Target girl


Target girl

Target girl is a term sometimes used in circus and vaudeville to denote a female assistant in "impalement" acts such as knife throwing, archery or sharpshooting. The assistant stands in front of a target board or is strapped to a moving board and the impalement artist throws knives or shoots projectiles so as to hit the board but miss the assistant. The image or character of the target girl has also permeated beyond the impalement arts and become an icon in fiction and visual media.

Introduction

Although some assistants are male there is no common equivalent term for a male assistant. This reflects the fact that, historically at least, female assistants have predominated in the acts in question. [Stanley Brion in the foreword to Adamovich, Heil & Schollenberger, "A Day on Broadway: The art of being a knife thrower's assistant", (pub. Turnshare, London, 2005), p.x] The presence of an assistant as a human target provides a powerful element of risk. Without assistants placing themselves in danger these acts would be simple demonstrations of accuracy, but with the potential for injury or death the show is much more dramatic. Target girls often wear revealing costumes, thus adding an element of overt sexuality to an act. In this respect there is some similarity to magicians' assistants, although there is a distinct difference in that any apparent danger to an assistant in a magic act is mostly an illusion, whereas impalement acts are demonstrations of accuracy, nerve and calculated risk and the danger is real. While some observers have perceived target girls as masochistic or passive and some feminists criticise the concept as misogynist, several target girls have given accounts of themselves as assertive women and portrayed their experiences as empowering (see Target girls as authors).

Various theories have been put forward to explain the enduring appeal of the target girl. These range from simple awe at the display of steely nerves and complete trust to more complex psychological and philosophical theories. While some point to overtones of sadomasochistic eroticism, others cite dramaturgical works and point to parallels with the story arc of the hero in classic drama. [The most extensive evidence of the debate on this topic is to be found in various online forums, including the "Dangerous Circus Acts" groups on Yahoo!] In particular the assistant's performance is said to mirror the plot device of the hero's ordeal, in which the hero proves his or her heroic qualities through self-sacrifice or by facing extreme peril. [Dr Joachim Heil PhD, "A short philosophical essay on the art of knife throwing", in Adamovich, Heil & Schollenberger, "A Day on Broadway", pp.83-114]

Notable real life target girls

Like magicians' assistants, target girls have often suffered the injustice of not receiving the same recognition and billing as their co-performers. Those that have received equal billing have generally been part of husband and wife acts, which are common in this field. Acts that involve a domestic partnership as well as an on-stage one have tended to have greater longevity than pairings where a thrower recruits an assistant as an employee. It has been suggested that this is because the off-stage domestic ties serve to keep the partnership together in the face of the tensions that can occur within such acts. The lack of individual billing for target girls adds to the difficulty of picking out notable examples. The following is therefore a small selection who are distinguished by particular features of their careers rather than a definitive "hall of fame".

* Elizabeth Collins is almost unique in having effectively ended up with top billing in the knife throwing act she formed with her husband Martin Collins. The couple met and married in their native Hungary at around the time of the outbreak of World War 2 and began performing together as "Elizabeth and Collins". For their signature stunt they developed an extremely demanding trick that involved Elizabeth spinning on a "wheel of death" target while her husband balanced on a tightrope and threw knives at her. After the war they settled in Britain and toured clubs and theatres around the world. They were one of the first impalement acts to break into television. Elizabeth retired from performing in the early 1960s and was replaced by their daughter who was also named Elizabeth (although additionally known as Agnes). Elizabeth and Collins performed on "The Ed Sullivan Show" three times and appeared as themselves in an episode of the 1960s spy series "The Avengers". [cite journal
url = http://www.columbian.com/news/localNews/2007/11/11242007_Final-Salute-Her-husband-missed-her-a-lot-and-that-was-good.cfm
journal = The Columbian
title = Final Salute: Her husband missed her a lot, and that was good
first = Justin
last = Carinci
date = 24 November 2007
accessdate = 2008-01-28
] [cite web
url = http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1812489
title = "Elizabeth and Collins"
publisher = Internet Movie Database
accessdate = 2007-03-30
]
*Helga and Sylvia Brumbach are a mother and daughter who have both been part of a family act that is regarded by many other artists as setting the standard in their field. The Brumbachs, also known as Los Alamos, began with Fritz Brumbach as a knife thrower and whip cracker and his wife Helga as target girl. Later daughter Sylvia joined the act as a second target girl and then son Patrick became a thrower. Fritz and Helga have since retired but Patrick and Sylvia continue the act. Fritz is a Guinness World Record holder for rapid throwing around a live target. [cite web
url = http://www.messershow-losalamos.com
title = "Los Alamos Messer-, Lasso- und Peitschen-show"
publisher = Patrick Brumbach
accessdate = 2007-03-30
]
* Irene Stey married into an old established Swiss circus family when she wed Rolf Stey. The couple worked as a knife act called "Two Tornados" between 1965 and 1985 and are notable for being one of only two acts to repeat the combined "wheel of death" and tightrope stunt developed by Elizabeth and Collins. After retiring as a target girl Irene continued in the circus business with an equestrian act. [cite web
url = http://www.zirkus-stey.ch/archiv2007/frames/history/frame_history.html
title = "Die Geschichte der Dynastie Stey"
publisher = Zirkus Stey
accessdate = 2008-05-10
]
* Barbara Braun began performing with her husband Sylvester as the "Wizards of the West" in the early 1940's. Sixty years later the couple were honoured by the International Knifethrowers Hall of Fame with the "Knife Throwing Pioneer Award" and the title "Wild West Duo of the 20th Century". [cite web
url = http://www.ikthof.com/IKTHOF/Sylvester%20Braun.htm
title = 2003 Knife Throwing Pioneer Award
publisher = International Knife Throwers Hall of Fame
accessdate = 2007-03-30
] [citation
url = http://www.throwzini.com/issue_102.html
first = Scott
last = Gracia
journal = The Great Throwzini Newsletter
title = Issue #102
publisher = Scott Gracia
accessdate = 2007-03-30
]
* Montana Nell was the performing name of Pearl Collins who, between 1929 and 1950, toured with her husband Robert Collins in a western arts act under the billing of "Texas Slim and Montana Nell". She was born Pearl Miller and grew up on a farm, which helped her become a highly proficient horse rider. In 1923 she married a man called Seamor Russell with whom she had a daughter named Doris. Seamor died of an illness in 1925 and Pearl went on to marry Collins in 1929. When Doris was 16 she joined her parents' show as a trick rider and sharp shooter named "Little Miss Peggy". Pearl and Robert Collins were posthumously honoured by the International Knifethrowers Hall of Fame in 2006. [cite web
url = http://www.ikthof.com/IKTHOF/Bios/texas-slim_montana-nell_2006.htm
title = "2006 Pioneer Award"
publisher = International Knife Throwers Hall of Fame
accessdate = 2007-03-30
]
* Claude Chantal Blanc is an experienced Swiss aerial and tight wire artist who is unusual for working as part of an all-female knife throwing act named "Risk Ladies". The thrower was Caroline Haerdi, who currently works in partnership with a male thrower named Arno Black; she as the thrower and he as the target. [cite web
url = http://www.web-art.ch/claude-chantal/englstart.html
title = Claude Chantal Blanc: artist for circus and variété
publisher = WebArt, E. Gehrig & Co
accessdate = 2007-04-11
] [cite web
url = http://www.claude-chantal.ch/high/en/index.html
title = Official website
publisher = Claude-Chantal Blanc
accessdate = 2007-04-11
]
* Tina Nagy Is a dancer and aerial artist who featured as a target girl in the 2007 season of the NBC television series "America's Got Talent". Nagy, who is of Hungarian descent but grew up in Connecticut, performed with knife thrower The Great Throwdini. Her interest in the impalement arts began through working as a target girl for bullwhip artist Robert Dante. She has sought to produce a performance artform that combines dance and whip cracking. [citation
first = Jon
last = Tevlin
title = The bullwhipper and the bellydancer
journal = Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
date = 27 June 2004
]
* Ekaterina Sknarina (aka Katya) is a model, actress, contortionist, aerial artist and former international gymnast. She was born in Russia and competed at world championship level for the Russian rhythmic gymnastics team. She later trained as an aerial artist with Cirque du Soleil . After re-locating to New York she began working as a contortionist in the burgeoning new burlesque scene. She also began working as a model and appeared in magazines including FHM, One World, and GQ. She added the role of target girl to her portfolio after meeting knife thrower The Great Throwdini. In 2005 she was one of the stars of the off-Broadway show "Maximum Risk", during which she helped set two world records for the number of knives thrown around a human target in a minute. She was Miss Coney Island 2007. She appears in the movie "Across the Universe" (2007) and was featured in promotional posters for it.imdb name |id=2772482|name = Ekaterina Sknarina] [citation
url = http://www.curtainup.com/maximumrisk.html
first = Amanda
last = Cooper
title = A Curtain Up Review: Maximum Risk
journal = Curtain Up
date = 3 July 2005
] [cite web
url = http://knifethrower.com/maximumriskonline/bios.html
title = Performer Bios
publisher = Rev Dr David Adamovitch
accessdate = 2008-05-23
]

Target girls as authors

A very small and select group of women are notable for having used personal experience to write about the impalement arts from the point of view of the target girl. They include:
* Astrid Schollenberger a middle-aged German single mother with a masters degree in philosophy and a regular job who, at the suggestion of her boyfriend Dr Joachim Heil, volunteered as a target girl for knife thrower Dr David Adamovich (aka The Great Throwdini). Schollenberger worked with Adamovich for a show in New York in 2002 where he first publicly performed the "Wheel of death" stunt. Later Schollenberger, Adamovich and Heil wrote a book about the experience titled "A Day on Broadway: The art of being a knife thrower's assistant". [Adamovich, Heil & Schollenberger, " [http://www.knifethrower.net A Day on Broadway: The art of being a knife thrower's assistant] ", Turnshare (London, 2005), ISBN 1-903343-73-9]
* Ronnie Claire Edwards is an American actress born in 1933. She is best known for the role of "Corabeth Walton Godsey" in the series "The Waltons" (1972 - 1981). Her substantial and often quirky career is recalled in an autobiography titled "The Knife Thrower's Assistant: Memoirs of a Human Target". [Ronnie Claire Edwards, "The Knife Thrower's Assistant: Memoirs of a Human Target", Hawk Publishing Group, (October 2000), ISBN 1930709164]
* Ula the Painproof Rubbergirl started as one half of a duo called The Painproof Rubbergirls who did contortion and various sideshow-type stunts, such as the Bed of nails. After her partner left for other work, Ula continued as a solo performer doing various aerial acts as well as a signature routine that involves contortion feats on a bed of swords. In 2003 she worked as a target girl for Dr David Adamovich (aka The Great Throwdini) and later wrote a lengthy article about the act and the philosophy behind her part in it. [Ula, [http://www.painproofrubbergirls.com/stories/knife/index.html The Knife Thrower's Assistant] , painproofrubbergirls.com, (2003)] Ula was featured as a target girl in the US edition of FHM magazine in March 2006. [citation
url = http://knifethrower.com/images/fhm.gif
title = World of Knives: Blade Target
journal = FHM
date = March 2006
]

Celebrity target girls

A small group of target girls are notable for the fact that they are well known celebrities who performed the role for charitable purposes or other reasons apart from their main career. These are examples of the target girl, rather than the thrower, being the main individual in the act. The annual "Circus of the Stars" television special, made by CBS between 1977 and 1994, provided a number of examples. They include:
* Lynda Carter, the actress best known as television's Wonder Woman, appeared as a target girl on the very first "Circus of the Stars" in January 1977, with actor David Janssen throwing knives at her. [cite web
url = http://www.wonderland-site.com/html/miscel/appear/WLA-00016.htm
title = "Lynda Carter: Other TV appearances 1956-1979: 016 The Circus of the Stars 1979"
publisher = Wonderland - The Ultimate Wonder Woman site
accessdate = 2007-03-30
] It has been suggested that Janssen and Carter's act was faked using a trick target board that worked in a manner similar to the method exposed on the "Masked Magician" television show. Professional throwers have observed that Janssen's throwing style is wrong and would result in wildly inaccurate throws if he were really throwing knives. This seems to be the only occasion when a knifethrowing act was faked on "Circus of the Stars". All the other occasions when the show included a knife act involved professional throwers and the genuine nature of the acts has been confirmed through study of video footage.]
* Actress and model Ann Turkel performed the role of target girl for knife thrower Skeeter Vaughan in the second "Circus of the Stars" in December 1977. [cite web
url = http://kristymcnichol.net/circusofthestars2.htm
title = Kristy McNichol on TV
publisher = J Wilson
accessdate = 2007-11-21
]
* Charlene Tilton, the actress best know for her role in the television series "Dallas", famously appeared in a gold bikini as a target girl for knife thrower Skeeter Vaughan in the 1979 "Circus of the Stars". [cite web
url = http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0242372
title = Circus of the Stars #4
publisher = Internet Movie Database
accessdate = 2007-04-04
.
]
* Sally Kellerman, the actress who played Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan in the film "MASH", appeared as a target girl for knife thrower Larry Cisewski on the 1981 "Circus of the Stars". She was seen holding balloons for Cisewski to burst and also braved being spun around on his "Devil's door" target board as he planted knives around her. [imdb name|id=001419|name=Sally Kellerman]
* Linda Blair, the actress who rose to fame as a child star in "The Exorcist", appeared as a target girl for knife thrower Paul Lacross on "Circus of the Stars" in 1983.Linda Blair appeared on the show three times, in 1982, 1983 and 1990. See imdb name|id=0000304|name = Linda Blair. She was pictured in costume and holding a set of throwing axes on the cover of the 18-24 December 1983 issue of "TV News" magazine]
* Actress Britt Ekland appeared as a target girl for knife thrower Fritz Brumbach on "Circus of the Stars" in 1986.
* Television presenter and actress [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ursula_von_Manescul Ursula von Manescul] appeared as a target girl on the annual German charity circus show "Stars in der Manege" in 1967. She performed with a duo called The Williams Boys. [cite web
url = http://www.br-online.de/land-und-leute/thema/manege/seite2.xml
title = Vier Jahrzehnte Zirkuszauber
publisher = BR online
accessdate = 2008-02-08
]

Fictional and artistic representation

The mixture of peril, nerve and sexuality inherent in the idea of a target girl has proved attractive to writers, artists, moviemakers and television executives.

Movie and television

There are many instances of target girls as iconic or emblematic images in film and television. The most notable movie example is the character Adele portrayed by Vanessa Paradis in the film "The Girl on the Bridge" (1999), in which the knife throwing act is at the centre of the plot and serves as a powerful erotic metaphor.

Other examples include:

* Cameron Diaz's character Jenny Everdeane acts as a target girl in a scene in the film "Gangs of New York" (2002) which was used in promotional clips. [cite web
url = http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0217505
title = Gangs of New York
publisher = Internet Movie Database
accessdate = 2007-03-27
]
* In the television series "Nikki", an episode aired in 2001 featured the characters played by Nikki Cox and Susan Egan taking jobs as target girls. [cite web
url = http://www.tv.com/nikki/show/45/episode_guide.html
title = Nikki: Season 1: 11. The Jupiter and Mary Chain
publisher = TV.com
accessdate = 2007-03-28
] [cite web
url = http://www.susanegan.net/fans/gallery.htm
title = The Many Moods of Mary - Susan on the dance set of Nikki
publisher = Susan Egan
accessdate = 2007-03-28
]
* The television play "The Act" (1987) revolved around a knife throwing act and a girl who applies for a job as the assistant. It was made for the BBC and was a co-production involving the Royal College of Art. It starred Caroline Embling and Bill Rourke. Real life knife thrower Jay Ruffley provided throwing skills in one scene and also appeared as the owner of a club. ["The Act" was 25 minutes long and was originally transmitted on BBC2 on 18 August 1987 at 10.20pm. See details at cite web
url = http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/126893
title = "The Act"
publisher = The British Film Institute database
accessdate = 2007-03-30
] [Jay Ruffley sometimes performed under the name Cetan Mani. See cite web
url = http://www.ikthof.com/IKTHOF/james-ruffley_2006.htm
title = " 2006 International Achievement Award"
publisher = International Knife Throwers Hall of Fame
accessdate = 2007-03-30
] [cite web
url = http://www.mbagency.co.uk/clients/rourke.html
title = "Bill Rourke"
publisher = MBA Agency
accessdate = 2007-03-30
]
* Courteney Cox's character in the 1987 television movie "If it's Tuesday it still must be Belgium" becomes a target girl in a circus knife throwing act. [cite web
url = http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093242
title = If it's Tuesday it still must be Belgium
publisher = Internet Movie Database
accessdate = 2007-03-27
]
* In the movie "Bronco Billy" (1980), actresses Sondra Locke and Tessa Richarde are both seen as target girls for a sharpshooter and knife thrower played by Clint Eastwood. Locke's role in the act is central to the plot. [cite web
url = http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080472
title = Bronco Billy
publisher = Internet Movie Database
accessdate = 2007-03-27
]
* In the television series "Charlie's Angels", Cheryl Ladd's character Kris Munroe goes undercover as a target girl in an episode titled "Circus of Terror" (1977).
* The spy thriller "Masquerade" (1965) features Marisa Mell as a target girl named Sophie. [cite web
url = http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059433
title = "Masquerade"
publisher = Internet Movie Database
accessdate = 2007-04-10
] [For a publicity still see cite web
url = http://www.knifethrower.com/images/TGs/marisamell.jpg
title = Masquerade promo picture
publisher = "Knifethrower.com"
accessdate = 2007-04-10
]
* Target girls were iconic figures in a series of horror films set in circuses that were made in the 1960s. These include:
** "Circus of Horrors" (1960), in which Vanda Hudson played a target girl called Magda von Meck. [cite web
url = http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053717
title = Circus of Horrors
publisher = Internet Movie Database
accessdate = 2007-03-27
]
** "Circus of Fear" (1966), which features British actress Margaret Lee as an assistant facing danger in a knife act. [cite web
url = http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060865
title = Circus of Fear
publisher = Internet Movie Database
accessdate = 2007-03-27
]
** "Berserk!" (1967), in which Judy Geeson played a target girl in a circus knife act. [cite web
url = http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061398
title = Berserk!
publisher = Internet Movie Database
accessdate = 2007-03-27
]
* The film "Phantom of the Rue Morgue" (1954) has an early scene featuring one of the female leads as a target girl. [cite web
url = http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047348
title = Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954)
publisher = Internet Movie Database
accessdate = 2007-04-10
] [cite web
url = http://www.knifethrower.com/images/TGs/phantomruemorgue.jpg
title = Phantom of Rue Morgue promo picture
publisher = "Knifethrower.com"
accessdate = 2007-04-10
] [cite web
url = http://www.amazon.com/dp/0790736047/
title = Phantom of Rue Morgue (1954) reviews
publisher = amazon.com
accessdate = 2007-04-10
]
* In "Lucy Tells the Truth" (1953), an episode of the television series "I Love Lucy", a white lie leads to Lucille Ball's character ending up as the assistant in a knife act.

Theatre

The play "Pin Cushion", by Clay McLeod Chapman is based around a husband and wife knife throwing act and consists of the target girl delivering a monologue while her husband throws knives around her. It was performed as part of Chapman's "Pumpkin Pie Show" at The Red Room Theatre, New York, in May and June 2002. The performance involved a genuine knife throwing act, with actress Niabi Caldwell as the target girl and professional knife thrower Dr David Adamovich (aka The Great Throwdini) playing her husband. [cite web
url = http://www.theatermania.com/content/news.cfm/story/2259
first = Dan
last = Bacalzo
title = The Pumpkin Pie Show in Big Top
publisher = Theatermania
accessdate = 2007-03-30
]

Photography

The target girl has also been used as an image in fashion and art photography. Examples include:
* Model Karen Elson is seen spinning on a "wheel of death" target in a picture by photographer Steven Meisel that formed part of a series titled "The Greatest Show on Earth" in the April 2007 issue of the Italian edition of "Vogue" magazine.citation
url = http://community.livejournal.com/foto_decadent/1517627.html
first = Steven
last = Meisel
title = The Greatest Show on Earth
journal = Vogue Italia
publisher = Condé Nast Publications
date = April 2007
accessdate = 2007-06-13
]
* Model Kate Moss appeared on a "wheel of death" target in two of a series of fashion photos by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott in the April 2006 issue of "W" magazine. [citation
url = http://www.style.com/w/feat_story/030706
last = Alas & Piggott
title = Kate Moss: performance
journal = W magazine
publisher = Style.com
date = April 2006
accessdate = 2007-03-28
]
* Actress Jennifer Ellison appeared strapped to a "wheel of death" target and surrounded by knives in the UK edition of "Maxim" magazine in 2005. The picture was reproduced in "The Daily Star" newspaper on 1 December 2005. [citation
url = http://www.maximmag.co.uk/maximgirls/covergirls/2858/jennifer_ellison.html
title = Jennifer Ellison: Ell on Earth
journal = Maxim (UK)
publisher = Maxim magazines
date = 2005
accessdate = 2007-03-28
]
* Drummer Meg White appeared as a target girl on a "wheel of death" target in a photo of The White Stripes by Annie Leibovitz in 2003. The picture was part of a series that appeared in a book and an exhibition, both titled "Annie Leibovitz: American Music". [cite web
url = http://www.andrewsmithgallery.com/exhibitions/annieleibovitz/americanmusic/index.htm
title = Annie Leibovitz: American Music
publisher = Andrew Smith Gallery, San Francisco
accessdate = 2007-03-28
] [citation
first = Annie
last = Leibovitz
title = Annie Leibovitz: American Music
publisher = Random House/Jonathon Cape
date = 2003
ISBN = 0224072714
]
* Singer and musician Shakira appeared standing against a target with knives around her in a photo in the April 2002 issue of "FHM" magazine (UK edition).
* Actress Goldie Hawn appeared in a circus costume strapped to a "wheel of death" target for a magazine photoshoot in the 1990s.cite web
url = http://goldiehawn.fotopic.net/p34368897.html
title = 2nd September 2006 Posed
publisher = fotopic.net
accessdate = 2007-11-06
]
* The cover of "Stick It to Ya", the debut album by heavy metal band Slaughter, was infamous for featuring a photo of former "Playboy" playmate Laurie Carr wearing a swimsuit, strapped to a target board and surrounded by knives. The cover of a subsequent release, "Stick It Live", featured an image apparently from the same shoot as the first but this time showing the target girl walking towards the target board hand-in-in-hand with a knife thrower.

Literature

Steven Millhauser's short story "The Knife Thrower" features a thrower who specialises in nicking those who stand at the target board for him, including his female assistant. It was published as part of a collection that bears the same title. At least one edition features as its cover a painting of a girl standing in front of a target board. [citation
first = Steven
last = Millauser
title = The Knife Thrower
publisher = Phoenix Press
date = December 1999
ISBN = 0753808218
]

Chainsaw Apple is a short story by Arthur Bradford about a man who uses a chainsaw to carve letters into an apple balanced on the head of volunteers.

References

ee also

* Impalement arts
* The Girl on the Bridge
* Magician's assistant
* Damsel in distress

Further reading

* Adamovich, Heil & Schollenberger, "A Day on Broadway: The art of being a knife thrower's assistant", Turnshare (London, 2005), ISBN 1-903343-73-9,
* Ula the Painproof Rubber Girl, " [http://www.painproofrubbergirls.com/stories/knife/index.html The Knife Thrower's Assistant] ", an article from the point of view of a target girl (2003)
* Tricia Vita, " [http://www.nypress.com/15/52/nyc/nyc1.cfm Knifethrower: Target Girls] ", an article at "New York Press".


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