If you ever shared a bedroom with a sibling or siblings you know it ain’t easy. The Gowan girls, Juanita and Shirley and Carmel, shared the tiny room at the top of the stairs that was my sister Heather’s room when I was growing up. I can’t imagine how three of them managed that for so many years without killing one another and I wonder if the lack of privacy wasn’t a motivating factor in my Aunt Carmel running off to join the circus when she was only seventeen.
While at The Canadian National Exhibition with the Boy’s Band (see last post), she’d seen a roper in The Autry Show and, knowing she could do 24 more tricks than her, she travelled down to Bangor, Maine and got an audition with Gene Autry, The Singing Cowboy. He gave her a job touring with his show and she began to make a name for herself in the USA.
In 1958 she appeared on The Captain Kangaroo Show. According to the program description, the Captain turned his playhouse into a ranch to make her feel more comfortable. It’s doubtful that would have made Carmel feel more comfortable. She told me once that the only thing she liked about Saskatchewan were the sunsets and the honey. I remember a bumper sticker on her van that said, “Bee Healthy: Eat Your Honey”.
She wanted to see the world and in 1958 Ed Sullivan’s agent Mark Leddy landed her a booking at The Moulin Rouge in Paris. Many agents saw her that month, which led to bookings in Morocco and then the Lido in Algeria, where there was a war going on. She heard machine guns in the streets and rarely left her Hotel. From there she did Madrid, Hamburg, the Blackpool Circus in England and many other night clubs on a two year European tour. Here’s some footage from a television appearance she made in France in 1958:
She’d come a long way, but there were still things she wanted to see.