A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 30, 2007
Suicide Circuit (rodeo)

Rodeo is the official state sport of Texas. It’s tough for the rodeo performers, who often suffer many injuries. The term “suicide circuit” for the rodeo business has been in use since at least 1943.

There is an isolated 1925 use of “suicide circuit” in the theatre.


29 November 1925, New York (NY) Times, pg. X2:
The fact of the matter is in such towns as Rochester, Syracuse, Washington, Baltimore, Toledo and others like them that they became known to managers as the “Death Trail” or the “Suicide Circuit.” It was a tradition that once a show started on that dark journey it never got to New York. It was not only a tradition; it was a fact.
(The theatre—ed.)

10 October 1943, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Rodeo Girl,” pg. G8:
TAKE a look—it isn’t difficult—at that girl on the left. She’s in the news because she’s hitting the horsehide “suicide circuit” in New York’s Madison Square Garden for the first time.

2 July 1957, Nevada State Journal (Reno, NV), “Rodeo Has Paid Shoulders Generously in His Career; Riding Champ Hopes to Quit By Next Year,” pg. 3, col. 1:
“I’ve been trampin’ around this suicide circuit for a long time.”

That’s how Jim Shoulders, the man who won more money last year than any other cowboy in the history of rodeo, sums up a career that has paid him better than a quarter million dollars in ten years. Shoulders, champion All Around Cowboy, champion Bareback Bronc Rider and champion Bull Rider for 1956, has no romantic notions about professional rodeo. He stays with it for one reason: the money. It was the money that first got him into rodeo 14 years ago.

22 August 1957, (Pasco, WA), pg. 1, col. 3:
This year, nationally-famous such as Harley-May, Jim Shoulders, Deb Copenhaver and other “suicide circuit” headliners will be home, only the top waddies will actually be seen by spectators.

Time magazine
The Suicide Circuit
Monday, Nov. 18, 1957
(..)
Wear & Tear. Rodeo riding, Shoulders argues, is the roughest racket in sport. But it is not the physical danger that concerns him. “There is absolutely no money guarantee,” he complains. “You’ve even got to furnish your own equipment, and you have to pay entry fees to compete. If you’re hurt, you have to sort of scuffle around for yourself.”

20 December 1959, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Birth of the Rodeo Finals” by Bill Rives, section 2, pg. 2:
The sport of rodeo is so rugged that the cowboys who participate in it refer to their annual ride-and-rope tour as “The Suicide Circuit.”

These indestructible sons of the range country earn their living by trying to stay aboard stomping, twisting, enraged horses and bulls and by roping and wrestling unfriendly bulls and calves.

It’s a hazardous profession and the cowboy takes great pride in it. A busted rib, a goring scar is a badge of honor, although he’d gruffly deny it.

3 September 1971, New York (NY) Times, Books of The Times: A Tough Way to Earn a Living” by Thomas Lask, pg. 25:
RODEO! The Suicide Circuit. Text and photographs by Fred Schnell. Rand McNally. $12.95.

Google Books

by Howard Roberts Lamar
New York, NY: Crowell
1977
Pg. 1031:
It is the “suicide” circuit. A most important characteristic of the rodeo cowboy is his feeling of independence: no sponsors, no guarantee, and no salary. 

19 June 1977, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Texas lore from Neiman’s to Rodeos to Rednecks” by Charles Martin, section G, pg. 5:
Mansfield, in “Rodeo Cowboy, 1976,” discusses the “All-American sport” and the nature of the men who are attracted to the “suicide circuit.”

20 September 1981, New York (NY) Times, “Rodeo Is Riding High Again” by Scott Eyman, pp. SM20+:
“Personally, I don’t want to rodeo even 10 more years; they don’t call it the ‘suicide circuit’ for nothing.”

6 March 1988, New York (NY) Times, “For Nomadic Rodeo Cowboys, a Few Dollars More” by James Hirsch, pg. F10, col. 1:
Sponsors have increased purses, but pros still call it the “suicide circuit.”

18 June 1989, New York (NY) Times, “Rounding Up an American Tradition” by Judith Shulevitz, pg. XX14:
Whatever the setting, old-timers don’t call it “the suicide circuit” for nothing. The danger and excitement of rodeo is palpable, whether you are watching the three riding events or the speed events of roping and steer wrestling.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Tuesday, October 30, 2007 • Permalink