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Claremonter sets out to amaze with his acrobatic past

Claremont resident David Linden has spent his life putting on a show. His memoir, The Amazing Balancing Man: My Life as an Acrobat, Circus Performer, Stunt Man and Comedian, is no exception.

It’s a story of determination, derring-do and the balancing act he performed, literally and figuratively, to make his way in show business. The book, which was released in October, is available through Amazon and Xlibris.

Mr. Linden, 79, spent years performing hand-standing, plate-spinning and other hair-raising feats, often perched at a perilous height. He joined in circuses as “Davey the Balancing Clown” and toured the western hemisphere with the Harlem Globetrotters, joined by a special assistant, his late wife Nancy. And, at the height of the early ‘70s health craze, he perfected his skills at the legendary Muscle Beach, hob-nobbing with fitness icons like Jack LaLanne and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Jack LaLanne was amazing,” Mr. Linden said. “He would be doing handstands on the bars, He would say, ‘I’m going to go for a swim,’ and he would pull a boat while doing it.”

Even a balancing man can’t fight gravity. Age and the wear-and-tear of an athletic life have grounded Mr. Linden, who ruefully says, “Getting old sucks.” But he’s determined to live life to the fullest. He works out at The Claremont Club, and enjoys betting on horses and he has been honing a comedy act at Flappers Comedy Club in the Claremont Packinghouse. “I try to keep busy and love what I do,” he said. 

He hopes to land a spot on a talk show where he can share his story and promote healthy living.

“I talk about physical fitness a lot,” he said. “You have to exercise, eat right and have a sense of humor.”

He feels his book is timely because, with the popularity of Cirque du Soleil, the world has gained a new appreciation for acrobatic exploits.

“Still, a lot of people don’t understand the work that goes into it,” Mr. Linden said. 

Growing up in New York in the 1950s, Mr. Linden was athletic kid who was always was always up for a challenge. When he saw a young man doing tricks on the diving board at the public pool, somersaulting from a handstand into the water, he had to meet him.

The daredevil, Ron Weichold, was a gymnast as well as a competitive diver. Under his tutelage, Mr. Linden became adept at handstands. They began working out together along with aspiring bodybuilder Vince Fay.

Before long, Mr. Linden and his partner had picked up some more performers. A booking agent spotted the group, called The Acros, and began getting them gigs. They had just hit their stride when work and family commitments sidelined them.

“I decided to go on my own,” Mr. Linden wrote. “That way I didn’t have to depend on anybody but myself, and I could follow my dreams.”

In between shifts as a salesman, Mr. Linden worked out his own act, hand-balancing using props including a seven-foot-high platform, shaped like a drum, on which he could stand. When his oldest brother Harvey took a job in Van Nuys, he convinced Mr. Linden to join him in California. He would be close to Hollywood, the heart of show business!

He got a job as a salesman and then headed for Muscle Beach, which in 1970 was a mecca for weightlifters, gymnasts and acrobats.

“It was like a three ring circus! There was one-hand balancing, head-to-head balancing, foot juggling, people on teeter boards with girls flying in the air in swan position and being caught by a guy, tumbling, adagio lifts, and on and on,” he wrote. “It was quite a show.”

He booked some performance dates and then lined up a date of a different kind.

One evening, he was at a dance when he met a dark-haired Central American beauty named Nancy. She spoke limited English, but she made a big impression. He got her number.

Mr. Linden had recently decided to add some extra razzmatazz to his act, donning a wig, a tuxedo with colorful patches and oversized shoes and punctuating his act with lots of comic relief. “She thought I was a little crazy, this weird guy who did a clown balancing act.”

Never short on persuasive power, Mr. Linden convinced Nancy to be his assistant, dressed as a lady clown, and then to be his wife.

Mr. Linden was always open to the advice of other performers. One day, when he was at a casting call forheld by the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus, a stranger walked up to Mr. Linden.

“We loved your act, but the tricks you do are very professional balancing stunts,” the stranger, who turned out to be clown star Bill Ballantine, said. “Why don’t you do the act as a straight act with a classy wardrobe? You’ll make a lot more money and you can still keep the balancing clown act for family shows.”

Mr. Linden picked up a new wardrobe for himself and Ms. Linden, flashy and flexible ice skating costumes. Mr. Linden had an even taller platform made from which he could wow his audience and the couple began performing as The Lindens.

In 1976, they undertook what is arguably their greatest adventure. The Lindens went on tour with the Harlem Globetrotters. They were working their way through Argentina when the unthinkable happened. At an outdoor show, a gust of wind knocked Mr. Linden right off his platform and onto cement. He woke up in the hospital. “I couldn’t feel my legs. I thought I was crippled,” he said.

Nothing was broken so, after a few weeks of therapy, the Lindens finished the tour. It included stops across the United States and finished with a number of gigs in Hawaii.

Over the years, the classy Lindens and the wacky Davey the Clown performed less and less. Mr. Linden’s other persona—that of award-winning salesman—has taken center stage.

With one toe now in the world of stand-up and another in writing, however, Mr. Linden is ready to gain applause once more.

“I love the attention. I always have,” he said.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com