From 1917-1923 Berta was a featured artist at the Sells-Floto Circus which billed her as M’lle Beeson, and as she was the star they had no other acts performing at the same time. Berta Beeson performed in Vaudeville during the off season.
Ringling Bros, Barnum & Baily Circus (RBBBC) lost their star high wire dancer, Bird Millman in 1923. She was replaced by Berta Beeson who canceled his contract with Sells-Floto. Like Bird she wore a calf-length dress with flounce and fluff, but was now being described as “the Julian Eltinge of the Wire” which implied that her her gender was an open secret.
Berta Beeson, high wire performer, retired in 1936. Herbert Beeson, who became known as Slats continued with the RBBBC as a 24-hour man (advance advertizing before the circus arrived in town), and then in the 1950s as an announcer. He was also on the circus baseball team.
Herbert Beeson died age 70 in California.
- “The Best Circus That Lewiston Has Seen for Years”. Lewiston Evening Journal, May 28, 1920. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1913&dat=19200529&id=SmQgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ZWYFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1761,5176616.
- The Billboard, 9 December 1922: 73.
- “Former Store Clerk Dancer By Accident”. Ludington Daily News, Sep 5, 1929: 34. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=110&dat=19290905&id=bolSAAAAIBAJ&sjid=p0ADAAAAIBAJ&pg=3855,2896770.
- “Mills Imports Flying Act; Slats Beeson to Announce”. The Billboard, March 22, 1952. Online at: http://bertabeeson.blogspot.ca/2011/01/margaret-beeson-herbert-b.html.
- Janet M. Davis. The Circus Age: Culture & Society Under the American Big Top. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002: 168-9.
- Peta Tait,. Circus Bodies: Cultural Identity in Aerial Performance. Abingdon: Routledge, 2005: 67.
- Stacy Wilderness. Berta Beeson, the man, the Play, January 2011. http://bertabeeson.blogspot.com.
By 1929 practically all travelling circuses in the US had been absorbed by Ringling Brothers.
Thank you to Stacy Wilderness for her site on Berta Beeson.
It is normal for high wire artists to retire as they approach middle age. Beeson seems to have given up female impersonation at the same time.
It is not clear whether he performed in Vaudeville as a woman or as a female impersonator.
The Wikipedia page on Summitville does not list Beeson as a prominent resident.