Today is the birthday of Johann Petursson (1913-1984). Born in Dalvik, Iceland , he was completely normal until age 15, when his astounding growth spurt began. He eventually reached a height of 7’ 8 although he claimed to be a foot taller.
In 1934, he moved to Denmark and began exhibiting himself. He performed in music halls throughout Europe, usually accompanied by two dwarves for humorous contrast. When World War II arrived he found himself trapped in Copenhagen, and waiting out the duration of the war working in a shipyard.
In 1948, Petursson moved to America, where he initially worked for the Ringling Brothers side show. His original costume consisted of a top hat and tails, but he eventually settled on the Viking costume, billing himself variously as the Viking Giant, the Icelandic Giant, and Johann (or sometimes Olaf) the Giant. After several years of travelling with sideshows, he branched off on his own as a Single-O, saving up a pile of money as a result. In 1950, he was cast in the film Prehistoric Women.
Petursson retired to the famous sideshow colony at Gibsonton, Florida in the 1960s, although he emerged on occasion, as when he did an event at the Smithsonian in 1973, and appeared in the 1980 film Carny with Gary Busey and Jodie Foster.
As with many giants, musculoskeletal problems plagued him his whole life. He died following a fall in 1984.
Check out this cool film about him (he appears after some brief preliminaries):
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