Some prodigies are born, some prodigies are made. And still others are deferred. Amanda Siebert (1880- 1940) was a perfectly average 120 lb pound woman until she gave birth to her first child at age 21. Then her glands suddenly went out of control. She didn’t stop growing until she was nearly 700 lbs. Using the handle “Jolly Irene” she toured initially with the Ringling Bros. side show (it was common for circus fat ladies to use the adjective jolly as part of their names, as in “fat people are jolly”, but Irene was also said to have a cheerful personality). When she got too large to ride in the passenger cars in the train she restricted herself to playing with Ringling only during their New York runs, and for the rest of the time made her home base Coney Island.
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 Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.