Some of us must work to find our place in show business; others are lucky enough to be born into dynasties. “Baby Ruth” Pontico (1904-1941) was a THIRD generation circus fat lady. Her mother was Ringling Bros’ 600 lb. attraction Ada Reese Smith.
Ruth herself was born at a weight of 16 lbs, and was past 300 lbs when still a tween. Born With It, still she sought to escape The Life, and for a time pursued a career as a secretary, but when she crested 400 lbs that became impractical. She bit the bullet and joined her mother in the Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey sideshow in 1931.
First she billed herself as “Ima Waddler”, then “Lady Beautiful” then finally “Baby Ruth”, after the candy bar (she enhanced the effect by dressing in a baby costume). She married Joe Pontico, the hefty balloon seller at Madison Square Garden. Throughout the 30s, she actively strove to reach her advertised weight of 700 lbs by eating as much as she possibly could. She well exceeded her goal. Her top weight was 815. Her arms grew to be 31 inches around; greater than her sister’s waist.
Ruth was a highly popular attraction in her day; she earned enough to build her own custom-built mansion with oversized furniture and reinforced floors. Unfortunately it was all cut short in 1941. She died on the operating table as a tumor was being removed from her leg.
Today is her birthday. Cut yourself a big slice of cake!
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.
And 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