These sentiments are not shared by Bale, who bitterly argued with GG-W and went over to the other Ringling Bros, group. Bale's own death-defying wheel act is very special in its own right and there was his wife—the former Mrs. Gebel-Williams—to consider. In addition, another flyer named Jimmy Cavaretta once picked a fight with Gunther because he had moved his menagerie too close to Cavaretta's living quarters. The two had to be separated, but Gebel-Williams chuckles over the incident as just a passing irritation.
It is moot whether Gebel-Williams' hard-earned reputation and popularity—now established for all time—are responsible for the confidence and serenity he exhibits on and off stage, or whether it is the other way around. He says his base salary is no higher than that of a couple of other acts—probably about $85,000 a year, exclusive of tabs for the trailer, the motorcycle and a traveling tutor for his children, all of which are picked up by the circus. After Rogie Vachon, the Los Angeles Kings' goalie who is in a six-figure bracket, watched Gebel-Williams' performance and was informed how much he was paid, the hockey player cracked, "I am embarrassed to be getting more money than that. For what this guy does, he makes peanuts."
Nevertheless, Gebel-Williams seems gloriously content. He is building a large home near the Ringling Bros.' winter quarters in Venice, Fla., and he drives a Rolls-Royce. Otherwise, he eats McDonald's hamburgers and saves his money. Recently he signed a 10-year contract as both a performer and, eventually, an administrator with the circus. Friends insist Gebel-Williams is smart enough not to blow this gig, form his own show and go broke, the way Clyde Beatty did. "Gunther will be with us forever," says Feld.
Or at least until his vigor and youthfulness run out. Though he does not run laps or lift weights, Gebel-Williams is trim and hard from the everyday labor of the circus. His doctor says he has the body of a 25-year-old. When he speaks in his charming, enthusiastic, broken English—punctuated by much jabbing, waving and jumping up and down—he gives the impression of being even younger than that.
"Look," he says, "I am always different from other peoples. Absolute. I am always working and moving and running. I never stop. I never want to miss the animals, the show, the life. Peoples come to see me. I want to give 100%. Absolute. I think I already make some history in circus. But I must keep going. More animals to do, more tricks, more fun."
Peggy Williams remembers a scene last winter when GG-W brought his family to a circus ski party in the hills of North Carolina. It was a rare appearance for him, sharing an off-day with the rest of the denizens of the big top, and Gebel-Williams made the most of it. He helped the younger ones with their equipment. He swooped past everybody on the slopes, laughing as he went.
"None of us knew he could ski," Williams recalls. "Later I asked him, 'Goob, you can handle this, too?' He got this faraway look in his eye that I had never seen. He sat in the snow and stared. Then he said, 'Yeah, yeah. Skiing is fun. I ski way back. I ski before I was a kid.' "
Right then Peggy Williams knew she had discovered the essence of Gunther Gebel Goober Giblet Williams. It was so easy. Most kids dream they run away to join the circus. This man, Goob, joined the circus to become a kid. And he never stopped being one. Absolute.