The extraordinary pictures that adorn both the broadsheets and tabloids of Darren Taylor belly-flopping into a tiny paddling pool to break the high diving record may be astonishing, but they would depress any of the old stuntsters. They grab the attention but what is more arresting is the pathetic crowd gathered to marvel as Taylor takes his death-defying plunge at the Denver water park.
The history of attention-grabbing high divers is the stuff of legend and a carni publicist’s delight. Through most of the 19th century, small- and large-town America thrilled to the entertainment of travelling shows, which came in many forms; from circus to vaudeville, burlesque to the wonders of the magic lantern show. One of the guaranteed show-stoppers was the crazy high dive. A small, historic piece of trivia is that many believe that the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was the catalyst that brought about the modern travelling carnival because there was an avenue at the edge of the grounds at the Chicago World’s Fair called the Midway Plaisance. This avenue was packed with games of chance, freak shows, wild west shows and burlesque shows.
The old travelling cornucopia was the backdrop for one of the most famous high divers in history, Capt. Wm. Kanell, an accomplished high diver and Civil War veteran who was promoted by John Burke, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show publicist: a man who I had wanted to feature in The Fame Formula, but who was edited out due to pressures of space.
Press reports from the time record crowds of thousands, drummed up by the bucket-load by that wily old speiler, Burke. Tales of dives from extraordinary heights were talked up by punters who witnessed Kanell’s insane bravery and in some case by those who hadn’t. They learnt what needed to be said from Burke’s speeches, which were littered with all the best carni patter of the time, gems that just beg to be spoken aloud such as: “watch a man jump and defy his maker, watch him cheat certain death!”
After a crippling accident, Kanell retired and was last heard of working at a trade fair demonstrating early underwater welding equipment. He had had his fun and had done his thing in front of huge crowds and had, without doubt, cheated death numerous times. Such insane bravery deserves to be backed by whoops and cheers. The Denver dive needed a crowd; it’s a crime the organisers didn’t deliver one to witness Taylor’s efforts. He may be glad of the enormous press and internet coverage, but there’s nothing quite like being buoyed up by the air expelled from thousands of lungs as they gasp in astonishment. In such a busy age, that’s more and more the sort of crowd that only a publicist can deliver.
This film is a insane world record dive from the 1970’s – a time before health and safety