Today is the birthday of Berniece Evelyn “Jeanie” Smith (1916-1999). Born with no legs and a pair of twisted arms, she nonetheless learned to walk on her upper limbs and to do a variety of acrobatic stunts. She was exhibited in fairs and carnivals from childhood, initially by her mother and later (after her mother’s death) by an adopted guardian who was reportedly abusive. While performing at the Great Lakes Exposition in 1936 she met Aurelio “Al” Tomaini (1912-1962), a seven foot eleven inch giant (although he claimed to be over seven inches taller). The two fell in love and got married. Given the fact that Jeanie was only two feet five inches tall, they are probably the couple with the greatest height spread in history. The “World’s Strangest Married Couple” transitioned from performing in sideshows to settling in and building a fishing lodge in the sideshow retirement community at Gibsonton, Florida called “The Giant’s Camp”. After Al’s death in 1962 from complications related to his pituitary condition, Jeanie continued to operate the lodge with their two adopted children until her own death in 1999.
To find out more about the history of show business, 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 check out 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