Today, a squint at Clarence Chesterfield Howerton, known professionally as Major Mite (1913-1975). Howerton was at least the third American performer to use the Major Mite handle; prior to him there had also been a dime museum performer named William E. Jackson who stood 2’9″ and died in 1901, and another diminutive stage comedian, who had died around the same time.
This Major Mite was born in Salem Oregon, and later moved to Washington State with his family. His father was a factory worker, and there were five brothers, all over six feet tall. Clarence was placed on the vaudeville stage when still a child. When he was nine he performed before President Warren G. Harding. The following year, he joined Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, where he was advertised to be twice his age and often photographed next to abnormally large people like Jack Earle in order to exaggerate his 2’4″ size. He may have later grown as tall as 3’6″.
In 1926, Howerton’s father committed suicide and his mother married a man named Robert Crawford, who became the manager of both of them. (His mother stood four feet tall, and was also exhibited). In addition to RBBB, Howerton worked Cole Brothers Circus and two major Coney Island institutions, the Dreamland Circus Sideshow and World Circus Sideshow.
In 1932, Major Mite was cast in two Hal Roach shorts, Sealskins with Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts, and Free Eats with Our Gang. He also had a role in the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz, playing a Munchkin trumpeter who announces the Mayor. He retired from show business a decade later though he was only 36 years old — by then sideshows were largely a thing of the past.
For related reading, please check out my new book Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People in Vaudeville.