DR. JIMMIE MCCLELLAN
In a world large enough to accommodate the likes of a Spiderman, X Men, Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman, I once upon a time convinced myself that there was a niche in the ranks of superheroes for a mild-mannered, bowling pin-juggling superhero who chased down monsters from outer space on a solid chrome unicycle. I would be known as One-der Wheelman. There would be movie after movie: One-der Wheelman I, One-der Wheelman II: the Sequel, One-der Wheelman Rolls Again!, Wheelman Recycled, and on and on. In reality, I came so close to becoming a Hollywood Superstar that I started to worry if there would be enough parking for the paparazzi in my neighborhood. I was sure that my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame would be somewhere between those of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, Fame and Fortune came straight at me, and then, just when they were about to lift me upon their fickle shoulders, they made an abrupt U-turn and sprinted away. Looking back, I believe I may have overestimated the public interest.
When we are young–often far too young–we are called upon to choose a career track that will transport us safely through life and deliver us to a comfortable retirement. The track I chose was that of a historian. But being practical, I knew that the career track I had selected was a prone to early and frequent derailment and that, should the study of history not carry me where I wanted to go, it would be good to have a lucrative back-up skill of some kind. At least this was how I justified many hours of procrastination when I was supposed to be buried in my studies: I was not wasting time, I was responsibly searching for a profitable second-chance profession.
One day after reading an exciting chapter from a book on the economic implications of firewood exportation in thirteenth century Luxembourg, I put my history studies aside and reached for any other reading material I could find, telling myself that I was not wasting time, I was merely researching all available options for a back-up profession.
The only book within reach was the Montgomery Wards Mail Order Catalogue and when, after a few hours of thumbing through the sections on washing machines, jewelry, clothing, furniture, tires and automotive parts, I reached page 1724, the wheels in my mind suddenly started turning. Or, should I say, wheel. What I saw on that page was a picture of a unicycle. “This is it!” I thought. “Given the large number of people who cannot ride one of those, there must be a big demand for someone who can.”
A month later a box arrived at my door and within minutes I had assembled its contents into a unicycle. Oddly enough, the study of one-wheeled transportation systems–“Unipsychology”–is not a part of the curriculum of any American college or university and so I was forced to teach myself. For close to a year I battled the forces of gravity. I learned the bitter lesson that while a bicycle can tumble in only two directions, there are 360 degrees of opportunities to fall on a unicycle. But after two years I could ride backwards and forwards while juggling and playing the harmonica. I was ready to take my act on the road.
I entertained at birthday parties and neighborhood fairs, and then the invitations started rolling in. I became a regular on the parades down Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues. I performed on stage at the National Theatre. I taught my daughter to ride and we did a halftime show at a Chicago Bulls game. I dunked from a tall cycle and gave Michael Jordan a few pointers. We entertained at the White House. This is all true. Then one day the call came: a big-time Hollywood Producer said he had parts in a major motion picture for someone who could ride a unicycle and for someone who could juggle. “I’m your man, or men,” I said, “I can do both.”
As it turned out, this may not have been a good career decision. The movie was called “Blood Circus.” One newspaper described it as a “a supersonic spacewrastlin’ movie.” The plot was never completely clear, but apparently the storyline had a group of cannibalistic wrestlers from the Planet Zorok come to Earth where they fought, decapitated, and consumed body parts of American and Soviet WWF-style wrestlers. In the climactic scene, a typical American wrestling fan, a guy named Long John–8 feet tall, 450 pounds–comes down from the stands and gives the Zorokians the All-American whippin’ they so richly deserve.
My scenes were filmed at the BaltimoreCivicCenter. The Producer rented the gigantic facility and filled it to capacity twice in one day with spectators who paid $10 a piece to see the gory extravaganza as dozens of cameras were recording it. Interspersed with the wrestling scenes were sideshows that included such diversions as my unicycling and juggling and the Producer, donning wig and aviator glasses and taking on the alias Santo Gold, performing rock music.
But the fans were not interested in feats of balance on one wheel or exhibitions of manual dexterity with bowling pins, they came to see blood. They cheered wildly as bodies were tossed from the ring and stretchers carried off victims of what appeared to be less than sportsmanlike behavior from guys like Ox and The Mummy and Junkyard Dog and Mucho Man and Voodoo Malumba, a four hundred pound mauler with a nasty disposition. In the closing minutes of the blood fest, the Zorokians descended on the ring and literally took Voodoo apart, tossing his head out into the audience and consuming his body in full view of all. Blood flowed. The fans screamed for more. It had the makings of great cinema.
Moments after this scene, all of the hapless victims whose blood and body parts had been strewn across rows A though G in the Civic Center were sitting with me at a long table in the cast cafeteria miraculously healed from their life-threatening wounds and sharing a meal with the eight bulky bullies from Zorok. It was a rare moment of intergalactic harmony. And I did not allow this evidence to shake my deep belief that everything that happens in a wrestling ring is indisputably real.
As we enjoyed our meal, the crowd grew louder and rowdier. They were not satisfied. I overheard the Director and Producer discussing the problem. The crowd would not leave the arena. The fans had been told repeatedly that the show was over and that they must vacate the building. Still they cried for more. The Producer, a cunning man, told the Director to make the announcement that the movie needed a scene of fans exiting the building. Every fan who walked by cameras placed at each exit and waved would be guaranteed that his face would appear in the final version of the movie. Within minutes of the announcement, the fans were filing out the door. The doors were locked behind them.
It may be hard to believe that a movie with this much appeal would be a box office flop. Yet, once the film was completed, no distributor could be found to promote it and the Producer had to rent a theater in Baltimore for the premiere. Only three people showed up on opening night, two of them were critics and the third was one of the movie’s extras. In subsequent showings, the movie never again attracted a crowd quite that large. The only remaining copy of “Blood Circus” has apparently been lost forever, though a few scenes can still be found on YouTube.
But wait, there’s more!
In the years following the production of Blood Circus, its Producer, taking on the persona of Santo Gold appeared in late night infomercials hawking cheap “Gold” jewelry and showing clips from the “soon to be released space wrastlin’ epic.” I was paid a modest fee for riding my unicycle in several of his late night cable shows. He not only recouped the $2 million cost of the movie, he made a substantial profit before being convicted of mail fraud and serving ten months in prison.
I remain convinced that a wide distribution of “Blood Circus” would have been the springboard that catapulted me to superstardom. And had One-der Wheelman been sent forth to tackle the Zorokians rather than Long John, my place in Hollywood legend would have be secured. I am thankful that being an action hero on the silver screen was never more than my back-up profession and that riding a unicycle on the home shopping network is not a criminal offense.
*Blood Circus IMDB Page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088824/
*Dr. McClellan have also won fourteen US Gold Medals at the US Canoe and Kayak Championships, two Gold Medals from the Canadian National Championships, a Silver Medal in a four-man boat in the 1000 meter sprint, a Bronze Medal in the 500 meter sprint in a four-man boat, and a Silver Medal in the 5000 meter sprint at the World Games.
* He is also an Alexandria Living Legend: