When They Sent in the Clowns, Millionaire Stanley Marcus, at 80, Was the Ringling Bros. Ringer

updated 05/13/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/13/1985 01:00AM

The gaudy Model T putt-putted once around the big top and stopped. Out popped the first of an impossible number of clowns, whom the ringmaster introduced as "the original tramp clown." Then came the second grease-painted buffoon. "Speaking of tramps," the ringmaster bellowed, "it looks like this bum never made a nickel in his life!"

But that was a bum rap. The second clown, in fact, was Stanley Marcus, the multimillionaire merchant prince behind perhaps the world's most elegant department store, Dallas-based Neiman-Marcus. Fulfilling a lifelong dream, Marcus was celebrating his 80th birthday in a way any 5-year-old could respect—by running off to join the circus. "I feel like I'm 80 years young," said Marcus. "Make life exciting and you live longer."

Marcus' day in the center ring was a gift from buddy Liener Temerlin, chairman of Bozell & Jacobs advertising agency, who discovered Marcus' circus dream a few weeks ago. What else would you give a Harvard-educated world traveler who is chairman emeritus of 21 stores stocked with the world's precious goods and has a personal fortune of many, many millions? Temerlin arranged Marcus' Madison Square Garden appearance with a quick phone call.

After his clown performance at the matinee—the crowded car routine, banging cymbals in a 15-clown parade—Marcus' big moment came at the evening show. Dressed as the ringmaster, he stood in the spotlight and opened The Greatest Show on Earth with a mighty blast on his whistle.

"He's a ham," commented his wife, Linda, 48. "He's been putting on a show his whole life," added Marcus' brother Lawrence, 67. "This is just the first time he's done it for Ringling Bros." Stanley pronounced himself delighted with the entire day, but he still has dreams. He wants to run a newspaper, for instance, and to narrate a TV documentary. "And for my 90th birthday," Marcus says, "I'd like to go to the moon." Will some friend please start calling NASA?

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