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Ozzie Mostowy

Ottawa, Thursday, 25 August 2005

Yeah, I worked for Jimmy Sullivan, and Bernard and Barry, I was with them from ’54 to ’59. Then in ’60 I was back with Sullivan. I was with him in ’53, my first year when I started out. That was called Wallace Brothers, then they changed their name to World’s Finest the following year. I was on the eastern road show during the ’70s, I had a Tiger Shoot, the Shoot-Til-You-Win, the ice cream. Then in ’75 I went with Campbell and did a whole season.

I started with a photo joint for about 11 years, then I had the ice cream for another 11 years, and then I had some games, half a dozen games for a couple years. I retired 15 years ago. My son had a couple of concessions here, so I just come out in the summer for a few spots to give him a hand. He only has one in here, on this show. Right now he’s someplace else at some big spots, like at Syracuse State Fair.

You want to know about Patty Conklin? We used to play gin together years ago. He used to come to the club. He used to come and visit us on the show. We’d go in the back of the truck and play four-handed, put the coke cases and the stock box down. The four-handed gin games, we used to have a lot of fun. He liked to play gin, but he wasn’t that good. I think I got a lot of money from him in those years. I was just a kid, but he always used to scream and holler, “That little bugger, he gets lucky all the time.”

He was quite a personality, oh god. They don’t make ’em anymore like that. There was quite a number show people at the time. Whether it was Sullivan, or whether it was Howie Jones of King Shows, Al Brown, Bernie Arent, you know, there was personalities, there was characters at that time. I don’t know, they just don’t seem to … or maybe I’m just getting older. You had to live by your wits at that time. Nowadays they just more or less sell stock. It’s a way of selling merchandise.

I had concessions with Howard Jones. He was a great guy, a great, great guy. He died in ’66. He was in his late 40s, only, heart problem. We were playing the Ottawa Ex at that time, quite a number of us were at the Ottawa Ex. We all flew into Toronto for the funeral. We had one of the biggest funerals you ever seen. It was at this time of the year. He was Thamesville, they were playing in Chatham, he was in a motel in Thamesville and he had a heart attack there. The doctor told him not to go out, but he couldn’t help it, he had to be here, this was his life.

Everybody loved Howard. We used to be at the Showmen’s Club and there’d be phone calls all the time, “Howard Jones, Howard Jones.” Somebody’s in Buffalo, stuck, “Send me $20.” Somebody’s in Montreal, somebody’s in Florida, “Send me $20.” So he’d borrow from this one, send somebody here, help this guy out.

Money wasn’t that important then, like it is now. Nobody had nothing and they didn’t care. They didn’t have to have new cars, or new TVs, or computers, or all that. They were just happy to be together, like a happy family at that time. Whatever you had, you were ready to share. It’s different now. Some of them want to call it a business.

Jimmy Sullivan was a very nice guy too, very well dressed. As a matter of fact, when Howard Jones died, Sullivan was also in Ottawa with us and he was one of the guys that flew with us. At the airport in Toronto, we were all in the restaurant and he picked up the tab, after we ate. Everybody liked him and his brother, Mike. Mike worked in the office.

Phil Cronin, too, had a lot of kiddie rides at that time and a bingo when I first came in ’53. Later on he had his own show, Kiddielands Limited, after Sullivan sold out, with Johnny Bunk. Johnny Bunk worked for Phil Cronin, looked after everything.

Hank Blade’s another one, ex-hockey player, he used to be the back-end guy, the ride superintendent. Later on he was partners with a show with Johnny Homeniuk, they bought Bernard Shows. Hank just died a year ago, up in Peterborough. He got completely away from the shows for about 15 years, nobody had seen him, he never associated with anybody, never came to the fairgrounds. I don’t know what happened there.

Tiny Jamieson’s another one, big, big guy. There was another guy worked on the show, Gerry Rose, about six foot six. One day they were wrestling and you just see two giants wrestling, Tiny and Gerry Rose. Tiny was a welder on the show, looking after the train, loading and unloading the train. I don’t think anybody won, but for a kid to watch two giants, it sticks in your mind.

Pat Marco, there was a character. There was Mr. Midway. Everybody in the industry knew him. He had that kind of a personality. Loved to gamble too, the horses, craps or cards. We spent hundreds of hours in the club, playing gin or Windsor rummy. He was a great guy too.

That’s the one that got me the first job on the show. I was 19 or something like that, out west. A couple of my friends joined the show in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. About two weeks later one of the boys came back, because his father owned a butcher shop and he had to help his dad. He came back to a little town called Roblin. I didn’t have a job and he says, “Why don’t you join the show, they’re in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, right now.” He says, “Phone a guy, his name is Pat Marco.” So I phoned long distance and they’ve got a phone in the office. I could hear over the loud speaker, “Pat Marco come to the office, please.” I says, “Do you got any jobs there?” He says, “Do you know anybody here?” So I mentioned a couple of names, the one who was still there and the other one who left. He says, “Yeah, come on down, I’ll get you a job. You better come down to Prince Albert because we’re tearing down tonight in North Battleford.” So I came into to Prince Albert and he put me on a Crown and Anchor Wheel, working on the outside.

A guy was here yesterday that I worked for. Cliff Drew, he’s from Cornwall; he’s 75 years old now. He was here yesterday and we were talking about it. So I worked the three days and then he said we can’t hire you now because the show train used to come from there to Three Rivers, Quebec and they wouldn’t take somebody they hired in the last spot. Because they would come here for the ride and then they quit. So he says, “If you want a job next year, we’ll promise you a job next year.”

So in January or February I write a letter to this guy, Pat Marco, in Toronto. He answers back, “Yeah, come on down to Windsor, we open April 14, but you gotta pay your own car fare.” I come there and they introduced me to this woman who was running a photo machine, taking pictures, you know, in jail and all that. I started working that year and the next year I got my own and that was it.

At that time it was good, they didn’t cost much money to buy. In those days they didn’t have Polaroid cameras, they didn’t have the automatic machines. You take the pictures, you go in the dark room, you develop them, in chemicals. You could paint the pictures, you could enlarge them, sell frames. I lasted for 11 years with that. You had the jail scenes, the bed scenes, you put in front of them. Take a bunch of pictures and maybe in 15 minutes you’d go in the dark room and develop them. It took about three minutes to develop them. Come out, cut them out, hand them out to the people. A lot of fun, those years, sure.

I’m from the west originally, from a farm. I hadn’t had any contact with the show until I phoned them. I didn’t do anything else after that. Never worked. Worked very hard in the summertime, put in a lot of hours. Seven days a week, here it’s 11 straight days, there’s no rest. Then we go to Belleville, double back, take the house trailer there, then the game trailer there. Set up the next day, maybe go to Toronto to get some stock, we open there. From there, Renfrew, Kingston, Lindsay, Markham and Simcoe. Then it’s all over for seven months. I don’t have another truck; right now I prefer it that way. I only have one game, so you don’t really need another vehicle. In the spring, my son is around, he’s got another dooley, so we it do it both. But now, near the end of the season, he’s pretty busy, he’s got London in a couple of weeks and a couple of other spots.

I saved, I didn’t spend, I didn’t have habits. I still don’t have habits. Never slept in a joint. The first year we stayed in a train, we had berths in a train. I had an upper berth, paid $10 for it. I got paid $50 dollars a week. They took off $10 for the berth in the train, they took off another $10 dollars and don’t give it to you until the end of the season. If you quit or get fired, you don’t get that. So there’s only $30 a week left. Five dollars income tax, so there’s only $25 left. Out of that you had to eat and buy cigarettes, if you smoked, laundry, dry cleaning and save. I still saved, I saved a little bit. Enough to get me by through the winter. When you’re younger, everything was an adventure. Now you get tired.

After Sullivan sold out in ’63, in ’64 I just hopscotched. I still had the photo joint, I hopscotched. I played a few spots with Green Shows, a couple spots with March Shows, I played a few spots with King Shows. In ’65 I got a custom-built ice cream trailer, with living quarters, and I went with King Shows, until ’69. Then I used to join this show at the fairs. This show didn’t have the spring route, it only had the fairs, from Oshawa, Leamington, Peterborough, Belleville, Kingston, Renfrew, Lindsay, Simcoe, I don’t know if they even had Kitchener. Then in ’70 I came in the spring with Campbell, and then I used to join with D.A. Campbell, then we joined with Conklin. We played the whole route with Conklin, from ’68, he started the show in ’68, until, including ’74. In ’75 he went on his own in the spring and he got an eastern route. I was with Campbell then until ’82. And then I just got tired of that trip there and back, plus playing a couple of spots in Quebec. I been here since ’83. They put up with me all these years. Most marriages don’t last that long. This was called the Bicycle Unit. I was with Barry when he formed World’s Finest.

Alfie Phillips was general manager then, very nice guy, one of the nicest guys in the business, very honourable. He was general manager, on the road show too, but he was never around here. At that time he was still general manager, you had to book with him, or any business doings you’d deal with him. He ran things from Toronto, but there was nothing really to run. Barry was looking after the rides. Dave Vance was the advance man, and Billy Napper was the looking after the grounds. He’s still around in the office here and working in the office in Nanticoke.

There’s so many funny things that happened over the years. People wouldn’t believe in normal life, the things that happen out here. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head right now. My mind is finishing with setting up the rest of this stuff and opening up.

Everything’s changed. There was no trailer games like this before. Everything used to go on the train, whether it was Sullivan or Wallace Brothers’ Shows, or World’s Finest afterwards, or Bernard and Barry, everything went on the train and off again. Now all they have is trucks and there’s trailers; and house trailers, people didn’t stay in house trailers. We didn’t have the facilities. There was no bunk houses then. You stayed in motels or stayed in the trucks or whatever. Unless somebody had a truck and he built living quarters in it.

All kinds of plush, now. There was no plush before, just black and white teddy bears. Afterwards there was poodles, poodles were a big thing. Everything with the help now, the biggest problem is the help now. Trying to get good help, nobody wants to work. Like I say, the $25 a week I saved. You’d never get anybody to work for that. The South Africans are happy to be here and they’re happy to get what they make here and go home with money. I’ve never had a chance to talk to any of the guys, cause most of them are working on the rides, a little separate from here.

Everybody’s lives in house trailers now, very few people in hotels. A lot of years I used to get a hotel room or motel room, with two or three guys. Now, it costs so damn much. And it’s the convenience having a house trailer, all the conveniences, the air conditioning, the washer, dryer, showers, you got everything, just like a home. Maybe cheaper, maybe not, but it’s the convenience. You still gotta transport it, pay for the hydro and the gas and propane.

Pat Marco, oh Christ, he had a lot of cracks. Oh, we miss that guy. He died in the fall of ’82. We used to get a ride to the racetrack with him. A lot of times he’d give me a few hundred dollars to go bet on this horse, and maybe he’d give somebody else another couple of hundred to bet on another horse in that same race. One day, after the second race, I know he got a daily double and something else, he was ahead five thousand dollars. Coming home, I says, “Pat, how’d you do for the day?” He says, “I’m down just a little bit.” Can you imagine, there’s only eight races in a day. After the second race he’s ahead five thousand, he was down for the day. So how much could he have bet? He’d have to have bet over a thousand dollars a race. It was big time. He loved to gamble.

Later on, we used to go to Las Vegas to the convention at the end of November, which I still do. But he used to go there with Dottie and a whole bunch of us. He liked the crap game. One day, me and the wife are sitting at a blackjack table and one of the dealers is talking to one of the people that are playing, he says, “See that guy in the maroon jacket over there? He won 25 thousand yesterday in a crap game.” So me and the wife said, “Look, that’s Pat they’re talking about!” Anyway, I think that day or that night, or the next day, he asked me if I had any money. I loaned him five hundred or whatever it was. That didn’t matter to him; he just loved that action.

They used to have 4-5-6 games on the show train when they were making the jumps and one day he got lucky and just cleaned everybody out. I think there was just one ride guy who had a few dollars left. He wanted to clean him out. That ride guy took everything he had and then he quit! He left the show the next day with a pocket full of money. Pat didn’t know when to stop, he had to have that action.

When they were running the card games on the show train, Jimmy Sullivan used to take a piece of the action. He got a rake off. He had slot machines there, he got that. They were selling beer on the train in the pie car, he got a percentage of that. Plus the food, he was into everything. Whatever he paid the guys he would get it back. He was a sharp cookie. Well-dressed, always in a suit with a tie and a vest.

By ’63 the show had got dilapidated, everything was junk. He didn’t have a good route anymore because he lost the B circuit. He lost the B circuit in’57. In ’58 Johnny Denton had it, then ’59 R.B. Thomas had it because I was there in’59, ’60 and ’61, just in the summer months. That was Weyburn, Estevan, Portage, Carmin, Yorkton, Melfort, Lloydminster, Vermilion, Vegreville, Red Deer, North Battleford, Prince Albert. Then I would jump to Ottawa for the Ottawa Ex, from Prince Albert.

A couple of years there I drove non-stop, from Prince Albert to here. That’s a long way, I think somebody gave me a couple of energy pills, bennies or whatever they call them. Day and night until I got here, but once I got here I couldn’t sleep even. You don’t eat, you’re not hungry. You just stop for gas and get coffee, talk to yourself. This was with R.B. Thomas Shows and that was a truck show, and I was just an independent with a little photo joint, a trailer behind my car.

’59 was the first year I played Ottawa with World of Mirth, before Amusements of America. I had my photo joint sitting right beside the Pure Food building over there. I was right outside the door. For two years I didn’t do so good and then they changed me on the other side of this building here. There used to be a bandstand, I was facing this way and the bandstand, in the shade and it was much better. I was there from ’61 to ’65. Then I put the joint away. It wasn’t making any more money in those times because everybody had Polaroids, automatic machines. Even when I first started with the photo joint it was nearing the end of that business. Before my time, during the war years, it was a big thing on the show because the girls would want a picture to send to their boyfriends in the service. I came at the tail end of it. I lasted 11 years anyway.

We played Ottawa and we weren’t allowed to play Sundays. Late ’60s, early ’70s, they began to allow Sunday opening. Some places you still weren’t allowed, whatever the bylaws were. One spot was Peterborough, it was quite a while before we were able to open on Sundays. In Quebec you could play Sundays all along. That was one of our bigger days, was the Sunday, especially with the photo joint. All those girls come out of church, nice dresses, flowers in their hair, hair all done, they wanted their pictures taken.

Dukie Jones is here, Howard Jones’s son. He’s a little bit younger than me, about seven or eight years younger. He works for Barry in the candy. People retire. I’m the only one who doesn’t have sense enough to stay at home. It’s no good to retire. A close friend of mine, he had a number of concession and sold them about ten years ago. He sold everything and retired. He said it was the worst thing he ever did. He says he should have kept one thing or something to keep himself going. He comes out, when my grandson goes to school, to give me a hand for the rest of the season.

That television show, “Carnival,” made on Jimmy Sullivan’s show, was made in Renfrew. Hank Blade was in charge of Renfrew because Pat Marco went to London, it was on at the same time.

Jim Conklin was here the other day when we were setting up. He helped me out pretty good in a few spots. In 1970, I had a cork gun game in Markham Fair. The OPP came and closed the joint, and charged me with fraud and the boy that was working there. Because they figured the targets couldn’t go over. Meantime you’ve got to hit the target in the right place for it to go over. So I got charged. So Jimmy come to me and says, “Do you got a lawyer?” And I says, “No.” He says, “I have one, if you want one.” I says, “OK, sure.” Julian Porter, he was my lawyer.

Anyways, not that I know anything, but Alfie Phillips put an ad in the Markham paper, I didn’t even know this, asking for anybody that won that game to phone his office and you’re entitled for an additional prize. He got a whole bunch of phone calls and he goes at night and interviews these people.

When the court case came, it was in Newmarket, Julian Porter says how the game goes. It was a prize every time anyways, if they don’t get the choice target over, they get a small target, they get a small prize, a key chain or a giant comb or whatever it was, that retailed for fifty cents. To play it was a quarter or fifty cents, prize every time. Julian Porter’s got the cops on the stand and they’re trying to say there’s no way it could be done. He produces the kids, one was a 7-year old kid, one was a 12-year old kid. He puts the 7-old kid on the stand. “Do you go to Sunday School?” He’s got two toys. “How did you win them?” “Playing that cork gun game. The guy set me down on the counter and I shot it like this.” He give him the gun. “And you won two?” “They wouldn’t let me play no more.” The 12-year old was the same way. The thing is, they stood around for about 15 minutes. We had a few players. They hit the choice target but it wouldn’t go over. They hit it too low. If you hit the top, the thing flips over. The trial was over and it was dismissed. I got a transcript of it. The bill came in, it was $1,600 and Jimmy paid $800 of it himself. He didn’t say he was going to pay part of it. So that was very nice, very honourable. For both of them, for Alfie to do this that I didn’t know, and for Jimmy to pay half of it.

As a matter of fact, I got nailed for the same one in Ormstown, Quebec, in ’79, for that same game. We had to go to Valleyfield. They took the whole thing, the guns, the guts, the stock, the corks, everything. Finger-printed me, the whole thing, like a big criminal case. When it came to the trial, they had physicists from McGill University going to the courthouse to look at the guns, try it out. They shot and they shot, and they figured it out. They got a big report, with pictures and everything, to show how it’s supposed to be done. The cops didn’t even show up in court. Meanwhile, they took my game off the road. It cost me about $12,000 that summer for that thing, and the cops didn’t even show up in court. They just called, “Come and pick up your stuff.” That’s one of the reasons I didn’t feel like going back to Quebec. That’s a thing of the past.

I never had any heat scores like that for any other games. It wasn’t a heat score, it was just the cops themselves, it wasn’t the public. There was a prize every time. If they didn’t knock over the choice target, they knocked over the small ones and they got a prize. The percentage had to be there. There’s the odd one that wins a big one, but everybody can’t or you wouldn’t be in business. Same as this bowler roller, everybody can’t win or I wouldn’t be in business. There’s a percentage. If you go gambling to a casino, there’s a percentage and the house stakes. Sometimes you get lucky for a while and you might win, but the house is going to win or they wouldn’t be in business.

We have the club and you get some old timers and they start telling stories. It can be for hours and hours, and you can laugh and laugh at all the funny things that happened over the years. Unbelievable. Trouble is, at one time, there’d be so many people, 30, 40 people every day at the club. Now, sometimes you get half a dozen, sometimes four or five. They’re all gone, they’re all buried in Showmen’s Rest.

I think I’m the oldest one now out here. Everybody used to call me the kid, but now I’m the oldest one. Margie used to dance in the girl show. I was on Bernard and Barry and she was with Sullivan. So I didn’t see that special show that they did in Regina for the soldiers or whatever it was. They did some special show, I wasn’t there, but I heard some stories about it. The girls performed on the stage. They took everything off, or something. Nowadays they do it in the clubs, but at that time I think it was a great thing.

There wasn’t that many rides as there is now. There used to be all kinds of freak shows, animal shows, girl shows, rock-and-roll show, coloured show. So many different acts, now those things are all gone because you can see all that stuff on TV now. Now they got the big, sophisticated rides as the draw. There’s no more games, just merchandizing, that’s all it is, selling stock.

I had a tiger shooting game, shoot the tigers, they fall down. That was very good, then I got into this one and this is so relaxing I didn’t want to go back and work. We’re expecting four good days now, if the weather stays good.

Note: There are over 200 pages of interviews here, mostly verbatim and unedited. If you find spelling mistakes or typos, or want to add something, contact me at john [dot] thurston [at] sympatico [dot] ca. Thank you!

 

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