part of his kidnapper's family and stay with them over the next 18 years.

Impresario Frank Cook who worked for Barnum & Bailey Circus worked to extract Franz from Paddy, the sideshow and into his circus, in a far more lucrative position. The ground was now set for eventually three court cases over who owned Franz. He was wrested from Paddy by kidnapping, and Paddy's subsequent actions to recover Franz failed when Paddy was charged with "enslavement". Gumpertz's cases against Cook also came to nothing.

Frank Cook, his wives and daughters became involved with Franz both personally and his career. Frank even frequented posh whorehouses with Franz. Franz, tuned out in a tuxedo, would serve as butler and entertainer at Frank's parties. In 1925 a journalist wrote about Franz; "he is fond of children and entertains them in the neighbourhood with tales, strange orations in the tongue of Bocheanaland (sic), and by exhibitions of native dancing  ... he perfects himself in the latest of American dancing steps ... he owns a dog 'Bobs' and spends much time training him. Asked his nationality of origin, Franz replied, 'I am an American gentleman'" (page 133). In 1929 when Franz had a partial stroke, Frank rushed him back to their home in Albany, New York, where Frances Cook nursed him back to reasonable health. In 1931 the Field Museum in Chicago did a study of Franz and later Malvina Hoffman sculpted his bust.

 In 1932 the US government gave Franz a permanent work permit. Franz became part of the combined Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey Circus until his last year in 1936. "The season ran from April 8, in New York [City] to 11 November in Tampa [Florida]. There were 394 performances in 218 days, by 1,608 circus people of 49 different nationalities travelling 16,370 miles by railroad" (page 163). The three-ring circus was hauled by four trains up to three miles long.

 Frank Cook died in January 1937. Then his five-year-old daughter (Franz's size-for whom he was like a grandfather) and widow Evelyn became even more part of Franz's life. She successfully fought Gumpertz's latest attempt to own Franz and became his guardian. When they travelled across the country together Franz would pretend he was a "grand potentate ... even once presented himself to a startled hotel clerk as Haile Selassie". She arranged his last posting with the freaks at the Chicago World's Fair. "Old and exhausted and weakened by the winters illness" Franz died at the home of Francis Cook Sullivan and her husband Patrick on August 31, 1940 of heart failure. Was he 70 years old? He is buried in their common grave and the single stone shares their three names. Mrs Sullivan who died in 1981 took up writing, and her story about Franz was called I inherited a Bushman.

Professor Parsons has mobilised diverse sources to present a coherent and entertaining story. They include theatrical trade newsletters and newspapers, posters, billboards, public newspaper articles, and interviews.

The only thing he misses is the "eccentricities of a Ford car" - it actually circled in the opening parade, the small car spilling out up to two-dozen clowns as it rounded the track outside the three rings - I know, I was there.
e-mail sheridangriswold@yahoo.com



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