performing arts 

Manuel Ruffin | Prince Bogino | Circus Animal Trainer

Circus Ring of Fame inducts Ruffin

Manuel Ruffin joined the circus at age 14. Starting as a cage assistant to Clyde Beatty, he spent his life working in the circus and mastered almost every circus job. Beatty nicknamed him “Junior” and, in the 1970s, Ruffin was billed as “Prince Bogino” to win acceptance from white audiences who might object to an African-American animal trainer.

Ruffin served as a founding consultant for UniverSoul Circus: The World in One Ring, according to SRQ Daily.
On January 17, 2010, the Circus Ring of Fame Dignitaries unveiled a bronze plaque inscribed with Ruffin’s contributions to the circus arts.
Ruffin died September 14, 2010 in North Port, Florida USA. His wife, Agata, survives him.

Ruffin Poses with Sponsors & Inductees

Ring of Fame Plaque Unveiled after Induction Ceremony

Chimpanzee trainers and 2010 Circus Ring of Fame Inductees Rudy & Sue Lenz (left), Sarasota City Commissioner Fredd Atkins, unidentified blonde woman, 2010 Circus Ring of Fame Inductee Manuel “Junior” Ruffin (center) with Robert Fuller Houston and other supporters. Mr. Houston was inducted into Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s African American legends Hall of Fame (AALHOF) for his historic circus collection that includes rare African American artifacts. Photo: Elizabeth Wery.

Articles & Photos of Manuel Ruffin

His Life in the Circus

Buckles Web Log: Junior Ruffin | Includes Photo of Ruffin with Lion
Emanuel Ruffin was born on April 28, 1938, in Los Angeles, California. Who could imagine the impact this young African-American man from a non-circus family would have on the circus world? Clyde Beatty became a model to young Manuel, who decided at an early age that he wanted to become a wild animal trainer. So seldom are dreams matched with reality, but Clyde Beatty, who referred to him as “Junior”, sensed the teenager’s potential, so, with parental permission, he took him on as his cage boy for the Clyde Beatty Wild Animal Circus in Los Angeles. By the age of 14 he became Beatty’s chief assistant, breaking and training lions and tigers. Some of his tricks even included the roll-over and jumping through hoops of fire.
Circus Historical Society Convention 2006 | Ruffin Shared His Life Work in the Circus | Includes Recent Photo
While artists of color have played important parts in the history of the American circus, their participation has not been adequately documented or acknowledged. Manuel Ruffin (Prince Bogino), Saturday’s second presenter, spoke of his life on the circus, and helped remedy that.
St Armands Circle Ring of Fame is Sarasota’s own unique Hall of Fame!
A Sarasotan’s up close look at the History of the St Armands Circle Ring of Fame.
Ebony March 1977 via Google Books
Article in Ebony magazine discussed black performers including animal trainer Manuel “Junior” Ruffin, the King Charles Troupe, The Flying Souls, and black cowboy, Nat Purefoy.
Photo of Manuel Ruffin AKA Prince Bogino | Circus Fans Associationa of America (CFA) News Detail
The Circus Fans Association (CFA) note that Manuel Ruffin (Prince Bogino) was a Clyde Beatty prodigy who, in addition to performing, served as superintendent of transportation for Ringling Bros., and Barnum & Bailey’s Blue Unit. When Ringling made him train boss for their Monte Carlo Circus, he became the highest ranking African-American department head in their over 100-year history.

During his lifetime Manuel Ruffin has broken many barriers and created serious interest with the media. He was featured in Ebony magazine in October, 1964, National Geographic in March ,1972 (with Hoxie Bros.), and he received a six-page spread in Playboy

“Junior” Ruffin will long be remembered as a great performer, organizer, and circus consultant. His many contributions laid the groundwork for the very successful, multimillion dollar UniverSoul Big Top Circus. He was also the subject of several other magazine and newspaper articles, TV and radio programs, and a portion of Gene Plowdon’s acclaimed book, Mud Show.

Emanuel Ruffin was born on April 28, 1938, in Los Angeles, California. Who could imagine the impact this young African-American man from a non-circus family would have on the circus world? Clyde Beatty became a model to young Manuel, who decided at an early age that he wanted to become a wild animal trainer. So seldom are dreams matched with reality, but Clyde Beatty, who referred to him as “Junior”, sensed the teenager’s potential, so, with parental permission, he took him on as his cage boy for the Clyde Beatty Wild Animal Circus in Los Angeles. By the age of 14 he became Beatty’s chief assistant, breaking and training lions and tigers. Some of his tricks even included the roll-over and jumping through hoops of fire. Billed as “Prince Bogino, America’s foremost trainer of savage jungle beasts,” Manuel performed with elephants as well as big cats in the steel arena. In 1958, when he was just 20, he worked on his own with lions, tigers, and bears plus African and Asian elephants. The animals respected his no-nonsense approach, while he maintained the Clyde Beatty style with the bounce, or fighting cat act.
From Cage of Steel to Ring of Fame
When he ran away with the circus at the age of 14, Manuel “Junior” Ruffin was bolting from a broken family life into a den of lions and tigers. More than a half century later, the North Port showman is about to become the first black honoree inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame.
Circus animal trainer to join ‘Ring of Fame’ | HeraldTribune.com | Sarasota Florida
SARASOTA – Prince Bogino, once billed as “America’s foremost trainer of savage jungle beasts,” will return to the spotlight today not as a performer with a trumped up name and fake foreign persona, but a black American shattering one more color barrier. (Includes photos)
Obituary | Circus Fans Association of America
Obituary
Manuel “Junior” Ruffin/ “Prince Bogino”
April 28, 1938 — September 14, 2010
African American wild animal trainer, big top boss, trainmaster and so much more
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It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of my dear friend of forty years, Manuel Ruffin of whom it was reported suffered a massive heart attack at his North Port, Florida home on Tuesday, September 14.

He was Born Emanuel Ruffin, April 28, 1938 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, with his family relocating to Los Angeles while he was still an infant. With his parents conditional permission, in March of 1952 at the old Hill Street lot circus grounds, he joined the Clyde Beatty Railroad Circus at the challenging invitation of famed wild animal showman, Clyde Raymond Beatty. Here, under the tutelage of Beatty, one of the all time circus greats, Manuel, from a boy of 13 into adulthood, learned the daunting art of wild animal training along with a number of other integral trades of the outdoor show world. In doing so, he would become the single living legacy and protege that the legendary trainer would ever have to his exciting but dangerous profession. Humorously nicknamed “Clyde Beatty Jr.” by the great trainer himself, Manuel soon became known as “Junior” by his fellow circus troupers and friends. Through hard work and perseverance, he became Beatty’s chief assistant and even trained some of the big cats for Beatty’s act in the latter years. Performing under the show business name, “Prince Bogino,” for most of his performing career, he accomplished the unprecedented achievement while on the Hoxie Bros. Circus, of simultaneously holding down the positions of star lion and tiger trainer, adult elephant act trainer, baby elephant act trainer, big top tent boss, lot superintendent, master welder, head truck mechanic and truck driver. The show’s owner, Leonard “Hoxie” Tucker, later admitted that he had to hire seven men to replace Manuel. During his amazing career Manuel met and palled around with many world famous personalities including movie star, John Wayne and heavyweight champion, George Foreman and was present when his mentor, Clyde Beatty’s lions and tigers got out of control in the big cage when it was set up on the stage of the Ed Sullivan TV Show and also was there assisting him during the filming of the motion picture , “Ring of Fear,” starring Beatty and mystery writer, Mickey Spillane. Manuel made his debut as a big cat subjugator on the midway of the P. T. Barnum Festival and Parade in 1958 before a stated aggregate of some 300,000 spectators. In 1970 while serving as a technical consultant and playing an African native in the ‘B-‘ motion picture “Tarzan and the Rainbow,” he actually saved the life of the actor playing Tarzan from certain death in a ring of fire when a stunt went bad. In 1972, while canvas boss on Circus Vargas, he was in charge of, at the time, the world’s largest big top tent. After having held a number of performing and managerial positions (being the first of African descent in many of them,) on various other circuses, including Clyde Bros., Garden Bros. and Gattini Bros., he joined the Ringling/Feld organization as a train mechanic and quickly rose to trainmaster on its new 15 car Monte Carlo Circus and later headed the transportation department on the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus Blue Unit. The former of these positions made him the first, only and highest ranking African American department head in The Greatest Show on Earth’s nearly 140 year history. The formidable positions listed above are just a part of the many jobs that Manuel had mastered throughout his colorful career.

In retirement, after suffering a traumatic leg injury, with a nearly four decade career behind him, a multitude of the circus world numbered among his friends and a storied wealth of knowledge and memories, he would become an expert consultant for circus operations, large and small. He became a sought after speaker, relating his life and career while touring America and the unique challenges he encountered as one of the few wild animal trainers of African descent. Almost predestined to do so, with little remuneration, in 1993/94 he played a major role (along with the writer) in the founding and nurturing of the African American owned UniverSoul Circus.

Justifiably, the last months of his life were filled with richly deserved honors. The high point of Manuel’s show business life occurred when he made circus history, again with a who’s who of the show world looking on. On this occasion he became the first and only performer of African descent to be honored by America’s most prestigious circus pantheon, here he was awarded a permanent place on the Circus Ring of Fame at Sarasota, Florida’s St Armands Circle on January 17, 2010. The plaque acknowledges that Manuel’s true greatness lies in the totality of his accomplishments in spite of the challenges and sometimes oppressive era in which he toured the country. To the amazement of everyone, the honoree in turn gifted his framed smaller personal plaque award to the City of North Port. Days later with many of his friends present, his adopted hometown of some 40 years would reciprocate by presenting Manuel the high honor to receive the Key to the City of North Port.

Manuel is survived by a former wife, Agata Ruffin, daughters; Pamela Ruffin of New York, Missy Michelle Wright Dixon of Lauderhill, FL., and Cicillea Pereze Ruffin of Puerto Rico, a sister, Debra Ruffin, a brother, Carl Spencer; nieces; Karen Snell and Keisha Merrill of the Cincinnati, Ohio area and a host of other relatives and friends.

Known as “Manny” to many of his neighbors and fellow members of his Jehovah Witness congregation, he never failed to demonstrate his love with a helping and jovial attitude, testifying often about his belief in the Lord. For us, the spotlight that once shone so brightly on our beloved “Prince Bogino” now dims but Manuel’s amazing and inspirational life will always remain in the center Ring of our hearts and in the celebrated annals of circus history. Rest now “Junior” in the arms and blessed assurance of our Lord, the Great Ringmaster.

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