The Matina Brothers and the Origins of Mike and Ike

Another post in honor of the National Day of Hungary.

This post concerns the three Matina Brothers, a trio of siblings born in Hungary, who moved to the U.S. in 1915 and were later naturalized as Americans. The oldest was Lajos, born towards the end of the 19th century. His younger brothers were Bela and Matyus, born 1901. These two brothers, who attained the height of 30 inches, still hold the world’s record for smallest twins.

In their youth brothers were hired by Lilliputian Prince Ludwig, and came to be nicknamed Leo, Mike and Ike. At one juncture, the latter two appropriated the boxing act pioneered by the Rossow Midgets:

Mike and Ike were also said to perform a magic act. All three brothers were among the large troupe of little people hired to play Munchkins in the 1939 film of The Wizard of Oz. The photo below shows Leo (left) next to fellow Munchkins Joe Koziel and Tommy Cottonaro.

Now here’s something intriguing. The boxed candy “Mike and Ike” was introduced circa 1940. Some contend that the name stems from the little people, but it must be pointed out that Rube Goldberg introduced his Mike and Ike comic strip characters in 1907. They in turn might possibly be a refinement on Weber and Fields’s characters Mike and Meyer, which date to the 1880s. The idea is reenforced by the costuming on the characters on the candy box:

In any case, the performers no doubt made hay out of the candy connection however they could. Circa 1942, the brothers joined the Virginia Greater Shows, with which they performed at least through Mike’s death in an auto accident in 1954:

Matjus (Ike) died in 1965; Lajos (Leo) was the last to go, in 1975.

For related reading, please check out Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People in Vaudeville.