Pioneers of entertainment
Frank and Marjorie met at the Texas Centennial in 1936 where he was a famous high diver and she a shy, but gutsy, aerialist. They would watch each other’s act, and finally met when Marjorie’s hair turned green after she and some of the show girls took a dip in Frank’s small diving tank below his 100-foot diving tower. Within a week they were married and formed their own show, he often performing as Captain Mars, the Human Cannonball, and she as Marjorie Bailey, the Sky Lady.
World War II interrupted their show when Frank went off to the Pacific with the U.S. Navy. When his ship, the USS Zellars was hit by a kamikaze torpedo plane and his entire repair party killed, Frank put out fires in the magazine (ammunition) room and was credited with single-handedly saving the ship and eighty percent of the rest of the crew.
While he was away Marjorie operated cranes in the Mare Island, California shipyard while awaiting the birth of their first child, and Frank’s return. After the war, to publicize their regrouped thrill show, Frank became the first man to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and live. Marjorie Bailey, the Sky Lady performed aerial ballet on the sway pole, 171 feet in the air.
Remembering the Pacific, they went to Hawaii to perform in the Go for Broke show for the 442nd Boys, an Asian American battalion unit of mostly Japanese Americans who fought in Europe during World War II. The families of many of its soldiers were subject to internment. The 442nd fought with uncommon distinction in Italy, southern France, and Germany.
They then traveled to the Philippines where three of Frank’s brother’s had been guerrilla leaders. Moved by the plight of the orphans of war, Frank worked with the mayor of Manila and editor of the Manila Times and others to promote the Boy’s Town Carnival to raise money for an orphanage. To publicize the upcoming carnival Marjorie did a parachute jump, and during the carnival Frank did his high dives. The carnival was a great success and Manila got its orphanage.
The Cushing’s traveled about Asia with their show for a time and then planned to return to their circus lives in the U.S. mainland via Guam and Okinawa. Sending most of their equipment by boat, they flew to Guam in 1949, joined by the Circus Gombar family of the Philippines. Most of the show’s equipment never arrived.
When they managed to reconstruct their equipment, Guam and the show were hit by a typhoon, resulting in a longer stay than planned. This gave them a chance to see what Guam was like. They liked what they saw – and Guam got its “Circus family.”
The Cushings of Guam
Frank and Marjorie settled in Tamuning, and developed a carnival grounds. To the circus and aerial acts they added carnival rides, exotic animal displays, a huge dance floor and stage for the Hollywood Follies, and later boxing matches, a race track, skating rink, trampoline and go kart center. Frank’s diving tower rose 100-feet in the air at one end of the carnival grounds. At the other end of the grounds, they built a large clubhouse for a succession of clubs, including the Guam VFW Club, the Guam Characters Club, and El Club Latino-Americano de Guam.
Through the years they put on a number of carnivals, most of them for charities, especially for children and veterans. Frank was a champion of good causes, and campaigned and raised funds to establish the first Veteran’s affairs office on Guam. When the cross was blown off the tall steeple of the Inarajan church and Father Paul couldn’t find a construction company that would rebuild it within the church’s budget, Frank volunteered, and with Louie Gombar, built a high scaffold and installed a new cross on the fine old church. That cross withstood major typhoons before finally succumbing to the 8.3 earthquake that hit Guam in 1993.
Marjorie’s sway pole act on the roof of the original Town House along Marine Corp Drive in Hagåtña resulted in Guam’s first traffic jam – back in the days when there weren’t many motor vehicles on the island. The family, all working together, would set up their Ferris wheel and other carnival rides, circus and stands at the annual Liberation Day Fair and Navy Relief Carnival, as well as at village fiestas throughout Guam. When Frank and Marjorie’s two eldest children, Margie Jr. and Frankie, left for college in California, the zoo area in Tamuning was transformed into a series of fish ponds and aquariums, for shipping tropical aquarium fish to Frankie.
Drifted to the Philippines
Frankie Jr. returned to Guam and operated a tropical aquarium fish exporting business, along with his parents. They built a raft of fifty-five gallon drum cans to serve as a fish collecting platform. On one of their fishing expeditions Frank and Frankie Jr. encountered heavy seas, and went adrift. They drifted with the currents for thirty-seven days, surviving on rainwater and fish and finally landed on a small island in the northern Philippines. There they were first arrested as spies, until they were able to contact friends in Manila where they were heralded as heroic survivors. California newspapers showed their gaunt faces after the ordeal. Frank’s interpretation of the trip was that it was great being that close to the ocean. He said he saw more marine life in that short time than all the years he was in the Navy.
Frank and Marjorie’s love for the ocean prompted a move to Tumon Bay, at a time when only a few families lived there. A tight knit family, both parents and the two eldest children worked to pay off the lot. There they simultaneously built a house – and a huge shark tank, and moved their animal collection to Tumon where Frank built another raft of drum cans, shared beers with the llama and occasionally tap danced at the hotels that were sprouting up in the neighborhood.
He celebrated his 72nd birthday by hanging from his toes from a cloud swing on a tower he had set up on top of the two-story family house in Tumon. After the feat, he exclaimed, “Well, that felt good!” In 1976, just days away from his 73rd birthday, he died of a heart attack. He had been preparing for the 4th of July bicentennial celebration carnival in Asan. In honor of Papa Frank’s “the show must go on” spirit, the family carried out his plans for the bicentennial carnival, including a tight wire walk over a crocodile pit (substituted for the shark pit in Tumon).
Marjorie Cushing carried on the family tradition, working at the Fiestan Guam Liberation Day Fair at her game booths, while also holding down her “day job” at the post office. Over her travels, she had picked up phrases in different languages and enjoyed greeting the many ethnicities that live in Guam and come to the carnival, in their own languages. She was a beloved figure with her coconut hat and harmonica and love of dancing. Three days after working the 1998 Fiestan Guam Fair, she and daughter, Simona, went to the Wednesday night market at Chamorro Village to find a spot for her to sell her handmade bead necklaces and socialize. The following Sunday, Mama Cushing, the Sky Lady, died at 84.
Frank and Marjorie Cushing were survived by four children. Frankie Cushing Jr., who shared the raft voyage to the Philippines with Frank Sr., continues his love affair with the ocean as a fisherman and Marine Technician at the University of Guam Marine Lab. An inventor like his father, he currently develops production systems for local products like local motif stepping stones and “Chamorrocoal” barbeque charcoal made from local tangantangan. Both he and younger brother Jimmy, independently, caught huge 15-foot tiger sharks that had swallowed their first catch on fishing lines.
Jimmy developed the shark pit and menagerie in Tumon into a business licensed as the Guam Zoological, Botanical and Marine Park and popularly known as the “Cushing Zoo”. Situated along Tumon Bay beside Matapang Park, the zoo continues to provide wholesome homegrown family entertainment amid the high rise hotels of Tumon.
Margie Jr. went from being a circus performer to getting a doctorate. She taught biology and environmental science at the University of Guam before moving to Yap with her husband where she directs the Yap Institute of Natural Science and occasionally walks a tight wire over her taro patch.
The youngest Cushing daughter, Juanita Simona, with her love of—music, dancing, theater, demolition derbies, Janis Joplin impersonations, and volunteering with various volunteer organizations,—works for TSA at the airport, where, greeting the many passing nationalities in their language, she has become, like her mother, a Guam character, enriching the rich tapestry that is Guam.
For further reading
Brown, J. “Adventures for the hell of it.” Saga: The Magazine for Men 43,1: 39-82.
Elkins, B. “Cushing family zoo a child’s delight.” Pacific Daily News, July 10, 1979.
McKenna, M. “Frank Cushing dies: His claim to fame: Survival.” Pacific Daily News, May 5, 1976.
Ronck, R. “The amazing Mr. Cushing.” Sunday News Magazine, November 3, 1974: A2-A4.
Ronck, R. “He’s hanging in there.” Pacific Daily News , March 12, 1975.