Wirth's Circus Film: Philip Wirth and Earl Dudley

Wirth's Circus Film: Philip Wirth and Earl Dudley
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A fixed camera positioned on the edge of an outdoor arena captures ringmaster and circus proprietor Philip Wirth rehearsing with his trick pony, Earl Dudley. The pony is led around the arena on a horsedrawn platform as Wirth instructs it to perform various tricks including bowing, jumping, turning, kneeling, sitting and rearing. Circus wagons and a small crowd of circus employees can be seen in the background. At the end of the act, Earl Dudley is led out of the arena and Wirth bows to the camera before following behind. Summary by Poppy De Souza

In this clip, a dapper Philip Wirth – dressed in suit with tails, whip in hand – displays some of his talent for training horses. Wirth was an accomplished ringmaster and, despite the footage being in soft focus making details difficult to distinguish, his skills can be seen clearly here. Wirth confidently instructs Earl Dudley in a series of spectacular tricks during what appears to be a rehearsal performed especially for the camera. Because the camera is positioned at the front edge of the arena, at a safe distance from the action, we cannot easily make out Wirth’s facial features. However, his presence and his presentation are captured in this rare moving image record of one of Australia’s pre-eminent travelling showmen and founder of the iconic Wirth’s Circus. Wirth would have been around 60 at the time this was filmed but, as was the case with many family circus performers, he continued performing and travelling well into his later years.

Title Synopsis

This silent actuality footage shows circus proprietor and ringmaster Philip Wirth and his trick pony, Earl Dudley, as it performs a range of tricks in an outdoor arena. The final segment of this footage shows elephants and circus workers setting up the big top on the showgrounds.

The footage is silent and most of it is in soft focus.

Title Curator's Notes

Philip Wirth and his brother George were the founders of one of Australia’s most well-known family circuses – Wirth’s Circus. This footage contains rare moving images of Philip performing with his trick pony, the fantastically named Earl Dudley. The Wirths were born in Queensland and got their start as bandsmen in Ashton’s circus in the 1870s. By the time this footage was filmed, the Wirth brothers had established Wirth’s Circus and embarked on extended world tours to England, South Africa and South-East Asia. As well as being the circus proprietor, Philip Wirth was well-known for his talents as a horse trainer and ringmaster, and it is these skills that are on show here.

An intertitle at the beginning of this footage fragment indicates it may have been part of a newsreel item, although its provenance is unclear. There is very little evidence to attest to the location in which this material was filmed and, as the circus troupe toured the country extensively in the 1920s, it could be one of a number of Australian cities or towns. What it does show, however, is a glimpse of the life of the itinerant performers of yesteryear and some of the showmanship involved in the circus.

Wirth published an autobiography about his life in the circus, The Life of Philip Wirth, in 1934.

Notes by Poppy De Souza