Today is the birthday of the most famous of all performing Little People, Charles Stratton, a.k.a General Tom Thumb (1838-1883). Please excuse the size of this photo. It’s just a THUMB nail!
Stratton was P.T. Barnum’s first monster success as a showman. While he had previously made a few bucks and gotten some attention by exhibiting Joice Heth and the Feejee Mermaid, his 1842 exhibition of the two-and-a-half foot tall Stratton resulted in North American and European tours, audiences with Queen Victoria, and a fortune for both Barnum and Stratton. The packaging was ingenious: the clever name drawn from fairy tales, the ruse that the four year old boy was actually 11, the costuming of him as Napoleon, the funny repartee he was given to speak, the antics he was drilled to enact. The formula was repeated many times with Admiral Dot, Commodore Nutt, Major Atom, General Mite, etc etc.
In 1863, there was another huge burst of publicity when Stratton married fellow little person Lavinia Warren in a lavish ceremony at New York’s prestigious Grace Episcopal Church. The couple arrived in a tiny custom-built wagon drawn by a small pony. Later, on their wedding tour, they met with President Lincoln. Stratton retired from performing in 1878; he died of a stroke 5 years later.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
Don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc