Gerry Kreml

Event promoter helped arrange shows for Beatles and other stars and was the voice of Ringling Bros. circus

December 10, 2009|By Jacques Kelly

Gerry Kreml, the advance voice of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, died of Alzheimer's disease complications Dec. 4 at her Catonsville home. She was 91.

Attired in a leopard-print coat, Mrs. Kreml swept into Baltimore newspaper offices, television and radio stations with handfuls of circus passes in the 1970s. She would typically begin her greeting with, "Darling. How have you been? It's so-o-o-o good to see you. Wait 'til you see the circus this year."

She broke gender barriers as a circus promoter who drummed up business weeks ahead of the greatest show. Her arrival in the business made the term "advance man" obsolete.

"Loquacious Gerry Kreml, tall and ample figure, dyes her hair platinum-blond and wears it in a feather cut," said a 1969 Evening Sun story headlined Baltimore Woman Is First Advance Man for Circus. "She is about as bashful as a buzz saw."

She was born Geraldine Peroutka in East Baltimore. Newspaper stories said she was raised "in the shadow of St. Wenceslaus" Roman Catholic Church in the city's old Czech neighborhood. She was a 1935 graduate of the Institute of Notre Dame.

Mrs. Kreml told reporters that after marrying and raising a daughter, she wanted to break into advertising. She responded to a newspaper ad that said a beginner would be considered.

In the initial job interview, her prospective employer asked, "What makes you think you will be good in advertising?"

"I sat there in absolute agony," she recalled. "Nobody can say I didn't try." In a few months she was hired, largely because she could write.

She began working for an ad agency and wound up writing copy for a bird-watching radio show. She was later hired by another agency to help promote Feld Brothers Super Attractions. She handled 1960s pop stars Andy Williams; Peter, Paul and Mary; Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass; and the Beatles.

"Once I had to work on two Beatles' shows in one day - which I think was the ultimate insanity of my life. I mean, after you've done that, nothing can ever throw you," she said.

In late 1962, shortly after what was then called the Civic Center opened, a friend asked if she would be interested in doing advance publicity for Ringling Bros., which was booked the following March for a Baltimore engagement after an absence of several years. She agreed and wound up doing the same job across the country after Feld Brothers bought the circus.

Kreml tackled her new assignment "with her usual zest" and went on the road with it, several weeks ahead of the clowns, wagons and animal acts. Asked what she did on the road, she replied, "What do I do? I talk, constantly."

David Michael Ettlin, a retired Sun editor, recalled how she could coddle photographers and "do anything to get the circus into the news pages without the help of an ad."

Because the circus train arrived a distance away from the Civic Center, she worked the promotional event wherein elephants would be walked along downtown Baltimore's streets. She liked to have guest media representatives ride the elephants.

One news story described her as "a self-made woman who has parlayed her attributes - native intelligence, garrulousness, enthusiasm, and a considerable amount of gall - into a job that uniquely suits her."

She also promoted the circus' star, animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams.

"He was a magical human being. He loved women and animals, but animals more than people," she said in 2001, recalling the time she bumped into Gebel-Williams outside a grocery store. He invited her to his car to show off his newest recruits. On the floor of the back seat, in a cardboard box, were three tiger kittens.

"Nobody could get over the love and magnetism between Gunther and his animals," she said.

She retired nearly 30 years ago and enjoyed playing bridge.

A life celebration will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday at Matthew's 1600, 1600 Frederick Road in Catonsville.

Survivors include a daughter, Constance Finney of Catonsville; two brothers, Anthony Peroutka of Catonsville and Raymond Peroutka of Towson; three grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Her husband of more of 60 years, John F. Kreml, an engineer, died in 1997.

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