Archive for the Little People Category

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Littlest Lovers: Tom Thumb & Lavinia Warren

Posted in BUNKUM, Dime Museum and Side Show, Little People, STEAMPUNK/ VICTORIANA with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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“There’s someone for everybody” goes the old matchmaker’s expression, and perhaps no words rang truer on February 9, 1863, the day that professional little person Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) married Lavinia Warren at Grace Church, New York. (I believe that’s Lavinia’s sister Minnie Warren as Maid of Honor; and Commodore Nutt as Best Man). This little stunt, the “Fairy Wedding” by the press, lightened people’s hearts during the depths of the Civil War. We present it to you in the same spirit today.

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It wasn’t just a publicity stunt, however; the two were a real couple. But even so, their boss P.T. Barnum was probably not too unhappy when the big event resulted in coverage like this:

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“I love you completely, my own, my all. But above all, I love this front page coverage in Harpers!”

Klinkhart’s Troupe of Midgets

Posted in Circus, German, Little People with tags , , , , , , on November 30, 2016 by travsd

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I stumbled across this image the other day and got curious. I could only find a few facts: this troupe of little people was managed by German born Oscar Klinkhart (ca.1897-1975). They were with with the Al G. Barnes show between 1926 and 1931. According to some sources, they were later with Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus and got stranded near Riverside, California ca. 1936, where they founded one of the many legendary “Midgetville” communities. Later Klinkhart retired to Logsden, Orgeon.

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

More Than Munchkins: An Illustrated History of Performing Little People

Posted in BROOKLYN, Dime Museum and Side Show, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Little People, ME, My Shows with tags , , , , , on July 27, 2016 by travsd

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Today happens to be the birthday of both Fleming W. Ackerman (a.k.a “Colonel Speck”) and Major Edward Newell (a.k.a. “General Grant, Jr.”). (Click on the links to learn more about these illustrious Little People.

If the odds of a Little Person being born are small, and the odds of a performing Little Person even smaller, think how small the odds of TWO performing Little People being born on the same day! Seems to me an auspicious time to announce here my upcoming talk at the Morbid Anatomy Museum, entitled More Than Munchkins: An Illustrated History of Performing Little People. 

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For centuries Little People have been a mainstay of popular entertainment. In this illustrated talk, I will trace the historical ups and downs of very short-statured entertainers from medieval times through the era of P.T. Barnum and dime museums, to side shows and circuses, to vaudeville, to movies and television. Along the way, we trace the evolution of the Little Person’s image in popular culture, from one of cruel derision in the age of the court jester…to one of glamour, as personified by sex symbol and Emmy-winning actor Peter Dinklage…to a virtual return to carny days on reality tv.

The talk will take place Monday August 22, 2016 at 7pm at the Morbid Anatomy Museum, 424 Third Ave, Brooklyn. Tickets are $8

More info and tickets are here: http://morbidanatomymuseum.org/event/more-than-munchkins-a-history-of-performing-little-people-an-illustrated-lecture-with-trav-s-d/

Fleming W. Ackerman, a.k.a “Colonel Speck”

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Little People with tags , , , , , , on July 27, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Fleming W. Ackerman (1863-1946), known professionally and informally as Colonel Speck. Amazing, but true, he shares the same birthday with General Grant, Jr! Someone should take a look at their mother’s horoscopes!

The son of a prosperous Moravia, New York businessman, Ackerman was normal sized until he reached the age of four years old, whereupon his growth slowed down considerably. His tallest height in adulthood was four feet four inches. Extremely gifted at music he began singing and playing in local amateur theatricals at around age 8 or 9. His first professional engagement was at a local theatre in Owego with the Tremaine Brothers in 1875. He undertook a regional tour with one Mademoiselle Leon the following year. In 1876 he received an offer of work from P.T. Barnum (he had not yet reached his full height). The family turned it down because the boy was only 13. In 1878 he attended a music conservatory in New York City. While there he not only studied, but he performed professionally and became friendly with the happy quartet of General Tom Thumb, Lavinia Warren, her sister Minnie, and her husband Major Newell. 

This association was fortunate, for the following year Warren engaged him as a performer with the Liliputian Opera Company, which toured all over the U.S. and Canada. In 1882 the company folded when their unscrupulous manager fled with the box office take, stranding them in Chicago. They played another season as the Pigmie Picnic Party [sic] under new management and then disbanded. Following this, Speck worked for several months in solo engagements, but overworked himself to the point that he permanently blew out his voice and was forced to retire from show business.

Fortunately he had inherited his father’s acumen as an entrepreneur, and became a successful local businessman in Moravia and surrounding towns operating a photography studio, a telephone exchange and a bus line. He also kept a hand in performing as the Drum Major of a local brass band, Huff’s Cornet Band, which played parades, fairs and other events.

For all the information you will ever need on this interesting character, I recommend The Drum Major of Company A: A Biography of Fleming W. Ackerman a.k.a. Colonel Speck by Frank S. Foti, which may be purchased here. 

To find out more about  the history of show businessconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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On Hervé Villechaize: There’s More There Than Meets Ze Plane

Posted in Frenchy, Hollywood (History), Human Anomalies (Freaks), Indie Theatre, Little People, Movies, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2014 by travsd

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Hervé Birthday? Happy Hervday?

At any rate, as if to either reaffirm or retract our last post (I can’t decide which) we write now to celebrate the late Hervé  Villechaize (1943-1993). Actually I can decide, it’s a reaffirmation. While Villechaize was the subject of ridicule during his life,  his story is full of tragedy, and it ought to give you pause (which is why, I understand, Peter Dinklage is developing a screenplay about him).

A Paris native, the diminutive Villechaize originally studied and practiced visual art. He moved to the U.S. in 1964 and his size created opportunities in the theatre just as off-off-Broadway and the avant-garde were taking off. This led to underground and then mainstream film, including The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971), Greaser’s Palace (1972) by Robert Downey Sr, and biggest and best of all, the James Bond thriller The Man With The Golden Gun (1974). This naturally led to his very similar role as Tattoo on the TV show Fantasy Island (1977-1984), a classic case of success being a curse and familiarity breeding contempt.

Once you have pointed at the sky and yelled, “Ze Plane! Ze Plane!”, there is no escape from that island. He became reduced to a laugh line and a catch phrase, and all in a rather mean spirit. From the time of Fantasy Island going forward, almost all the work Villechaize could get consisted of humiliating cameos as himself, of the sort that were clearly based on the comedy premise, “Wouldn’t it be funny if Hervé  Villechaize showed up?” After many earlier attempts, he finally successfully committed suicide at the age of 50 by putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger.

Here is his last gig, on The Ben Stiller Show:

To find out about  the history of show businessconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

 

 

Angelo Rossitto a.k.a. “Little Angie”

Posted in Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Human Anomalies (Freaks), Italian, Little People, Movies with tags , , , , , , , on February 18, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the dwarf actor Angelo Rossitto (1908-1991). The 2′ 11″ Rossitto has the interesting distinction of being the only member of the sideshow cast of Todd Browning’s Freaks to have had a real film career, appearing in over 70 films in a 60 year stretch between 1927 and 1987.

Rossitto’s career was a lot like the better known Billy Barty’s in that it ranged from real substantial roles…to jobs as an extra…to brief appearances in sight gags…to parts where was buried in a costume and you couldn’t see him at all. He played performing little people in circus movies, monstrous sidekicks in horror flicks, space aliens, elves, and of course set dressing in scenes of Roman or Weimar decadence. Interestingly, unlike most performers of his type I find no indication that he was ever a performer in sideshows, circuses or live theatre. Billed under his own name, or sometimes as “Little Moe”, “Little Angie” or “Angelino” the Omaha-born Rossitto took movie roles on the side to supplement the income he made from his Los Angeles news stand.

His first movie was The Beloved Rogue (1927) with John Barrymore and Conrad Veidt. Other roles that afforded decent amounts of screen time (and face time) included Freaks; two horror team-ups with Bela LugosiThe Corpse Vanishes (1942) and Scared to Death (1947);

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another horror part in Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971); a semi-regular role as Little Moe on the tv series Baretta (1977), and the mad scientist “Master” (who rode on the back of “Blaster”) in the dystopian Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1987).

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But he’s often present in subtler ways. In Laurel and Hardy’s Babes in Toyland (1934) he plays one of the Little Pigs.

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He was a regular performer on the Syd and Marty Kroft kid’s shows H.R. Pufnstuf (1969-1970) and Lidsville (1971).

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Other movies he appeared in over his long career included Dante’s Inferno (1935), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935), Hellzapoppin (1941), Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves (1944), The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947), Samson and Delilah (1949), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Carousel (1956), The Story of Mankind (1957), and Dr. Doolittle (1967).

To learn more about show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Francis Joseph Flynn a.k.a “General Mite”

Posted in BUNKUM, Circus, Coney Island, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Little People with tags , , , , on October 6, 2013 by travsd

Today is the birthday of Francis Joseph Flynn (1872-1898), professionally known as “General Mite”. Born on a farm in upstate New York, his birth weight was two and a half pounds and his height in adulthood was never more than 27 inches (although he was exhibited as an “adult” when still a child, when he was obviously much shorter.)

He was first exhibited by his father at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. Billed as the “Smallest Man in the World” he was taken on tour by promoter F.M. Uffner along with fellow little person Lucia Zarate. In 1878-79 they appeared at Brighton Beach Bathing Pavilion, Coney Island. From there, it was on to England, where for publicity purposes the General was “married” to English little person Millie Edwards (despite the fact that he was all of twelve years old). In the 1880s, he appeared with Zarate again in the sideshow of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. When Zarate died in 1890, Flynn and Edwards moved to Australia. Flynn died there 8 years later at the age of 26 (his liver and kidneys had been steadily failing). He is now proudly remembered in both Greene, New York (the place of his birth) and Broken Hill, New South Wales (the place of his death).

To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable 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

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